NATO Reaches A Draw In Libya

While the NATO chief claims Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi could be expelled any day now, others say the situation in Libya has reached a stalemate. Host Scott Simon talks with Dirk Vandewalle, professor of government at Dartmouth, about what's led to the stalemate and the prospects for breaking it.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The conflict between rebels and the Libyan government has reached a stalemate by most observers' standards. But over this week, NATO has intensified bombings, day and night, in Tripoli, the country's capital and at Moammar Gadhafi's stronghold. And NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen has declared that Gadhafi's days were numbered, even as the Libyan leader himself repeated he's not going anywhere.

Dirk Vandewalle is a professor of government at Dartmouth College and an expert on Libya. He joins us from the campus in Hanover, New Hampshire. Professor Vandewalle, thanks for being with us.

Professor DIRK VANDEWALLE (Government, Dartmouth College): My pleasure.

SIMON: It's a stalemate?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: I think it is indeed a stalemate. It is quite clear that the rebels themselves in the eastern part of Libya simply don't have the capability of really conquering the rest of the country. And so the stalemate is even more acute in part because the international coalition that is NATO in effect has become now the arbiter of whether or not it remains a stalemate or whether or not Gadhafi gets deposed.

SIMON: What about the initial premise to protect civilians? Has that been met?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: It has of course been met to a certain extent but the problem has been that, remember, at the very beginning that President Obama warned us against mission creep and that is exactly what has happened. Because it's gone far beyond simply protecting individuals. It's now actively targeting Gadhafi and the people around him.

And in effect what NATO is now trying to accomplish is what we would call a regime change, for all practical purposes.

SIMON: Is it beyond the realm of possibility now to you that regime change might occur in the next few weeks or months?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: I think regime change is inevitable in Libya. The resources that the Gadhafi government has at this particular point in time are steadily being degraded and being degraded at rapidly almost an exponential rate I would argue. But also the ability to feed the population in Tripoli (unintelligible), and particularly in Tripoli access to money to pay for the resources that he needs.

And so in the end, I think, the removal of the Gadhafi regime is inevitable at this point.

SIMON: Yet, back in March you were on with our colleagues on WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY when the plan to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya was initiated. You said it created more problems than it solved. How do you feel about that now?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: In a sense I still feel the same way. The only positive development that we've seen so far is that the rebel, the transitional government in Benghazi has been able to organize itself a bit better, and is trying to build an infrastructure. But in a sense the very basic problem remains that NATO now needs to act more forcefully to remove Gadhafi.

SIMON: When you bomb a man's house or perhaps it should be palace, do you kind of close of any possibility that he'll decide to go into exile and obviate the military campaign?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: It certainly, I think, makes it much more difficult. And in a way that scenario that even the United States was interested in, let's say, about a month and a half ago, has frankly, I think, disappeared. First of all, the international criminal court has indicted Gadhafi, his son and a couple of people around Gadhafi. So that means effectively that he has very, very few places that he can go.

And then also the intensification of the bombing has really brought home the message that Gadhafi has kept repeating since this uprising started, that this is a kind of a Western-orchestrated attempt to get at Libya's oil, to occupy Libya again. And so in a sense for Gadhafi this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy and by all indications Gadhafi and probably his family around him are indeed not showing of any signs of wanting to leave Libya.

And as Gadhafi himself put it, he wants to become the kind of martyr that kind of resonates with the anti-West rhetoric that we've heard from the regime all the way going back to 1969.

SIMON: And to be blunt about it, do you foresee him getting his wish in a few months?

Prof. VANDEWALLE: I do, unless something really unexpected happens. I think, as he expressed again over the last couple of days, that he is the personification of Libya as a nation, therefore he himself, I think, will likely not leave Libya.

SIMON: Dirk Vandewalle, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. Thanks so much.

Prof. VANDEWALLE: My pleasure.

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