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Posted at 10:10 AM ET, 03/ 1/2011

What are we doing with those ships moving toward Libya?

By Jennifer Rubin

The New York Times reports:

The United States began moving warships toward Libya and froze $30 billion in the country's assets on Monday as the administration declared all options on the table in its diplomatic, economic and military campaign to drive Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration was conferring with allies about imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. Such a move would likely be carried out only under a mandate from the United Nations or NATO, but Mrs. Clinton's blunt confirmation that it was under consideration was clearly intended to ratchet up the pressure on Colonel Qaddafi and his dwindling band of loyalists.

But then some eager anonymous staffers couldn't resist assuring the Times that this was mostly a bluff ("officials in Washington and elsewhere said that direct military action remained unlikely, and that the moves were designed as much as anything as a warning to Colonel Qaddafi and a show of support to the protesters seeking to overthrow his government"). Thanks, guys.

I asked some Middle East and military gurus what the Obama administration might be up to.

Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told me via e-mail last night:

We've seen marked changes in the administration's approach to Libya since U.S. citizens left Libya three days ago. From timidity, to direct calls for Qaddaffi's departure, to announcing that we would provide direct support to anti-government forces, and now the arrival of warships. This is a rapid escalation. I have serious doubts that this White House would deploy troops on Libyan soil. However, I do see this as a means to enforce a no-fly zone. It could also be a means to ensure the safe passage of humanitarian aid to areas that NGOs report have been near-impossible to reach. This is also a bit of psychological warfare, of course. The mere threat of US firepower will not be lost on Qaddaffi, who remembers the U.S. bombing raid on Libya, ordered by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, that killed his adopted daughter.

"Psychological warfare" might work better if Obama officials would keep their traps shut.

Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute remained skeptical. He told me that it "seems like the carriers are very much in the 'moving to the area' stage rather than 'launch strikes now' stage, though I hope I'm wrong about that." He cautioned that ousting Gaddafi wouldn't be enough: "We want not only to get Gaddafi out but do what we can to ensure that it doesn't require a bloodbath or lead to one after, or al-Qaeda or any of the potential other bad outcomes. Also, it seemed like Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice crossed a rhetorical threshold (if Biden hadn't already done so), so we're committed, and will look very bad if [some decisive action] doesn't happen soon."

The administration, after trying to be invisible, is now beginning to exert itself. But how much credibility and resolve do we have? Not much, I fear.

By Jennifer Rubin  | March 1, 2011; 10:10 AM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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India, China, Germany, and the UK all have war ships off the coast of Libya to assists in evacuation of citizens. I imagine the US now requires a face-saving presence. China has their most advanced warship in the Med!

Perhaps Egypt needs help in repatriating the more than 50,000 Egyptian migrant workers now at or over the Tunisian border.

Plus, the Benghazi Council started shipping oil out by tanker. Maybe someone has actually spoken with the Benghazi Council, who asked for help with security of oil tankers. THAT is where a no-fly zone is needed.

You do not need an aircraft carrier to bomb Qaddafi's palace. Italy is close enough. So is Chad. British Special Ops troops flew in on commercial flights.

Posted by: K2K2 | March 1, 2011 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Someone from AEI hopes they are wrong? Being wrong is in the DNA of AEI. See their support of the Bush/Cheney decision to welcome Libya back with open arms into the civilized world back in 2004.

Posted by: oldabandonedbeachhouse | March 1, 2011 11:32 AM | Report abuse

“Bush looked deep into his eyes...and saw a good man...he knew it was just a miss step in judgment..­then they hugged and kissed...”

Posted by: rcaruth | March 1, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse


I keep seeing reports of Gaddafi being dead, and then he just pops up again on the news. I'm not sure what's going on especially after the YouTube hanging video that WikiLeaks published late today:

You know, their problems will continue to escalate after the revolution is over, because no one has stepped up to be the next leader, or help lead the way for the change. Obama has just sat on his hand the entire time. I saw him at a nice White House dinner with hollywood celebrities the same day people were dying out there in Libya.

Posted by: webcontent2011 | March 1, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Whatever happens, we likely won't be in the lead. We'll follow our NATO allies or UN resolutions. Nobody follows Obama.

It seems like the best way to get rid of Qaddafi is to get the mercenaries to leave. Make it clear that Qaddafi will be removed by an international force if necessary and that all mercenaries will be treated as war criminals. Buy them off. Pay them to go back to Chad or Sudan -- wherever they came from. Have their governments tell them they'll be killed if they stay.

Posted by: eoniii | March 1, 2011 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Very reassuring that Reuters now reporting the USS Barry is in the southwestern Mediterranean. This bristling destroyer is the best deterrence to anyone thinking of launching missiles at anything afloat or in the air.

The refugee crisis in Tunisia is getting violent. The Egyptian migrants in western Libya want to go home.

Posted by: K2K2 | March 1, 2011 1:00 PM | Report abuse

And the Iranians send a message by moving ships thru the Suez.............

Posted by: gopthestupidparty | March 1, 2011 1:19 PM | Report abuse

The ships Jennifer are a scarecrow to Gadhafi and to people still around him, and an anesthetic to those -like myself- who complain that the U.S. is not doing enough to help the rebels. In other words, it is more a psychotic drum-beat, than a preparation for a U.S. invasion!

Is that the right thing to do at this juncture of the events in Libya? Yes. I, for example, am impatient to wait for Gadhafi to fall, and there are probably millions of people like me around the world who think that "Gadhafi is not falling fast enough!"

Surely, we all feel better to know that superior external armed forces "are in position" to take on Gadhafi - if need be! And that's all we can get at this time: Consolation to temper our impatience. And, unfortunately, we would have to wait a little longer to open that champagne and drink to the health of the Libyan people. On the meantime, let's keep the champagne cold - just in case Gadhafi comes to his senses, take his entourage and his herd of camels, and move to Chad or Niger to retire and write his next book: "The Failure Of The Third Universal Theory." Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by: Nikos_Retsos | March 1, 2011 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: eoniii | March 1, 2011 12:58 PM

Nobody follows Obama.

Nobody follows the US.

The rebels are doing fine without outside interference. They don't want help, and we wouldn't be considering it if there was no oil involved.

Posted by: Shingo1 | March 1, 2011 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Given what SecDef Gates said today, I wonder if they arrived at this time only for show, to just say that we showed up, in the spirit of Woody Allen...

A cynic would say that their appearance is just part of the Obami’s plan for $3.00 gas: to sell it by the quart.

Posted by: SCMike1 | March 1, 2011 9:13 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: eoniii | March 1, 2011 12:58 PM

Nobody follows Obama.

Nobody follows the US.

The rebels are doing fine without outside interference. They don't want help, and we wouldn't be considering it if there was no oil involved.

Posted by: Shingo1 | March 1, 2011 10:31 PM | Report abuse

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