When I first heard of the growing rebellion in Libya, one of the first things I thought was, “Well, this must be a relief to the Obama administration.”
It wasn’t like Egypt, where, despite our support of democracy and freedom, we had to deal with the embarrassing fact that the corrupt and brutal dictator was a longtime ally. In contrast, we’ve never been fond of Moammar Gadhafi. In Libya, we know whom we’re supposed to hate.
Later, however, when I heard that the British and French were advocating a “no-fly zone” over Libya to keep the rebellion from being crushed, I thought, “Fine. Let them impose it.” We are, after all, a mite busy right now, what with trying to wind down one Middle Eastern war and simultaneously trying to get another war zone at least stable enough to hand it back to the people whose country it is.
I felt an increasing sense of dread, however, when I realized that practically every news report about the rebellion in Libya described the rebel forces as “ragtag,” because let’s face it, we Americans sure do love the ragtag.
The word evokes images of Colonials with their hunting rifles facing the British at Lexington and Concord, or Luke Skywalker and his plucky rebel pilots going up against the Death Star in their motley collection of obsolete fighters. Mark well: When the media start describing a force as “ragtag,” we’re going to be in on their side before too much longer.
And soon we were.
Those of you who are always wondering, often rudely, when I’m going to say something critical of Barack Obama, this is the day you’ve been waiting for. Mark it on your calendars, because I think this is a terrible idea.
Granted, Gadhafi, Qaddafi or Gadaffy, or however you spell it, is a brutal nutcase. He oppresses his people. The rebels were about to be savagely crushed. I grant you all of these things. But just like I said back before George Dubbya’s Wacky Iraqi Adventure, the world is full of brutal, oppressive thugs, from nearby Bahrain, to Africa’s Cote D’Ivoire, to North Korea.
Why Libya? Why not any of those other countries?
The only answer seems to be “because in Libya, we can, and at a low risk to us.” Their air force is relatively weak; in fact, British Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell was quoted by the BBC on Wednesday as saying it “no longer exists as a fighting force.” Great. No-fly zone accomplished. Can we come home now?
Of course not. That’s not how these things work. Now, with no air power against us, NATO warplanes and missiles are targeting ground forces loyal to Gadhafi. We have become, effectively, the rebel air force. Can you say “mission creep,” boys and girls?
And as for “low risk to us,” seems to me we’ve heard that before. Not just in Iraq, but back in 1999, when we and other members of NATO intervened in Kosovo. That started as an air war, too, a mission to save ethnic Albanians from massacre by Serbs. The goals seemed simple at the time: “Serbs out, peacekeepers in, refugees back,” according to a NATO spokesman. At the time, I confess, I thought this was a great idea.
Time has proved me wrong. In the Balkans, as in the Middle East, nothing is that simple. “Ethnic cleansing” actually increased. NATO planes bombed civilian targets, some accidentally, others deliberately.
In the end, it’s true, Serbian thug Slobodan Milosovic stepped down. But we ended up sending in ground troops as “peacekeepers,” who nearly got into a shooting war with Russian “peacekeepers” over the airport at Pristina. Twelve years later, Kosovo is still a mess and still requires thousands of NATO peacekeepers on the ground.
Seems we never learn. Even so-called “limited” air campaigns invariably end up being a lot messier than we plan for. Add to that the fact that the president committing U.S. forces to a war without any authorization or even consultation with Congress is exactly the kind of exercise of “plenary executive power” that I detested in George Dubbya Bush, and which, lest we forget, was one of the things Barack Obama ran against.
I mean, jeez Louise, even the Bush administration had the decency to lie to Congress about WMDs to get them on board with an ill-considered war.
Airstrikes to aid “ragtag rebels” certainly may seem like the right thing to do. But then, most terrible ideas do.