With the NATO campaign in Libya growing ever more thorny (and tragic), the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, conceded that the fight between the rebels and pro-government forces is “moving towards stalemate.” And it’s not clear how that stalemate will be broken. Western countries don’t want any substantial escalation of their role, a few European military advisors and a couple of U.S. drones notwithstanding. Defense Secretary Gates said yesterday that he sees “no wiggle room” in President Obama’s vow that American ground troops won’t be sent to Libya, and despite John McCain’s declaration of the Libyan rebels as “my heroes,” President Obama seems unready to supply them with more than mostly non-lethal military equipment like radios and body armor.
But Mullen’s comments included an important bright spot. Before Obama chose to intervene in Libya, some of his advisers fretted that regime change in Libya might benefit Islamic radicals whom Gaddafi had long repressed. Today Mullen said that scenario has not played out:
Mullen also said the United States is watching for any al-Qaeda involvement in the Libyan opposition but has not detected anything significant. “In fact, I’ve seen no al-Qaeda representation there at all,” he said.
A stalemate between Gaddafi and fighters whom we basically see as good guys is a policy headache. A stalemate between Gaddafi and a group with radical Islamist influences would be a searing policy migraine.