Slaughtering his own people and mocking the world’s pleas, for peace, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi can only be stopped by force. Since President Barack Obama seems comfortable killing terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan with Predator drone strikes, why not in Libya?
So far, establishing a no-fly zone is the only air power option on the table. That would require approval by the U.N. Security Council, which China or Russia may veto. Using NATO would also require the approval of its members. The Turkish prime minister has said he would oppose such a move.
A no-fly zone also creates political problems for Obama. He came to power promising to end two wars, not to start a new one. “Let’s just call a spade a spade,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya.”
Finally, there are practical problems. Pilots patrolling a no-fly zone would be targeted by Libya’s surface-to-air missiles and radar-guided anti-aircraft guns, just as they were in Iraq. This time, they may not be so lucky.
Collateral damage to civilians is a real risk as is friendly fire. On April 14, 1994, over Iraq, two U.S. helicopters were mistakenly shot down, killing 26 coalition personnel.
Besides, no-fly zones only stop air attacks, they don’t stop violence on the ground, as our no-fly zone experience in Bosnia shows.
Doing nothing beyond sanctions and speeches is also not an option. Libya is quickly becoming a humanitarian disaster, where more than 100,000 foreigners have fled by boat or plane and hundreds of Libyans have been killed by Gadhafi’s mercenaries and his air strikes. The death toll will only climb. No wonder rebels are begging for foreign intervention; they fear a slaughter on the scale of the Rwandan or Algerian civil wars.
Libya’s collapse could also destabilize our European allies. European Union officials privately estimate that the EU will see 250,000 refugees from Libya in the coming months. Beyond the cost in misery and money, there is the fear that some of Libya’s most vicious killers may be hiding among those refugees.
This brings us back to the Predator option. It doesn’t require a carrier to launch and, if the unmanned drone is shot down, it doesn’t start a hostage crisis. It has proven effective over both urban and desert terrain. Its ability to linger over a target for hours is another unique advantage: Its sensors have time to locate Gadhafi while minimizing collateral damage.
For those concerned about the legality of striking Gadhafi and his inner circle, remember President Reagan’s 1986 air strikes on the Libyan dictator. Yes, they missed, but no one contends they were illegal. And today’s surveillance and targeting technology is far superior to that of the mid-1980’s.
There is a strong moral argument for decapitating the deadly Libyan regime: it will save lives and end a tyranny.
Asked his greatest regret as president, Bill Clinton once answered that he didn’t do more to save lives in Rwanda. Bombing Rwanda’s central radio transmitter, from which the murderers coordinated their attacks, would have spared many civilians.
Does Obama want to live with a similar regret, knowing that a single strike could save so many?
Richard Miniter, a best-selling author, is a new Gazette columnist.