The War on Gaddafi

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Further, the United States is keen to reduce its level of involvement. Having provided its unique capacities to crush the Libyan air defenses, its British, Canadian and French allies are more than capable of conducting the ongoing operations on their own. President Obama is reportedly keen to avoid any repeat, or even the appearance of a repeat, of the Iraq War, in which America provided the overwhelming majority of combat forces, and virtually all the international criticism. “[America] will be one of the partners among many,” President Obama announced from Chile, where he is visiting as part of his ongoing Latin American tour.

That’s fair. America has shouldered the burden of defending the free world for generations, so its closest allies certainly can’t complain that they’re being asked to carry the burden in Libya. Indeed, to their credit, they seem eager for the opportunity. But in the absence of American leadership — the default situation for most allied campaigns since the Second World War — the reality of instituting a formal allied chain of command for the operation is proving difficult.

The mission is authorized by the United Nations, but it is not a United Nations’ mission. The Western countries committed to military action — America, Britain, France, Canada, Italy and Denmark — all are members of NATO. Yet NATO also contains Germany and Turkey, and both nations strongly oppose the attacks on Libya. Italy, which has offered up fighter jets and is hosting many of the other nation’s aircraft on its soil, has also seemed uncomfortable with how rapidly the allies’ actions have begun to resemble an outright war … and yet insists that NATO take command. The dysfunctional Arab League, which seems to be having trouble deciding where it stands on the campaign, is certainly off the table as a leadership option.

That leaves two less-than-ideal choices. The first would see the various coalition nations continuing their individual operations, co-ordinating them through a central commander, but each nation essentially waging a private little war against Gaddafi. That would mean the campaign would lose out on the benefits of efficient, effective co-operation and leave the allies susceptible to international pressure. If one chooses to drop out (after a collateral damage tragedy, perhaps), Gaddafi would be emboldened. The last option would be to see one country take leadership of the international forces. France would be a good candidate, as it has shown leadership in confronting Gaddafi. Whether British or U.S. forces would wish to be placed under French command, however, remains an open question.

Similar uncertainty surrounds the intended fate for Gaddafi himself. Regime change is not an explicit goal of the coalition at this point. U.S. forces are said to desire such an outcome; British military forces have ruled it out — interestingly, earning a rare public rebuke from British Prime Minister David Cameron, who clarified that Gaddafi would be a valid target if removing him would help protect civilians. Such uncertainty, aired in public, no less, does not speak to a well-organized effort among the allies, making a central, united command structure (under almost anyone’s command) strongly preferable.

Unless the allies can resolve their organizational difficulties and diplomatic differences, Gaddafi might use his deft political skills to find a way to stay alive and in power, even if half his country falls into rebel hands. Given his history of sponsoring terror against the West, such is an unacceptable outcome. The Western allies must not allow internal squabbling to give Gaddafi his chance for survival.

Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @mattgurney.


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  • Chezwick_Mac

    Folks, I have no love lost for Qaddafi…the bastard blew up Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. But must I point out that…

    1) He ended his terror phase in the 90s

    2) He ended his WMD programs in 2004

    3) He is not an Islamist

    Do we have a clue what we might be getting with the Libyan opposition? I think not.

    Sometimes better the devil you know…or put another way, why favor either side? By our intervention, we're taking ownership of the "new" Libya…with all its potential pitfalls.

    • coyote3

      Unfortunately I tend to agree with you. Just as importantly, Libya has not attacked the U.S. and I have not even heard an immediate threat to the U.S., or even its interests has even been articulated as justification for this under the War Powers Resolution. We may be helping an even more vicious enemy, but notwithstanding "who" it is, we have no business going into countries just because there is some tin pot dictator "bumping" people. If that was the case, we would have to "intervene" in every country in the ME, much of Asia, and even some of Europe.

  • informer

    If USA wanted him so much,why they did not arrest him while he came few times to USA?To UN..
    Why france or Italy or UK did not arrest him when he was visiting those countries and receptions there were great! Why Sarcozi ask him for $1 mil when he was doing his Presidential compain?
    WHY???? But now…attacking a country?It is a declaration of war and…knowing muslimbmentallity….all those involved will pay badly….too sad that innocent people will die,not those who gave commands.

    No country can just attack without direct danger.

  • Amused

    To get involved in a civil war between muslims [or anyone else for that matter ] is PURE FOLLY .

  • aspacia

    This attack is bs. The Saudis, Chinese, Russians, North Koreans, etc., are all tyrants. We do not have the power to topple all of them, and God knows what regime will replace them if we did. However, if we were to prosecute attacks as we did in WWI and WWII, topple governments, and changed regimes to our liking, as we did in Germany and Japan, then this may be a worthwhile effort. We kicked out all elements of faith in government in Japan and outlawed the Nazi party.

  • kafir4life

    Qadaffy was one of the Presidents most ardent supporters in the international community during the campaign and since. If he plays his cards right, he may find himself replacing Joe Biden on the Obama 2012 ticket. Biden has been an embarassment to the administration (even by democratic standards), and an Obama-Qadaffy ticket shoukd be just what's needed to re-energize the Democratic base.

  • kafir4life

    Obama has successfully made the French appear brave!! At least compared to him.

  • Lightning Jack

    Why is it that the U.N., the United States and NATO can form a coalition to wage preemptive air strikes against a Libyan dictator fighting a tribal insurgency that he did not start… but:

    Is powerless to do anything about rampant piracy in Somalia which has killed innocent American civilians, holds over 600 hostages and 30 ships as contraband?

  • Amused

    Pssssst ! Jack ! ……………………………………………….no oil .

  • USMCSniper

    What was the eminent threat and/or strategic interest to the United States or Americans that justifies this tremendous expenditure of tax dollars and risks to American military serviceman? Answer NONE~!!!

  • Amused

    Dontcha Know USMCSniper ? 70% of France' oil supply !

    • USMCSniper

      The UN resolution also authorizes all military actions “short of a ground assault” to help the opposition bring down Gaddafi. The UN doe not overrule or bypass the US Congress for US military actions.! Who cares about France. I was talking about the United States and the Constitution. The president as Commander is Chief DIRECTS military actions that only Congress can AUTHORIZE and FUND.

      “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation. That requires the authorization of the Congress.” – Barack Obama Dec. 20, 2007. If it were Bush wanting to use the military to make any regime change anywhere without congressional authorization, there would be cries for his impeachment. I guess Obama gets a pass.

      • Amused

        Well Sniper , Grenada posed no imminent danger , nor did Panama , and it's likely neither did IRAQ . There is the wars powers act aand a President merely extends a courtesy by "asking Congress " . Dont get me wrong , I think it a dumb uninformed move by Obama , I agree with Kusinich , that it is an impeachable act , BUT , other than that , it does not set a precedent .Other Presidents have done the same .Maybe you forgot Reagan bombed Libya too .
        The imminent danger is also there ,for Eastern Libya is seconded only to Saudi Arabia for it's residents going to fight jihad in Iraq . Although I believe that is NOT the reason Obama went in on this . He's in line with the rest of the dhimmis , probably not even considering this .

  • Carl Lexow

    For the records – the NATO member Norway has also committed itself to military actions against Libya and has sent some F 16th, for the time being stationed in Crete.

  • Amused

    Everybody's playing "freind of the muslims " , because Gaddafi is an embarrasment to muslims , thereby expendable …and the dhimmi nations get in line to curry favor . This whole thing is pathetic .And the hypocrisy is put up on a stage , why not Yemen ? Bahrain ? Sudan ? Congo ? I hear Syria's having problems ..any takers ?
    Humanitarian ? Moral ? ….BUNK !

  • coyote3

    Go President Obama. Anyone who can get Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul on the same side of an issue like this has to be doing something great, tee hee.

  • Phillip Galey

    If, Gaddafi uses his deft political skills AND SOME COMMON SENSE, . . . putting his 150t of gold into the European market—thus, presenting considerable strength to a rather shaky EURO—he will have found a way to stay alive and in power, . . .

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