The French led the charge against Libya. Sarkozy, egged on by Bernard-Henri Lévy and his own desire to lead a wartime coalition, saw an opportunity. At the time, I wrote that the opportunity might prove to be a trap if Qaddafi didn't fall quickly. And he hasn't. A week ago, Admiral Pierre-François Forissier said that the unexpectedly protracted war was "eating up the potential" of the French navy. If the carrier Charles de Gaulle is still at sea at the end of 2011, he added, it would have to be taken out of service in 2012 for maintenance. And there is no replacement available.This confirms what I wrote at the time about the limits of France's ability to wage war beyond its borders without US assistance--and Libya isn't even that far beyond France's borders. At the time my remark drew hostile comment from some who read my piece in Foreign Policy.
And now, to make matters worse, the US Congress is threatening (NYT link) to invoke the War Powers Act to force the US out of the Libyan operation. With a Democrat in the White House, Republicans (and some Democrats) are discovering the virtues of an Act that they scorned when it might have been invoked against the foreign adventurism of George W. Bush. If the US were to withdraw from the Libyan operation, France and Britain would be in a serious bind. They cannot carry on alone. But Qaddafi remains in place.
So, what will happen? I expect that the War Powers Act will not be invoked in the US, although with the Republicans intent on embarrassing Obama in every possible way, such an eventuality cannot be ruled out. In the meantime, however, pressure on Qaddafi will probably be intensified, simply because a prolonged military effort will put too much strain on scarce assets. But Qaddafi reads the papers and knows that the NATO mission is reaching the end of its tether. So he is likely to dig in and tough it out. And so we learn, yet again, that impetuous military action fueled by visions of quick and easy victory is almost always a mistake.