Bun­gled war ef­fort gives Gad­hafi strate­gic edge

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Based on cur­rent trends, Libyan dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Gad­hafi is los­ing his war against his own peo­ple. That’s good. Gad­hafi’s de­feat will be an­other sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory in the strug­gle against tyranny.

How­ever, in­ept coali­tion lead­er­ship, es­pe­cially from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, means the war is far from won.

In late April, Gad­hafi faced a war on five mil­i­tary fronts. A sixth front is now emerg­ing. Gad­hafi must di­vide his forces and de­vote re­sources to each sec­tor.

(1) East­ern front (or Benghazi front). Here Gad­hafi’s fight­ers con­front the bulk of rebel forces un­der the Tran­si­tional Na­tional Coun­cil (TNC).

(2) South­ern front. Ber­ber rebels in the Na­fusa Moun­tains have main­tained con­trol of sup­ply routes from Tu­nisia.

(3) Mis­rata. Rebels suc­ceeded in break­ing Gad­hafi’s siege of this west­ern coastal city in May.

(4) Coastal Libya (west of Tripoli). Re­sis­tance flick­ers here but never dis­ap­pears.

(5) NATO’s at­tacks on Gad­hafi’s com­mand sites in west­ern Libya are this con­flict’s strate­gic air war. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said Gad­hafi must go, which makes him the most crit­i­cal strate­gic tar­get. The NATO naval block­ade stops Gad­hafi from ship­ping oil, which squeezes his fi­nances while per­mit­ting TNC oil sales. This week, the U.S. State Depart­ment con­firmed at least two tanker-loads of oil have been sold by the TNC.

The in­cip­i­ent sixth front is Tripoli, Gad­hafi’s bas­tion, where dis­con­tented cit­i­zens in­creas­ingly op­pose him. When an op­pressed peo­ple snap fear’s psy­cho­log­i­cal bonds, they shat­ter the dic­ta­tor’s most po­tent weapon.

Gad­hafi has tried to de­stroy in­di­vid­ual fronts (e.g., Mis­rata), but he lacks the com­bat power. The TNC alone is weak, and the TNC’s al­lies (es­pe­cially the U.S.) refuse to use their over- whelm­ing com­bat power de­ci­sively. The re­sult is a pe­cu­liar, multi-front siege of Gad­hafi’s regime that has be­come a war of mil­i­tary and moral at­tri­tion.

Yet over­all the trends in­di­cate Gad­hafi is los­ing, al­beit very slowly.

Slow is the prob­lem with a siege, whether at­tack­ing a cas­tle or a coun­try. Mil­i­tary at­tri­tion war­fare in in­hab­ited ur­ban ar­eas yields mount­ing civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and runs counter to the ex­pressed pur­pose of a war cast as an op­er­a­tion to pro­tect civil­ian lives.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is largely re­spon­si­ble for the con­flict’s slow pace. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­peat­edly missed op­por­tu­ni­ties to shat­ter Gad­hafi’s forces and ac­cel­er­ate his regime’s de­cline by em­ploy­ing over­whelm­ing com­bat power. For ex­am­ple, U.S. Air Force AC130 gun­ships at Mis­rata would have quickly de­stroyed Gad­hafi’s be­sieg­ing ar­tillery and tanks. The ad­min­is­tra­tion re­fused to do it. Scores of civil­ians died need­lessly, and the war grinds on. The fact the rebels are win­ning speaks to their re­lent­less­ness, de­spite coali­tion feck­less­ness.

Hes­i­tant lead­er­ship has plagued the Libyan war from its in­cep­tion. Pres­i­dent Obama pledged to over­throw Gad­hafi, the right and wor­thy goal, then pro­ceeded to ob­scure that com­mit­ment. The al­legedly elo­quent Obama failed to use his bully pul­pit to preach the gospel of free­dom and the rule of law, old-time Amer­i­can ser­mons that speak to the re­viv­ing hopes of the op­pressed in the 21st cen­tury. In­stead of clar­i­fy­ing vi­sion, he vac­il­lated and fled from re­spon­si­ble lead­er­ship in­stead of em­brac­ing the op­por­tu­nity to lead re­spon­si­bly.

Why? Per­haps he thought vacillation was the sine qua non of smart; it would ap­pease his anti-Ge­orge W. Bush do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal base. In­stead of seek­ing con­gres­sional sup­port, which Bush did, Obama opted for “Alice in Won­der­land” word games and would not even call the Libyan war a war. The word games vi­o­lated com­mon sense; his gim­mickry cheap­ened the pres­i­dency. Ul­ti­mately, he failed to se­cure the Amer­i­can peo­ple’s sup­port for a war of lib­er­a­tion against a vi­cious dic­ta­tor and a long­time sup­porter of anti-West­ern ter­ror­ists.

Now, even though the rebels are win­ning, Obama faces grow­ing op­po­si­tion from a dis­grun­tled Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal left and right, and he is caught in a fight over the War Pow­ers Res­o­lu­tion.

To Gad­hafi, this Wash­ing­ton ruckus sig­nals a weak­en­ing will to de­feat him.

Dic­ta­tors sur­vive on delu­sions and con­tinue to kill while they cling to them. Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies feed Gad­hafi’s delu­sions. The re­sult is a sav­age irony. Barack Obama’s po­lit­i­cal ineptitude has be­come Gad­hafi’s most im­por­tant strate­gic ally, Hugo Chavez, Robert Mu­gabe and Iran to the con­trary.

Austin Bay is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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