Exit Strategies

Administration officials cleared up Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments on Tuesday that members of Libyan Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s regime had been reaching out to the United States and other countries, potentially to play games or potentially to seek an exit strategy. Officials said that Qaddafi’s brother-in-law was calling the State Department everyday and that Libya’s foreign minister had also made a few calls. No one seems to know what the purpose of the calls really is, but intelligence officials say that Qaddafi isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Today, Clinton said that it is time Libya’s leader made the “right decision," that is, “not only institute a real, comprehensive cease-fire but withdraw from the cities and end the military actions and prepare for a transition that does not include” Qaddafi. The fastest way for Qaddafi to end the violence, she said, is “to actually serve the Libyan people by leaving.” She commented that “significant progress” has been made in establishing a no-fly zone over the country, carried out under a UN mandate to protect civilians on the ground. Clinton’s comments further cloud the allies’ mission statement.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with the head of the Egyptian army today and lavished praise on his military for protecting protesters during the demonstrations that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak. Gates also called on Egyptian officials to allow new political groups to have a voice in government.

After wrapping up in Egypt, Gates headed to Israel. His mandate originally was to press Israeli and Palestinian officials to restart the peace process and to talk about regional security issues like Iran. But after this week’s bus station bombing in Jerusalem, which was blamed on Palestinians, his job has gotten a bit tougher. He is scheduled to meet with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak and Israel’s President Shimon Peres today, sitting down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tomorrow.