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Obama agenda: Command and control

US military officials tell NBC News that it's likely command of the loosely described "no-fly zone" operation over Libya should be turned over to a NATO commander by tomorrow, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reports. While the command will change, the US will continue to take the lead in launching airstrikes against Khadafy's military armor and ground forces. A Senior US military official tells NBC News "some of the coalition members remain a little nervous about attacking ground forces" so US warplanes will continue that mission for the foreseeable future. 

Secretary of State Clinton announced that in addition to Qatar, the United Arab Emirates will also be sending planes. “We welcome this important step,” Clinton said, noting the importance of buy-in from the Arab world. “This operation has saved many lives but the danger is far from over,” she continued. The Arab League’s initial support provided the West cover to intervene. But after Khaddafy claims of civilians being killed, the Arab League was vocalizing criticism of the action for which it advocated. The U.N. and allies were apparently able to convince the Arab League, however, not to make any more comments it deemed unhelpful, because the league has been very quiet since. Clinton will head to London Tuesday to meet with allies. NATO still has to decide if it wants an expanded takeover role beyond the no-fly zone, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported on Nightly News last night. And, as of last night, Mitchell reports, NATO was NOT decided on enforcing the broader elements of “all means necessary” in the U.N. resolution.

And tensions in the region are far from being allayed. The administration is now condemning the violent crackdown by the Syrian government on protesters there. “An assault on the central mosque there early Wednesday, and subsequent attacks by security forces, left an unknown number of deaths, some of which appeared to be documented in bloody videos posted on YouTube,” the New York Times reports. In a statement released last night, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, in part, “The United States strongly condemns the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrations, in particular the violence and killings of civilians at the hands of security forces. … Those responsible for the violence must be held accountable. … We call on the Syrian government to exercise restraint and respect the rights of its people and call on all citizens to exercise their rights peacefully.” “Must be held accountable?” Questions have been raised about the U.S.’s standard on when to intervene on foreign policy. Why Libya and not Yemen or Bahrain, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has asked. Well, what about Syria?

Here’s the full The United States’ statement on Syria: “The United States strongly condemns the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrations, in particular the violence and killings of civilians at the hands of security forces. We reject the use of violence under any circumstances. We are also deeply troubled by the arbitrary arrests of human rights activists and others. Those responsible for the violence must be held accountable. The United States stands for a set of universal rights, including the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and believes that governments must be responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people. We call on the Syrian government to exercise restraint and respect the rights of its people and call on all citizens to exercise their rights peacefully.”

Confusion over the United States’ goal in Libya is exacerbated by “the fact that the administration has shifted over the past weeks -- from resisting military action, to leading the first assault, to positioning itself to hand over control to its partners. That seems to have left almost no one satisfied,” the Washington Post writes. “Those who were urging Obama from the start to charge in -- neoconservatives on the right; humanitarian interventionists on the left -- say he dithered too long. Those who warned against yet another incursion into the Muslim world, particularly in a country where U.S. interests are limited, say he has been reckless. He has been accused of being too deferential to other governments, and not enough so to Congress.”

Washington Post: “The international coalition confronting Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi agreed Thursday to put NATO in charge of enforcing a no-fly zone but was still working on a deal to relieve U.S. forces of command of all military operations in the country.”

The allies involved in the offensive against Col. Khaddafy’s forces remain divided over the ultimate goal and exit strategy of the military campaign, the New York Times writes. President Obama has all but called for Khaddafy’s removal, while France also recognizes the Libyan rebels as the country’s legitimate representatives, but other allies have backed away from going so far in their stated positions. “The questions swirling around the operation’s command mirrored the larger strategic divisions over how exactly the coalition will bring it to an end -- or even what the end might look like, and whether it might even conceivably include a Libya with Colonel Qaddafi remaining in some capacity.” 

President Obama will not give a long, explanatory speech to the nation because he does not want to equate this conflict with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Politico writes.

The White House doesn’t want to call the Libya offensive a war, the Wall Street Journal points out, instead referring to it as “time-limited, scope-limited military action, in concert with our international partners, with the objective of protecting civilian life in Libya from Moammar Gadhafi and his forces,” as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney put it yesterday.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer says that the confusion is due to President Obama’s unwillingness to lead, borne out of his lack of American exceptionalism. “This confusion is purely the result of Obama’s decision to get America into the war and then immediately relinquish American command. Never modest about himself, Obama is supremely modest about his country. America should be merely “one of the partners among many,” he said Monday. No primus inter pares for him. Even the Clinton administration spoke of America as the indispensable nation. And it remains so. Yet at a time when the world is hungry for America to lead -- no one has anything near our capabilities, experience and resources -- America is led by a man determined that it should not.”