Lousy Libya Options

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A U.S. F-111 takes off from England to bomb Libya in 1986 / DoD photo

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has left the capital on a week-long trip — he’s in Afghanistan today — leaving subordinates back in the Pentagon to figure out what, if anything, to do about Libya. There’s a pervasive sense of dutifulness — and unease — inside the Defense Department over doing anything beyond humanitarian ops.

The notion of a no-fly zone has appeal, but it wouldn’t stop Muammar Gaddafi’s minions from attacking rebels on the ground. The latest talked-about option — “cratering” his runways to render them unusable by aircraft — has the same problem, and wouldn’t thwart his helicopters.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, for the first time raised the possibility of bombing military airfields in Libya to deny the use of runways to Moammar Gaddafi’s air force. Two of the Senate’s top Republicans, Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and John McCain (Ariz.), also spoke in favor of U.S. military involvement to keep Libyan warplanes grounded.

…the Washington Post reports today.

Military officers, more so than politicians, know that either of these offensive-lite options would only be the beginning of a tar pit the Pentagon has no desire to get into. Their biggest fear seems to be if they launch such an operation — and it fails to topple Gaddafi — what are they supposed to do next? Stand pat, and highlight their own impotence, or escalate?