Libya: Alice in Wonderland, Meet George Orwell

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and British Defence Minister Liam Fox after their meeting Tuesday / DoD photo

Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared Tuesday that because Muammar Gaddafi’s residential compound serves as a command-and-control node for his military forces, it is a legitimate target for U.S. and NATO aircraft to attack. But the person who actually does the commanding and controlling? Not so much. “We are not targeting him specifically,” Gates said Tuesday as he stood next to British Defence Minister Liam Fox, who called Gaddafi a “legitimate target” on Monday before heading to Washington to meet with Gates. “But we do consider command-and-control targets legitimate targets, wherever we find them.”

Now, it’s one thing to say you’re not aiming for Gaddafi (be a real shame if he took a missile to the mid-section). Or to say that he’s not a target because the UN didn’t make him one in its resolution. But to say that you’re not targeting him “specifically” — gotta love those non-specific targets, in which case it’s not a target — enters Alice in Wonderland territory. That’s where, Lewis Carroll said, quoting Humpty Dumpty, a word “means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” Or as George Orwell put it: “As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” Or maybe not.