March 28, 2011

CNAS Policy Brief Provides Recommendations for Obama Administration on Libya Strategy

While the situation in Libya continues to change rapidly, the most prudent course of action for the United States is to execute a strategy that would minimize the U.S. commitment to Libya and protect the United States from a potentially protracted and resource-intensive conflict, according to a new policy brief released today by Center for a New American Security (CNAS) experts Andrew Exum and Zachary Hosford.

In Forging a Libya Strategy: Policy Recommendations for the Obama Administration, authors Exum and Hosford argue that U.S. interests in Libya, which include the protection of civilians and providing momentum to the revolutionary fervor sweeping the region, come at a potentially high cost to the United States. In addition, continued engagement may detract focus and resources away from other critical issues in the region and globally. Exum and Hosford offer four policy recommendations for the United States that limit the U.S. expenditure of blood or treasure:

  • Use Positive and Negative Incentives to Force Moammar Gadhafi from Power. The United States and its allies should continue to use international financial sanctions to help force Gadhafi from power. The United States should also press an African or Arab nation to accept Gadhafi and his family into exile. While that means Gadhafi could depart Libya as a free man, it would help end what promises to be a protracted and bloody civil war.
  • Halt Direct Military Operations. Now that the U.S.-led naval attacks and air strikes have prevented a humanitarian crisis, the United States should refrain from further direct military operations in Libya and only contribute military assets that fill capability gaps in coalition forces conducting operations related to the enforcement of the no-fly zone or arms embargo.
  • Help Build a Coalition To Provide Non-Military Support. The administration should work to build support among the nations of Africa, Europe and the Arabic-speaking world to provide aid to the people of Libya – to include police trainers, rule-of-law specialists and all the other means necessary for successful stabilization operations.
  • Be Willing to Accept the Status Quo Ante Bellum. Should the allied intervention end with Gadhafi still in power and he again threatens military action against anti-government rebels and civilians, the United States should not re-engage militarily. The Obama administration, meanwhile, will have plenty of other opportunities – in Syria, Egypt, Bahrain and elsewhere – to support the popular revolutions and demonstrations in the Arabic-speaking world.

“Now that UNSCR 1973 – and the interests of the Libyan rebels – have been fulfilled, it is time for the United States to look after its national interests," write authors Exum and Hosford. "Politically, Libya is in the European sphere of responsibility. And strategically, for the United States, Libya is of secondary importance that distracts attention from the greater challenges of tomorrow."

Download Forging a Libya Strategy here.


The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.