These strikes are not based on doubtful evidence.
Qaddafi has said plainly what he intends to do to civilians who resist,
even peacefully, and he has demonstrated repeatedly that he is prepared
to carry out his threats. Even on the morning of the attacks, his armor
entered Benghazi, in clear contradiction of his own Foreign Minister's
declaration that Tripoli would respect the cease-fire. Later Qaddafi's
spokesman disowned the foreign minister's statement.
There is a
solid coalition backing the military action, one that includes several
Arab countries as well as the U.S., France and the United Kingdom. Even
the Italians, who have historically close relations with Libya and even
with Qaddafi personally, are on board. Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, and
the United Arab Emirates were present for the meeting in Paris that
launched implementation of the UN resolution, as was the Arab League.
(Saudi Arabia was missing.) While Russia, China, India, and Brazil were
absent, Germany was present.
The U.S., while it has claimed
outsized credit for the diplomacy, is not visibly in the lead of the
military action. UK and France have claimed that honor, with NATO as the
operational forum. American contributions are likely to be substantial,
in particular when it comes to cruise missiles, intelligence, command-and-control, and other U.S. assets. But this is not an American operation
with a coalition tacked on.
Which leaves the question of purpose.
Is this offensive, like the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, an effort at
regime change, with Qaddafi the ultimate target? Or is the objective, as
Hillary Clinton claimed after the Paris meeting, only to protect
civilians? For the moment, this is a distinction without a difference.
Unless Qaddafi changes not just his tune but his behavior, he represents
an imminent threat to civilians throughout Libya. It is up to him to
convince the coalition that he is prepared to change his behavior, as he
successfully did in 2003 when he gave up his nuclear weapons program.
it seems Qaddafi won't change: He appears as attached to the use of
force against his people as Ratko Mladic was against thousands of
Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia. Qaddafi rightly knows he can only stay in
power if he can kill Libyans.
Srebrenica, not Iraq, is the
right historical precedent for what is happening in Libya. In 1995 the
West failed its declared intention to protect civilians in a
Muslim-populated enclave in eastern Bosnia, declared a "safe area" by
the UN. There weren't enough Dutch peacekeepers in the area to defend
the Muslims and, as a result, thousands of men and boys were massacred
in cold blood.
Only a few weeks later NATO responded to Serb
attack on another "safe area," Sarajevo. NATO launched a bombing
campaign that broke apart the Bosnian Serb Army and allowed Croat and
Muslim Federation forces to advance on the Serb army. As the Serbs
reeled from the air attack, they took hostages and used them as human
shields. They also parked armored vehicles near mosques and schools. We
should expect Qaddafi to do likewise.