Yesterday, American B-2 stealth bombers, F-16s, F-15s, and Harrier attack jets bombed both Libyan air and ground defenses including Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s massive residential compound in Tripoli. “We judge these strikes to have been very effective in significantly degrading the regime’s air defense capability,” Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday.

But the fact that these operations could be successfully undertaken by coalition forces was never in doubt. The problem is that these operations by themselves will not be decisive in either eliminating the regime or fully protecting civilians. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that the U.S. expects to turn control of the Libya military mission over to a coalition (headed by the French? the British? or by NATO?) “in a matter of days.” What happens if Qadhafi is still in power by that time? The United Nations mandate authorizing these strikes is extremely broad, permitting anything but “occupying” Libya. The coalition has yet to state specific goals for the operation. What does protecting civilians mean?

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