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Is the Libya mission creeping? Is that wrong?

With the UK and France now sending military advisers to assist Libya's rebels, critics warn of mission creep. Would that be such a bad thing?

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I saw first-hand how Libya's second-largest city was spared the deadly asymmetric nightmare currently being experienced in the western city of Misrata, where lightly armed rebels hold parts of town but with Qaddafi's forces routinely peppering civilian quarters with tank and rocket fire.

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If putting military trainers on the ground to help rebels saves lives, does it matter if it's mission creep?

This is a tough question.

A 'second Iraq'?

Uber-blogger and political scientist Andrew Sullivan, originally a full-throated supporter of the Iraq invasion (he's since conceded his judgment was poor on that one), is opposed to the UN imposed no-fly zone over Libya and is horrified at the prospect of any Western troops on the ground. He writes his position this time is informed by what he sees as his failure of judgment in 2003.

In a recent post arguing against escalation – and in favor of giving sanctions and internal pressure time to pry Qaddafi from power – he reveals how much the ghost of Iraq haunts him. I've added the italics:

"So far it has done nothing to resolve the civil war except freezing it in place. But as a strategy, it inherently requires time to work – like the incremental but relentless isolation of Iran. [And since the alternative is either to abort the mission or escalate it into a second Iraq], Obama's patient minimalism is the best option we now have."

It seems reasonable to me that there are many possible outcomes other than giving up or getting a "second Iraq." Libya, after all, is a far more homogeneous place, and intervention was spurred by a popular uprising that, when it realized it was no match for Qaddafi's tanks and jets, begged for international assistance.

Is it too late to help the rebels?

Col. (Ret.) Patrick Lang – a man whose career was shaped as a Special Forces officer in Vietnam, as a scholar of Arab culture who founded West Point's Arabic and Middle East program, and as a military intelligence officer in various Middle Eastern embassies and at the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington – supports direct military training and assistance to Libya's rebels. (Lang was staunchly opposed to the Iraq invasion.)

He and other writers at his blog, Sic Semper Tyrannis – many of them, like him, former Special Forces officers who worked with indigenous militias in America's wars – have agreed with critics of the UN intervention that air power alone is unlikely to unseat Qaddafi. But that's led him to call for foreign trainers, which he's convinced could make a decisive difference for the rebellion.

"People live on the ground," Lang wrote yesterday. "Aviators do not live in the air, nor do sailors live in the sea. The people who are always the true objective of any armed conflict live in houses, tents, apartment buildings, etc. They and the land they live on are the objective, always. No matter how much you attack people from the air, someone must always advance and close with the enemy.... Six weeks have been wasted. I understand that both the French and the British will participate in this effort. Perhaps it is not too late."

Is the mission creeping? Yes, clearly. Is success guaranteed for the rebellion? Far from it. But the UK and France appear to be betting that a modicum of organization will do wonders for the so-far hapless rebel army.

IN PICTURES: Libya conflict

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