On Monday's Washington Unplugged, CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante spoke separately with national security correspondent David Martin and Robert Danin, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations about the dilemma facing the U.S. and European allies.
Is it possible to protect the citizens of Libya and not oust longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi without causing a stalemate?
It's a perplexing thought that has sparked fears that the U.S. will enter a third war in the Middle East because of the differing words and actions from the administration.
"That is a very likely scenario," Danin told Plante when asked about the possibility of a stalemate, "Then what you wind up with is a Libya that is divided and this cannot be a good thing for the United States."
Martin noted that while Qaddafi's forces are a "third rate army" the dictator is still capable of retaliation which could extend a possible stalemate.
"Think about the last time the United States bombed Libya; 1986," Martin began, "After that Qaddafi retaliated by orchestrating the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103."
"It is hard to believe that anyone will call this operation a success if Qaddafi remains in power and has at least the potential to retaliate again," he added.
Danin also expanded on how a stalemate could happen, even with support from European allies, like France and the U.K.
"One of the biggest fears in Europe is not only that [Libya] is one of it's major energy suppliers is cut off but that it sets off a wave of refuges that flow across the Mediterranean and this would be very difficult for them to deal with," he said.
Martin summarized the thought behind the possibility of a stalemate. "The theory is that," he told Plante, "If you can maintain the political support for this coalition, maintain the no-fly zone, maintain this naval blockade, maintain the asset freezes that sooner or later he will just whither and die on the vine."
But Martin cautioned that even controlling Qaddafi will not be viewed in the same regard as removing him from power. "Leaving him in power is not going to be judged a success," he said, "No matter how isolated he is in power."
Watch Washington Unplugged's interviews with CBS News' David Martin above and with Council on Foreign Relation's Robert Danin below.