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Three key questions about Libya

By Wesley Clark, CNN Contributor
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What comes next for Libya?
  • Gen. Wesley Clark: No-fly zone is established, some military objectives achieved
  • He says the more difficult questions are the diplomatic ones
  • Clark asks: Will Libya be split by the civil war?
  • Clark: Will Moammar Gadhafi be held to account for violence against civilians

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Wesley Clark, a senior fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, is a retired general and former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Little Rock, Arkansas (CNN) -- The coalition is concluding its second day of air operations. The no-fly zone is established.

A column of Libyan military vehicles, driving on a road toward Benghazi, has been attacked and destroyed. This is what much of the world had been crying out for.

Yet the major questions have always been less about the military feasibility of the operation and more about its political goals ands how to achieve them.

Although several world leaders have called for Col. Moammar Gadhafi to give up power in Libya, the authorizing U.N. Security Council resolution did not call for this.

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Instead, the goal is to halt the violence against innocent civilians. This raises several important issues:

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-- Assuming the opposition forces are safe in Benghazi, then what must be done to protect civilians in those towns previously held by the opposition but have now been retaken by Gadhafi's forces?

Presumably some U.N. presence must enter these areas and work to identify and protect civilians. This will likely be resisted by Gadhafi and could spur further conflict.

-- Will the U.N. and the coalition be satisfied with a political stalemate on the ground, in which the eastern portion of the country achieves de facto and de jure independence?

The cease-fire called for in the resolution would seem to rule out any renewed offensive activity by the opposition. So unless there is some means to apply additional leverage, there may be two Libyas: one a vengeful dictatorship, the other a fledgling democracy needing long-term international protection.

-- Will Gadhafi be held legally accountable for the excessive violence already exercised against innocent civilians? This will require an investigation on the ground in Tripoli and other cities now under Gadhafi's control. He is not likely to accept this.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi is doing his best to characterize the action as one of "Crusaders attacking Muslims," and claiming excessive collateral damages, including civilian casualties, from the coalition's initial air strikes.

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The ability to sustain the operation is heavily dependent on Arab political and diplomatic support, which are the targets of Gadhafi's propaganda offensive.

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One of the basic rules of intervention is to get it over with quickly. From the military standpoint, this has been done. But how these initial military actions will relate to the stated -- and unstated -- goals of the operation remains the major challenge for the coalition.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Wesley Clark.

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