Sunday, George Will’s column will include this passage (h/t Mike Allen):
America's intervention in Libya's civil war, the most protracted and least surreptitious assassination attempt in history, was supposed to last 'days, not weeks,' but is in its fourth month and has revealed NATO to be an increasingly fictitious military organization. ... After more than 10,000 sorties, ... NATO's increasingly desperate strategy boils down to: Kill Gaddafi. Then what? More incompetent improvisation, for many more months.
Let us begin with Will’s mischaracterization of the operation as “the least surreptitious assassination attempt in history.” Will’s criticism here is bizarre for at least two reasons: (1) it’s not an assassination attempt; and (2) Will seems to be suggesting that the operation would be more palatable if it were surreptitious.
To begin with, NATO is not attempting to assassinate Col. Qaddafi, even if NATO is targeted him for killing. Though it is tossed about in the press to cover any sort of state-sponsored killing of an individual, assassination is not so broad. Moreover, this misuse of the word effectively abjures the whole body of the law of armed conflict. People are killed in armed conflicts. This is the very nature of armed conflicts. When armed conflicts occur--and there is surely one occurring Libya--states are vested with the authority to use force against enemy states, including their combatants and the infrastructure that provides the enemy state a military advantage. Combatants include both front-line soldiers and commanders, including Col. Qaddafi. Additionally, combatants are eligible targets 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and anywhere they are found (provided the use of force satisfies the proportionality analysis), so long as they are not rendered hors d’combat. Bombing Qaddafi’s compounds, from which he exercises command and control, clearly satisfies these conditions. Further, because Qaddafi is the commander of his armed forces, he himself is a combatant and may be targeted at anytime and anywhere, unless he is hors d’combat. This is not assassination.
Will’s bizarre critique of the operation’s lack of ruse, perfidy, or treachery is undeserving of a response.
Next, despite the number of times American commentators—particularly right-leaning American commentators—decry NATO’s operation as a failure or mired in a stalemate, this contention is patently false. When NATO’s operation began, Qaddafi’s forces were on the verge of overrunning Benghazi, Qaddafi had reestablished control over nearly all of western Libya, and Misurata was under siege. The Arab Spring itself was threatened with being snuffed out. Now, after just 90 days of bombing, the Libyan rebels have consolidated control over eastern Libya, they’ve pushed out of Benghazi all the way to Brega, they have made huge gains in the last two weeks in western Libya, lifting the siege of Misurata and capturing towns Qaddafi consolidated control over in the days before the NATO campaign began, and they have demonstrated a new-found ability to coordinate their operations.
And what result if NATO were to have not intervened? The rebellion would have been crushed, likely brutally. Qaddafi’s regime would have consolidated power. Worse, statements by Western leaders—including many of the members of the Republican party (elected or otherwise) who currently level criticism at this operation—would have ensured Qaddafi’s return to pariah status. And, with that return to pariah status, Qaddafi would doubtless have returned to his old ways of providing arms and support to radical and terrorist elements around the world. His regime would have been a source of insecurity for the United States.
Instead, now the United States, by virtue of its early though limited combat participation and its continuing provision of logistical support, has managed to actual build good will with a population in the Middle East. This feat may be the greatest foreign policy coup for the United States in the last decade. And George Will wants to snuff it out.
NATO should keep bombing Colonel Qaddafi. The United States should keep supporting that operation. It should lend more support to the Libyan rebels. These rebels will soon replace Qaddafi at Libya's helm.