NATO Impotence: Misery in Misrata

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Gaddafi / Wikimedia

We’ve looked away from Libya since last week’s killing of Osama bin Laden, but unfortunately Muammar Gaddafi has not. His forces have continued to shell the rebel stronghold in the western part of the country now for nearly two months.

History’s greatest military alliance is headquartered 1,300 miles from Tripoli. NATO launched nearly two weeks’ of U.S.-led air strikes with the goal of protecting Libyan civilians. Gaddafi has basically shrugged off those attacks and continues to pound the 200,000 people left in Misrata.

Its struggle has become emblematic of the revolt that has sought to oust the Libyan leader, who has been in power for more than 40 years. Pro-regime troops based on the city outskirts have in recent days stepped up shelling and rocketing of the vital port…slowing relief efforts via the city’s only lifeline. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has also accused Kadafi’s forces of mining the harbor in a bid to halt aid efforts…The rebel spokesman said that more than 1,000 people had died in fighting in Misrata since the uprising began.

…the Los Angeles Times reports Monday. “Survivors in Misrata — the only city in western Libya held by rebels — described what the carnage inflicted by indiscriminate shelling has wrought: crushed bones, burns and amputations,” CNN adds.

Former vice president Dick Cheney criticized the Obama Administration’s approach toward Libya on Sunday (he obviously couldn’t attack them on bin Laden now, could he?). NATO only works, he said, when the U.S. leads. “If you make a decision that you’re going to use military force to support the insurgents against Gaddafi, and that you want Gaddafi gone, it’s not enough to simply sit on the sidelines and say `Get rid of Qaddafi,” Cheney said on Fox. “It looks as though what the policy of the administration has been is to hope for Gaddafi’s departure, but not be prepared to do enough to make sure it happens.”

It’s Cheney channeling the doctrine of his one-time chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell. As an Army general, Powell favored the use of overwhelming military force, linked to a key objective, supported by the American public. In Libya, the Obama Administration finds itself with a clear goal — ousting Gaddafi, dead or alive — but without the public support or military means to get there. In which case, why did we get involved in the first place?