Monday, March 21, 2011

“Kill Qadaffi” (Plus Other Thoughts)

Despite protestations that we are not after regime change, the allied bombing makes no sense unless this is our goal. Our stated objective is to reduce civilian casualties, but if Qadaffi remains in power, the loss of civilian lives will be huge as he wreaks his revenge on anyone he suspects of disloyalty or even wavering. Civilian losses near the battlefield will be trivial compared to a surviving Qadaffi’s political repressions. We can only protect civilian lives by getting rid of him. I suspect everyone understands this but cannot speak the words “Kill Qadaffi!”.

A second thought: I wonder how the American public’s stomach will hold up when Qadaffi starts displaying civilian casualties. If there are none, he can always create some. The media’s sympathies are against Qadaffi, but they will not be able to ignore the story when he piles up the bodies and women and children. These grisly displays will run counter to the French, British and U.S. militaries’ descriptions of antiseptic surgical strikes. The outrage of antiwar groups in the U.S. and Europe, who do not like cost-benefit analysis of casualties, will rise to the boiling point.

I must confess that I am puzzled by China’s and Russia’s abstentions at the U.N. Security Council. Their votes might be less puzzling if Qadaffi were clearly on his way out, but the outcome is up for grabs. Russia is remarkably consistent; Putin gains from stirring the pot of unrest. Uncertainty raises oil prices, which he desperately needs to repair his state finances. Russia likes to side against the U.S. in just about any and all matters. China’s abstention is even more puzzling. China is consistent in opposing any outside intervention to strike at political oppression. They understand that attention could turn to them at some point.

If Qadaffi survives the first week of bombardments and turns this into a protracted civil war, he can win. Russia and China will raise their level of criticism. Anti-war sentiment will rise as civilian casualties mount. Qadaffi can move beyond the immediate emergency to the slaughter of opponents in areas he controls.

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