Stalemate Seen As Most Likely Outcome In Libya?

We seem to be giving up on the idea of a quick resolution in Libya:

U.S. officials are becoming increasingly resigned to the possibility of a protracted stalemate in Libya, with rebels retaining control of the eastern half of the divided country but lacking the muscle to drive Moammar Gaddafi from power.

Such a deadlock — perhaps backed by a formal cease-fire agreement — could help ensure the safety of Libyan civilians caught in the crossfire between the warring sides. But it could also dramatically expand the financial and military commitments by the United States and allied countries that have intervened in the six-week-old conflict, according to U.S. officials familiar with planning for the Libyan operation.

New evidence of a possible impasse emerged Friday as an opposition spokesman called publicly for a cease-fire that would halt the fighting and essentially freeze the battle lines. The Libyan government rejected the proposal, saying it would not “withdraw from our own cities.”

U.S. analysts have concluded that Gaddafi will likely not step aside voluntarily, despite recent defections by top aides. Nor is he likely to be driven anytime soon from his Tripoli base, where he has surrounded himself with highly paid fighters and tribal kinsmen who remain fiercely loyal, the officials said.

One likened the current conflict to an evenly matched football game, with two sides skirmishing over a few yards in midfield.

“Neither side seems capable of moving the ball down the field,” said the U.S. official. “It is also true that neither side has endless resources.”

A stalemate could mean an open-ended mission for the coalition of NATO and Arab countries now enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya, increasing both the financial and political costs for the participants. But analysts are increasingly confident that Gaddafi can be largely contained within a divided Libya, unable to significantly threaten his neighbors and gradually weakening over time.

Gaddafi’s position would be severely weakened, and it’s possible that in a years time or so, he would indeed be overthrown, but the prospects for the rebels don’t look much better:

Anthony Cordesman, a defense and security analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Gaddafi’s internal support would likely “erode from the margins,” as tribal leaders and military commanders peel off despite his ability to pay them. But the prospects are nearly as grim for his opponents, a rebel force with “no discipline, no communications and no intelligence, and at best an improvised logistics and supply chain.”

“You can’t fix those things quickly or easily,” he said.

Indeed not, but a cease fire would give the rebels time to regroup, rearm, and train themselves into a more disciplined force, which is one reason, perhaps, why Gaddafi rejected the idea immediately.

FILED UNDER: Africa, World Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    Drop it like a t*rd sandwich.

  2. Axel Edgren says:

    Obama must be clear that he doesn’t want to commit beyond the current levels no matter what. The US took action in Libya because it seemed possible to help a lot with little commitment. The commitment must not grow in magnitude.