On Libya, Get Gaddafi or Get Out

This week marks three months since violence erupted in the streets of Tripoli, Libya. It also marks three months since the day I did something I never thought I’d do: I extolled the value of foreign military intervention and called for a NATO-led effort to oust the brutal Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

Critics from the left and right jumped on my comments. Among other things, they accused me of hypocrisy in light of my fervent opposition to the 2003 Iraq invasion. I don’t feel the need to point out why Libya is not Iraq, other esteemed commentators and policy analysts have already done that. I am, however, compelled to question the present-day goals of a war that I supported. What exactly is NATO doing and why is Gaddafi still clinging to the ropes of power?

On Wednesday, NATO’s most senior military official, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, said that the alliance would end the Libya mission “once Gaddafi stops attacking his own people, withdraws his forces in a verifiable manner, and allows unimpeded humanitarian assistance.”

In other words, NATO is allowing a genocidal maniac who regularly taunts the international community and massacres his compatriots to decide the future of Libya.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed similar sentiments in late February. In a statement released by White House officials, Obama noted that, “[Gaddafi] has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.” Clinton said that the embattled ruler "should go without further bloodshed and violence."

Is it just me or do these government leaders seem to have an unusually high amount of confidence in Gaddafi’s ability to make a rational and peaceful decision to give up power?

The purpose of the NATO intervention was, as described by Obama, to prevent Gaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him and end his violent campaign to wipe out a population inspired by neighboring revolutions. But so far, it appears that the influx of foreign jets has done little to abate the horror playing out in this theatre of fear. The onslaughts of rebel groups, funded by Gaddafi himself, continue to attack mountain villages. If anything, the intervention is simply a reason for the international community to give themselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back for responding to a humanitarian crisis.

The best way to get rid of a wasp is to wipe out the nest. If NATO is serious about removing Gaddafi from power and ending his deadly grip on a country that, for the past three months, has cried out for help, they must be willing to go after the Libyan leader and remove him dead or alive.

Two months and some 6,000 allied air strikes later, Operation Odyssey Dawn could be mission creep, especially if NATO continues down the current path of killing the occasional rebel fighter and bombing vacated government buildings.

If this is a matter of life and death and if the allied commitment is determined to stop the violence in Tripoli and the country, NATO’s response must be more decisive. This is no time to dither and hope that the sound of missiles will scare Gaddafi into resignation. This is the time to do what the UN set out to do in the first place: bring an end to a situation that is quickly spinning out of control. If the colonel remains, what good are such endeavors?

I did hope that Libya’s leader would come to his senses and leave. But somewhere in my mind, just beneath the idealism and naivety of such a notion, I knew that could never happen. As of right now, targeting Gaddafi directly and removing him from power by force is the only way to justify the international community’s decision to intervene.

Photo Credit: Thierry Ehrmann