Tuesday, April 26, 2011

NATO Bombs Gadhafi Cribs (But Not to Kill Him, Honest)

NATO Bombs Gadhafi Cribs (But Not to Kill Him, Honest): "

Whatever you do, don’t call it regime change. NATO planes dropped bombs on one of Moammar Gadhafi’s Tripoli offices overnight, and the alliance says it’ll to expand its targeting list to strike “palaces, headquarters, communications centers and other prominent institutions supporting the Libyan government.” But, it promises, killing Gadhafi isn’t on the agenda.

Last night’s compound raid, conducted by a Norwegian F-16, was swiftly denounced by Gadhafi’s regime as an assassination attempt. But that’s not what NATO says it’s out to do, since, officially, regime change isn’t a military objective of the stalemated war.

Bombs might be set to fall on regime headquarters. But that’s just a tactic to get Gadhafi’s generals to take matters into their own hands. NATO officials tell the New York Times that the expanded bombing might persuade Gadhafi to “flee into exile — or it might prompt someone in his inner circle to force him out.”

Why the indirect approach? Because the military, with everything else it has to deal with, doesn’t want to be left holding the bag on rebuilding Libya post-Gadhafi.

But it still leaves a strategy gap between the military campaign and the explicit political objective of ridding Libya of Gadhafi. And some are tired of the official fiction that the U.S. hasn’t taken sides in a civil war.

Writing in the Times, retired Lt. Gen. James Dubik urges President Obama to “commit the military resources required” to knock off Gadhafi. That means the boots on the ground that Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have ruled out: “military advisers and combat air controllers… not just British, French and Italian, but also a small number of American ones.”

Dubik, who used to lead the training of the Iraqi security forces, doesn’t say how many advisers are necessary. And he concedes that his strategy won’t yield an “overnight” victory. The rebels are in such poor military shape that it’s unclear what it would take to make them the superior force. Dubik may think the current strategy is half-hearted, but he’s not willing to advocate putting NATO combat troops in Libya, although it’s the next logical step along his argument’s causeway.

Credit to Dubik, though. He is willing to acknowledge that this isn’t a limited mission: “[T]he United States and NATO will have a responsibility to help shape the postwar order, including providing security to prevent a liberated Libya from sinking into chaos.”

That’s exactly what Gates wants to avoid, and what Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s top military commander, conceded a month ago that NATO is beginning to consider. And the administration shows no sign of receptivity to Dubik’s argument. Instead, it holds out the hope that if NATO bombs more regime targets, for just a little longer, Gadhafi will quit and the U.S. can go back about its normal business. And if Gadhafi should happen to die in the process — well, it’s not like that counts as regime change, right?

Photo: U.S. Air Force


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