156 days after President Obama claimed the Libyan operation would last for “days, not weeks,” it looks as if elegantly upholstered dictator Moammar Qaddafi is on the way out.
With heavy air support from NATO, the rebels surged forward over the past few days and reached Tripoli on Sunday. The loyalist battalion defending the city turns out to have been commanded by a secret rebel sympathizer, while the elite Khamis Brigade – named after its commander, Qaddafi’s son – gave up without much of a fight.
Another Qaddafi son, Saif, was captured by the rebels, and will either face summary rebel justice or be handed over for trial in the Hague. A third member of the dictator’s brood, Mohammed, was placed under house arrest. He was chatting with al-Jazeera by phone when a burst of gunfire was heard, Mohammed began screaming and praying, and the line went dead.
Papa Qaddafi himself has disappeared, with the BBC claiming that he’s gone to ground in Algiers. He’s made a few radio broadcasts in which he claimed his forces were chasing the rebel “vermin” from city to city. Libya’s own “Baghdad Bob,” information minister Moussa Ibrahim, popped up to announce the trouble in Tripoli amounted to nothing but a few “small armed gangs,” and make the usual baby-milk-factory claims about NATO targeting schools and orphanages… which is not to say that forty air strikes upon a densely populated city wouldn’t inflict some collateral damage.
Ibrahim declared, “Tripoli is safe, and completely under the control of the armed people committees and the volunteers and the honorable people of Tripoli.” That’s arguably true, if by “armed people committees and volunteers” he means the rebels. The captive population of Tripoli has been giving them a hero’s welcome as they pressed forward, chanting “It’s over, Frizz-Head!” and tearing down Qaddafi propaganda posters. The rebels are now said to control 90 to 95 percent of the city.
It’s not over yet, as fighting is still reported across Tripoli, and Qaddafi loyalists still control territory outside the city. We’ve been here once before, six months ago, when the uprising had trapped Qaddafi inside Tripoli. That would have been a much more opportune time for NATO to act, but instead they waited until Qaddafi, his loyalist troops, and a horde of mercenaries broke out and routed the rebels all the way back to Benghazi. Only then, with Benghazi facing the same treatment Bashar Assad is currently giving his own people in Syria, did the West begin an intervention that lasted ten times as long as NATO leaders promised their citizens.
This time feels different. The rebels have been seizing munitions and government bases, capturing the weapons and strategic resources Qaddafi would need to stage another breakout. The capture of his sons and rout of his elite units has sent some pretty clear signals of weakness, which the folks dancing in the streets appear to have heard loud and clear.
Naturally President Obama will be hopping out of his golf cart to take victory laps for the fall of Qaddafi over the next few days. It matters how we got here. The media is very conscious that victory in war does not erase all the mistakes made along the way… when a Republican is in the White House.
There was never any reason for Obama to violate the War Powers Act, which turns out to be another one of those cobwebby “restraints” on executive power that can only be enforced by the media. The excuse widely given by the White House, once the various deadlines established by the Act could not be gamed any further, was that America was a mere spectator in the Libyan operation. All the U.S. ordnance was launched in the first few days, and then we did nothing except provide reconnaissance assets and material support to the British, French, and other NATO allies. You’ll never hear that excuse again, once the President finishes his vacation and kicks off his Barack the Conqueror tour.
It’s good that Qaddafi is gone – I never thought he was quite as “cowed” and “de-fanged” as conventional wisdom prior to the war in Libya had it, and he may at last face justice for his role in the Lockerbie bombing, assuming he doesn’t reach safe ground in a refugee palace filled with looted Libyan cash. It’s also clear that NATO had to win this thing. Another story you’ll never hear again is the series of reports from the last few weeks, in which various European ministers floated the idea of making a deal to end the war with Qaddafi still in Libya. The damage to Western influence from such a conclusion would have been intolerable.
Once Qaddafi’s final defeat has been secured, it will be time to start figuring out exactly who is holding all those weapons looted from regime armories. Some of the rebel leaders have already begun to mutter darkly about factional violence and “disarming” certain elements of their own coalition. Good luck with that, fellas, and here’s hoping the end result of all this is something better than another Frizz-Head.