There is much right, and much wrong, with our mission in Libya. Let’s review.
First and foremost, our current action began in order to prevent a large scale massacre in Benghazi, which Gaddafi had surrounded and was preparing to go “house by house, room by room” to slaughter civilians in this city of 670,000. The United States could not let this happen if we had a reasonable way to prevent it, and the President and a few other Western nations were right to stop it. I for one am tired of “shoulda coulda woulda” on preventing genocides. Our most recent examples were during the Clinton Administration where we allowed “preventable” genocides in Rwanda (800,000 dead) and Srebrenica (8,000 muslim men and boys) and later expressed our remorse for not doing such “preventing”. Our apologies brought none of these people back to life.
I challenge anyone opposed to the Libyan action to put themselves in the shoes of a mother and father in Benghazi, huddled in their home with their 4 children, waiting for the onslaught that only American leadership could (and did) prevent.
This is what was right about our mission.
But unfortunately such engagements are not stand-alone acts, and once the imminent genocide is prevented a whole new set of data and circumstances presents itself. In this case, how do we prevent Gaddafi’s forces from returning to Benghazi, or choosing a different city to massacre? And, based on our success in Benghazi, is there an opportunity to overthrow Gaddafi and establish a foundation for a more peaceful or democratic Libya? The answers appeared to be yes, and so we pursued beyond the Benghazi mission.
The President expected the continued incursion to last “days, not weeks”. We are now 3 months into this war. The President is learning, albeit late and too slowly, that the world is much more complex than it seemed in his Harvard lecture hall. Gaddafi clings to power and continues to fight day-to-day, in my opinion barely surviving and only delaying his ultimate fate which will be death at the other end of one of our bombs.
What have we done wrong in Libya? First, we likely had Gaddafi very early on, but the President pursued a coalition rather than American leadership and the opportunity slipped through our hands as we delayed. Arguably we could have been done with Gaddafi in a day, and instead we have been fighting for 3 months.
In addition, we are supposedly “leading from behind”, mostly with American aircraft and pilots, American bombs, American helicopters, and American soldiers. We call this a NATO mission and have put our troops under the command of a British leader, but only 8 out of the 24 NATO nations are participating, and we of course are carrying the bulk of the load militarily and financially. The President deceitfully makes this sound like an alliance battle, but it is in reality an American battle with NATO tissue paper around it, and a non-American leader to complete the deceit. We should be leading, and we should be putting everything we have (in air power) into finishing Gaddafi, and almost certainly would have done so by now had we not decided to “lead from behind”.
And now I must criticize my Republican friends. Their duplicitous, Democrat-party-like criticism of the President and this war continue a very dangerous, upsetting, and unethical trend begun by John Kerry in his bid to unseat President Bush; politicizing war and using it for political advantage and benefit. If House Republicans don’t like the war, they should vote to de-fund it. As the Democrats did on Iraq, the Republicans instead outwardly claim to want the war to stop, but continue funding it. This is because they know that while there are arguments against the war, in the end they know it would be irresponsible to stop, that we are close to achieving our objectives, and that continuing is the right thing to do. So stop playing politics with our military and let Gaddafi know that we are not quitting until he is gone. The history lesson here requires us only to look back at Iraq, where clearly insurgents believed American Democrat politicians would save them by making Bush hesitate, reduce power, or even withdraw. Bravely, President Bush instead surged in spite of the sniping from the left. Is Gaddafi believing Republicans may stop the war before he dies, and if so is it causing him to resist more than he might have otherwise? I hope not, but the possibility exists.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this war is the silence from the left, including in the press. Just imagine this was President Bush initiating such an engagement. Bloody murder would be screamed across the media. Then, if he said “days, not weeks” and we were 90 days into it as we are, imagine the calls from Democrats in Congress for impeachment, Code Pink protests in the hearing rooms of Congress, front-page-top-of-the-fold New York Times and Washington Post slamming the President, day after day after day. Imagine the volume of the arguments on the War Powers Act, on the “imperial President”, on the “war on Muslims”, on the lack of Congressional involvement by the cowboy in the White House. It’s like one person telling a joke and no one laughing, and then someone else telling the joke and the whole room falling on the floor laughing. The same acts, but when done by a Democrat they are acceptable, by a Republican outrageous and repugnant.
To repeat, I believe Gaddafi will fall. He will do so as a result of American military and air power, not due to NATO. Surely America’s “leading from behind” has made this far more complex, costly, and dangerous, and we should not try to pull off such deception and consensus with weak partners again. Leading from behind has also likely resulted in the loss of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Libyan lives. The citizens of Benghazi have been spared, and likely thousands of other lives will be saved in the short run, and perhaps millions more lives in the region will be safer and enhanced in the long run.