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Five myths about Moammar Gaddafi
A no-fly zone will finish Gaddafi.
4Very unlikely. Indeed, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and senior generals have balked at the cost and risks of destroying Libyan air defenses. In any case, the most significant attacks by the regime against the rebels haven't been mounted by warplanes, but by ground forces and helicopters capable of evading a no-fly zone. There's also an awkward diplomatic reality: Intervention would struggle to win support in NATO, where Turkey is opposed, or in the U.N. Security Council, where China and Russia are likely to say no.
And even if a no-fly zone would topple Gaddafi, why would President Obama want to establish one? Failures in Iraq and Afghanistan are a big part of the debate about Libya. The United States is cautious, fearing another messy intervention in a Muslim country and wary of interfering in an organic, grass-roots rebellion in the Middle East. Unless Gaddafi begins using planes to inflict mass casualties, a no-fly zone may only level the playing field so that the two sides of Libya's civil war can fight more evenly - and Gaddafi isn't the underdog in that battle.
Remove Gaddafi, and Libya's problems are solved.
5Gaddafi's rule has had one benefit: It has kept a divided country together. His exit would leave a power vacuum. Gaddafi did such a thorough job of eliminating his opposition that there is nothing - no party, no ideology, no clear successor - left to replace him. Politically, Libya is a blank slate.
The rebels are united by little beyond their hatred of Gaddafi. Secularists, monarchists and even former jihadists rub shoulders with one another in this fight. Tribal loyalties further complicate efforts to forge a common front. All the factions call for international action to oust Gaddafi, but they are divided on what form it should take. Only since the Interim National Council was set up in the rebel-held city of Benghazi on Feb. 26 has Gaddafi's opposition begun to coalesce.
But these are early days. For almost a week, former justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil battled with Benghazi-based lawyer Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga for leadership of the council. Jalil wasn't confirmed as its head until March 5. Even if Libya's rebels can achieve victory on the battlefield - a big "if" - the task of building a national movement in a divided society will prove even tougher.
Richard Downie is the deputy director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.