After taking months of heat from both political parties for its decision to assist in a NATO-led mission in Libya, the Obama administration was not only pleased with the results but also eager to tout the strategy, crediting it with weakening Moammar Kadafi’s forces over time while giving rebel forces time to regroup.
And the administration offered a response to criticism that Obama’s plan lacked an endgame in Libya: “Six months is not a long time to bring down a 42-year dictatorship,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, in a telephone interview.
“Over time, all the pressure on Kadafi built up because we were destroying his forces on the ground while denying him ability to replenish them, so he was getting steadily weaker and at the same time the opposition was getting better organized,” Rhodes said.
“What really drove things in the last several days are – NATO continued the pressure, in terms of the strikes against Kadafi, but the opposition was able to go on the offensive in different parts of the country,” Rhodes said. “So you had the opposition advancing in the west into Tripoli; you had the opposition advancing in the east out of Benghazi; and then you had the opposition advancing out of Misurata. So he was getting pressured from NATO and from three fronts of the opposition, and that was just too much pressure for him to bear.
“So the notion that somehow six months represented a dragged-out effort, I think, runs counter to the fact that this was a dictator who was entrenched for four decades,” Rhodes said. “Frankly, that time proved to be important because that time allowed the opposition to get a lot stronger than they were in March. In March, they wouldn’t have had the capability that they had today. So it was time well spent.”
Obama spoke of progress but did not declare victory Monday as he spoke to reporters from Martha’s Vineyard, saying Libya was “in the hands of its people.”
Hours later, as fighting continued in Tripoli, Kadafi’s son and heir-apparent, Seif Islam, made a surprise appearance despite rebel claims that he had been captured. Islam claimed to reporters that the rebels had progressed because they had been lured into a trap.
Seif Islam Kadafi appeared in an armed convoy at the Rixos hotel, in territory still considered to be controlled by his father, according to reports by journalists who spoke with him.
“He said that ‘We are winning,” Tadek Markowski said. “And he also said that they’ve lured the rebels into a massive trap. He said, ‘We brought them here to Tripoli and we’ve broken their back.’”
Kadafi’s son also spoke with CNN’s Matthew Chance, who has been camped out at the same hotel.
“I asked him where his father was and he said, 'My whole family are in Tripoli,’” Chance said.