Sunday, March 20, 2011

Now What?

After Libya's air defenses had been bombarded by American cruise missiles, French pilots flew in and halted the government's advance on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Kareem Fahmi of the Times reports on the wreckage of one government armored column, the tanks either blasted from the air or abandoned by their crews who fled back into the desert:

For miles leading south, the roadsides were littered with burned trucks and burned civilian cars. In some places battle tanks had simply been abandoned, intact, as their crews fled. One thing, though, seemed evident: the units closest to Benghazi seemed to have been hit with their cannons and machine guns still pointing toward the rebel capital.

To the south, though, many had been hit as they headed away from the city in a headlong dash for escape on the long road leading to a distant Tripoli.

“They were retreating,” said Col. Abdullah al-Shafi, an officer in the rebel forces, which had clamored desperately for the allied air help that arrived on Saturday. “Soldiers had taken civilians’ cars and fled. They were ditching their fatigues.”

Ok, great. Nobody wanted to see Qaddafi slaughter the million civilians in Benghazi. But now what do we do? I don't think mad hatter Qaddafi is going to pack it in; he probably always wanted to go down fighting against Americans and Europeans. Are we going to try to destroy his whole army? Degrade them so much that the rebels can win? Try to stabilize the situation and hope for a negotiated settlement?

What if the rebels start slaughtering civilians themselves?

The Arab backing that Obama and Hillary Clinton cited as crucial for making intervention possible is already softening, and the former Chairman of the Arab league has criticized NATO for going beyond their mandate to protect civilians. That means the Americans are fighting this air war in the peculiar US way, which starts with attacks on "command and control" targets like the Libyan Defense Ministry in Tripoli before moving on to attack the army in the field.

I still don't see how this can have a decent outcome.

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