For the next 24 hours, Clinton and Rice tag-teamed Arab countries and members of the Security Council. They argued that if nothing was done, despots and beleaguered leaders everywhere would vow never to repeat the “mistake” of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who yielded power without foreign military intervention. Iran, in particular, would find itself with an incentive to continue to spread its proxy forces to other countries and further repress its own citizens. And Rice has made the reinvigoration of the United Nations one of her prime goals as ambassador. The legitimacy of that body was at stake too, she argued.
On Wednesday, at about 6:30 p.m., Mullen and Donilon presented Obama with their CONPLAN for Libya. Its contents are mostly classified; an official said the air strikes on Saturday were one part of a larger campaign that includes a variety of overt and covert actions. Published reports suggest that U.K. special operations forces were secreted in the country, scouting out the battlefield in preparation for air strikes. The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command moved several tactical air teams to a small base on Crete. In order to try and disguise their movements, the U.S. planes changed their call signs once they entered airspace over the Mediterranean, but commercial software that tracks their transponders revealed the shift, and word leaked out on Twitter. These teams would coordinate the air assault but are capable of parachuting into a region and directing them from the ground.
On Friday, the U.S. moved a Rivet Joint signals intelligence plane to Souda Air Base on a Greek Island, bearing the provocative call sign of “SNOOP 55.” Subs capable of launching Tomahawk missiles idled near Italy. The USS Florida, armed with more than 100 Tomahawks, moved into firing range. Twenty four hours after the U.S. introduced its amendments, it got its resolution, 10-0. Obama spoke with his counterparts in France and the UK and agreed that they’d give Qadaffi 24 hours to turn heel and retreat. If he didn’t, France would begin the bombardment.
It was important to the U.S. that Libyans and the world understand that this coalition of the willing was more than a U.S. rhetorical construct. An hour before bombing began Saturday, Clinton spoke to the press in Paris. Asked why military action was in America’s interest, she gave three reasons and implied a fourth. A destabilizing force would jeopardize progress in Tunisia and Egypt; a humanitarian disaster was imminent unless prevented; Qaddafi could not flout international law without consequences. The fourth: there’s a line now, and one that others countries had better not cross.
The development of a new doctrine in the Middle East is taking form, and it could become a paradigm for how the international community deals with unrest across the region from now on. The new elements include the direct participation of the Arab world, the visible participation of U.S. allies, as well as a very specific set of military targets designed to forestall needless human suffering. Though the Libyan situation is quite unique - its military is nowhere near as strong as Iran’s is, for one thing – Obama hopes that a short, surgical, non-US-led campaign with no ground troops will satisfy Americans skeptical about military intervention and will not arouse the suspicions of Arabs and Muslims that the U.S. is attempting to influence indigenously growing democracies.