NATO Delays Taking Command

Last night, President Obama assured the nation that “Our most effective alliance, NATO, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and the no-fly zone.” 

“Last night,” the President elaborated, “NATO decided to take on the additional responsibility of protecting Libyan civilians.  This transfer from the United States to NATO will take place on Wednesday.”

As of this morning, that statement is no longer operative.  Fox News is reporting that NATO has delayed its takeover until at least Thursday.

Is this a big deal?  It’s only a 24-hour delay, after all.  Hopefully there won’t be another delay on Thursday.

Of course, a lot could happen on Wednesday.  For example, although you wouldn’t know it from Obama’s speech, the rebels are bogged down in their push against Qaddafi’s forces, and there are signs the dictator’s henchmen are turning the tide.  They’re currently pounding the hell out of the city of Misrata.  CNN reports that “Libyan government tanks are shelling civilian areas” and “government forces were using heavy artillery as well.” 

A witness described the results as “absolute and utter carnage.”  A spokesman for the rebellion told AFP, “The massacre that was avoided in Benghazi thanks to the intervention of coalition forces will be carried out in the Misrata.”  Coalition planes were said to be circling overhead, but did not intervene against Qaddafi’s armor and artillery.

Government forces have also evicted over five thousand citizens from their homes, and reportedly taken some of them as prisoners.  That’s got “human shield” written all over it.  Are we going to let Misrata fall while we wait for NATO to take over?  Can we do anything to separate Qaddafi’s forces from their prey with air power alone, without risking massive civilian casualties?  Thursday might be a bit late to make these decisions.

It’s also remarkable to see NATO so willing to leave Obama with egg on his face, right after his big speech.  It is not wise to make sweeping pronouncements about the actions of even “our most effective alliance” unless you’re absolutely certain they will follow through.  Obama didn’t say NATO would take over soon, or later this week.  He was very specific that it would happen on Wednesday, and it turns out he was wrong.  What else is he wrong about?