To The Shores of Tripoli
By David H. Landon
Last week, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution which referred Muammar Gadhafi to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. If Gadhafi attempts to leave Libya, he is likely to be arrested. With no other options, Gadhafi is waging a brutal campaign against his own people in order to save his position as leader of Libya, but more importantly to him, to save his own skin. He must regain control of his country by force, or die trying. His troops have been attacking rebel positions in order to retake towns now held by the rebels (they were simply peaceful protestors; now that they are fighting back, we call them rebels). They are using artillery, tanks, and warplanes to wage these brutal attacks which in the undertaking are killing large numbers of civilians. Gadhafi forces are beginning to regain parts of the country. Those rebels are now asking for outside help.
Gadhafi is an example of how one man can destroy a country and hold back its people. He, and his sons, has plundered the tremendous oil revenues of Libya for his own enrichment. Substantial revenues from the energy sector coupled with a small population give Libya one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa, but little of this income flows down to most of the society.
Everything he has done in Libya should be a textbook example of how not to run a country. From his early days of financing and providing safe harbor for terrorists, to his attempt to create a nuclear weapons program in Libya, Gadhafi has created international turmoil and isolated Libya from the rest of the world. But perhaps his most destructive actions have been his neglect of the people of Libya.
There’s an argument that the last thing the U.S needs is to be involved in another armed conflict in the Middle East. There are many who feel that we shouldn’t get involved in yet a third armed conflict. But as the dramatic footage and reports continue to show the brutality of Gadhafi towards his own people, how can we not do what we can?
Throughout the Middle East, popular uprisings are attempting to throw out tyrants and dictators. The natural longing of man is to live in freedom. We are seeing this every day as peaceful protestors challenge the authoritarian governments under which they have been living for decades. We saw in Egypt that there was a reluctance of the Mubarak regime, despite its desire to hold onto power, to inflict huge causalities on its own civilian population. That’s not to say that there weren’t a number of Egyptians killed during the uprising, but compared to Gadhafi in Libya, the state showed restraint in its response. In Libya, there is no such restraint. Gadhafi will sacrifice every Libyan necessary to stay in power.
We have the technology and assets to enforce a “no-fly” zone. While the Libyan air force is lethal to unarmed civilians, Gadhafi’s pilots are no match for what NATO and the U.S. would bring to the dance. His pilots would likely elect to park them rather than meet the allied air power head to head. If they did choose to challenge the allied planes, it would be a short engagement.
There are inherent risks for the Obama administration with the implementation of a “no-fly” zone operation. The first stage of the enforcement would be to bomb the Libyan air defense assets. The danger is that the very people we are being asked to help could be inadvertently killed and injured in regions where Gadhafi has placed the air defense equipment in civilian areas. In that event, the welcome mat presently extended by the rebels could be withdrawn. It’s possible, although not likely, that we could lose planes and pilots during the operation. The rescue of a downed pilot creates yet another scenario where we are putting boots on the ground and escalating our mission. In a war-weary America, the loss of a pilot in yet another war could cost Obama part of his base.
Is the outcome of this battle in Libya a matter of vital interest to the United States? Libyan oil doesn’t factor in as the U.S. hasn’t purchased much of the Libyan crude oil for a number of years. Its 1.77 million bbl/day ranks Libya 18th in the world for oil production, making it important but not critical to world oil production. Gadhafi curtailed his support of terrorists after the U.S. invasion of Iraq toppled Sadaam Hussein. There is perhaps only one factor which affects the vital interest of the U.S. in the drama playing out in Libya. By assisting the Libyan people with the institution of a “no-fly” zone, America can show the world that we stand against tyranny and in support of freedom. If democracy in some form can take root as a result of our help, it will be in the long-term vital interest of this country.
Only days after his inauguration as the third president of the U.S., Thomas Jefferson ordered a naval and military expedition to North Africa, specifically Tripoli, to put down regimes of the Barbary States involved in slavery and piracy. Tired of paying tribute to the pirates, Jefferson had earlier written to John Adams that “justice and honor favor this course.” The same can be said of the course that the U.S. and President Obama consider today.
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He has been involved in over 40 local campaigns, in addition to serving as county campaign manager on several statewide and one congressional campaign. In 2000, he was co-chairman of the Montgomery County Bush campaign.