Arab world watching U.S.-Libya action closely

A Libyan rebel gestures before moving closer to the front line after Muammar Qaddafi's forces fired on them in the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya, March 22, 2011.
AP Photo

There's been some confusion and a lot of debate about U.S. goals in Libya, with some questioning whether we should even be there.

CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports that, after scores of cruise missile and bombing attacks, the President still calls the US mission in Libya humanitarian, with the goal of stopping Muammar Qaddafi from attacking his own people.

"Not only was he carrying out the murders of civilians, but he was threatening more," Mr. Obama said.

The UN resolution was also about civilians, saying the mandate was to take "all necessary measures to protect (Libyan) civilians."

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However the real goal in Libya is the downfall, death or departure of Muammar Qaddafi. It's what the Europeans, most Arab countries, and the President all say they want.

All of which means America is fighting in another Muslim country, but this time with the unusual support of most of the Arab world.

"The Arab public for the first time is open to American intervention," said Shibley Telhami, a Mideast expert at the University of Maryland.

Telhami takes opinion polls in Arab countries. Because Gaddafi threatens and embarrasses most Arabs, Telhami calls this a one of kind moment for the President to build Arab good will

Telhami says success in Libya - seeing Qaddafi regime change - is essential important for Mr. Obama.

Regime change in Libya is also important to the protest marchers on every Arab street. After peaceful protests took down two dictators - first in Tunisia, then in Egypt - Qaddafi changed tactics and made war on the crowds. Since then, shooting the protestors has been the rule.

Government crackdowns have killed at least seven protestors in Syria, 20 in Bahrain and some 40 demonstrators in Yemen. Many fear that if Qaddafi survives and clings to power, his way wins.

"What will happen is a lot of other governments may draw the same lessons (from) Qaddafi, which is (to) shoot the people," Telhami said.

Confronting Qaddafi also highlights what some see as a double standard. The U.S. is protecting the civilians in Libya but not the protestors against allied regimes in Yemen and Bahrain. The U.S. is staying close to Yemen because the same regime that's killing protestors is keeping the lid on al Qaeda.

"We consider al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is largely located in Yemen, to be perhaps the most dangerous," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

Overall the Administration wants to be in front of the Arab awakening and the quickest way is through the showdown with Qaddafi, a showdown that ends with him gone.

  • Wyatt Andrews
    Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.