Moammar Qaddafi has just about wrapped things up in Libya. Free to deploy the full power of his air force and artillery against his people, he has conducted a blitzkrieg all the way back to the rebel city of Benghazi, where the uprising began. The city of Ajdabiya was hammered by artillery throughout the night. Other cities have been pounded into rubble. No one is really trying to keep track of the body count any more.
The desperate rebels are bitterly angry that the international community has abandoned them to their fate. A rebel spokesman told the Associated Press, “People are fed up. They are waiting impatiently for an international move… What Qaddafi is doing, he is exploiting delays by international community. People are very angry that no action is being taken against Qaddafi’s weaponry.”
It’s a little harsh to accuse the international community of “delaying” action. They moved quickly to seat committees, which promptly produced agendas for meetings that swiftly generated a number of important speeches. It’s entirely possible that Qaddafi’s grandchildren will have to suppress dissent under the restraint of a no-fly zone, or at least raze their cities without recourse to orbital lasers and giant robots.
It’s sad to see the debate rolling on until the last mass grave is paved over and turned into a parking lot, but the case for intervention in Libya was certainly debatable. I say “was” because it’s a little late now, as the late citizens of various Libyan cities can tell you, if you’ve got a Ouija board. Leadership is all about timing. There was a crucial moment when we might have turned the tide by swiftly depriving Qaddafi of airports and battleships, and arming the rebels. It was right about the time President Obama was babbling about a nonexistent “tightening noose.” There could have been a noose, but there wasn’t.
Instead, President Obama voted “present” and scurried back to whatever he does with his time, and the mantle of international leadership fell to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said some of the right things… but nothing really happened, and now Benghazi fidgets nervously through its last days as a city, on the cusp of beginning its new career as a mausoleum.
Red State blogger Streiff, who always opposed intervention in Libya, decided to tackle some questions David Frum put together for non-interventionists. Frum’s questions are mostly foolish non-sequiturs, and Strieff demolishes them with aplomb.
In the course of dismissing a question about “what behavior we can expect from a Moammar Qaddafi who survives this uprising,” he describes Qaddafi as a “craven blowhard” the West knows how to handle, while expressing some doubts about the character of the opposition. My biggest reason for supporting a limited intervention was averting the horror that Qaddafi has, in fact, unleashed upon his people… but this touches upon my second reason. Is the world really ready for Qaddafi 3.0?
The first incarnation of Qaddafi murdered hundreds of innocent people in the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland. He vanished into a spider hole after Reagan bombed Libya. The second Qaddafi died of fear after he saw what happened to Saddam Hussein, and haunted Tripoli as a ghost. Unfortunately, the America of Reagan and Bush is gone, or at least in hibernation. A craven blowhard can do a lot of damage in the new post-American world.
Qaddafi might not have any geo-political gains to make from supporting random terror outrages against the West, but he’s petty and vindictive. He’ll have money to finance terrorism – he’s already talking about rewarding compliant Western nations with plump new contracts. He’s not going to forget the insulting language from Barack Obama… or the absolute lack of action which followed.
Qaddafi got away with Lockerbie – new proof of his culpability surfaced even as the United Nations watched him butcher his rebel populace on TV. He was even able to transform his terror operative into a national hero, and pressure Britain to return him to Libya, to live out his remarkably long life in comfort. (I don’t suppose there’s any chance someone remembered to pull that guy’s plug during the heyday of the revolution…?) He has many reasons to be confident, as he makes his mark on a chaotic world, and looks for payback against a bankrupt West. He’s also getting on in years, and knows he doesn’t have much time to write a suitably legendary ending to his saga. Blowing up half the cities in Libya to put down a popular uprising is not such an ending.
To put it bluntly, the next two years of Qaddafi 3.0 versus Barack Obama will be a contest between two craven blowhards. The one in Libya has an appetite for murder, and faces virtually no rules of engagement. I would rather have avoided that contest.