Planning for the Endgame

The joint bombing campaign to establish a no-fly zone and protect civilians in Libya is well under way. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Arab League’s “pivotal statement” calling for the establishment of a no-fly zone spurred members of the UN Security Council to action. But it seemed for a moment that that pivotal support might waver. The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, earlier had criticized the strikes’ civilian death toll, but he clarified today, saying that the Arab League “respects the U.N. Security Council resolution, and there is no contradiction” and that the two bodies stand united. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said that yesterday President Obama, who was in Brazil, spoke to King Abdullah of Jordan (a member of the Arab League) about the need for the actions to be a coalition effort. Donilon also commented that Washington was still rejecting Qaddafi’s cease-fire declaration because it keeps being violated.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates was already talking about an exit strategy yesterday. “In a matter of days,” Gates said, Washington expects to hand over the reins to either NATO or the French and the British. Fully aware of the stress on the U.S. military already, Gates said that Obama wants to limit American involvement and “turn over the primary responsibility to others” soon. Gates noted that the Arab League might be a bit uncomfortable “operating under a NATO umbrella.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen meanwhile was talking about the less-than-desirable outcomes. He conceded that the mission (“limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians,” in Obama’s words), as framed, could in fact succeed with Qaddafi still in power. As Mullen said, “The goals are limited. It's not about seeing him go.” Britain and France have been calling for Qaddafi to step down.

Secretary Gates is in Russia today and is very pleased with the progress made in the U.S.-Russia relationship. He said that the fact that Russia did not use its veto in the UN Security Council to prevent military action against Libya was “extraordinary” and a sign of much improved ties. As Gates put it, “I think if you look at the areas where we are cooperating and the kind of dialogue that we're having with the Russians, we have come quite a distance.” The defense secretary is overseas to talk about missile defense.

Months after the release of classified cables, the WikiLeaks fallout continues. U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual just resigned because of tensions stirred up by a few things he said. In the cables, Pascual criticized the Mexican army, calling it inefficient, and questioned the ability of Felipe Calderon’s government to combat drug cartels.

Back at home, Vice President Joe Biden has chosen a new communications director. The spot has been open since Jay Carney moved to the White House. The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray will take over for the former Time magazine star.

And Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry hosted a bipartisan delegation from Congress on Saturday. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others traveled to Afghanistan to visit troops and meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.