The building debacle in Libya grows even more absurd and funny in a sad sort of way.
As NATO takes over control of airstrikes in Libya and the Obama administration considers new steps to tip the balance of power there, the coalition has told the rebels that the fog of war will not shield them from possible bombardment by NATO planes and missiles, just as the regime’s forces have been punished.
“We’ve been conveying a message to the rebels that we will be compelled to defend civilians, whether pro-Qaddafi or pro-opposition,” said a senior Obama administration official. “We are working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels so we don’t confront a situation where we face a decision to strike the rebels to defend civilians.”
Well that answers my question about ‘good’ civilians and ‘bad’ civilians although a Vatican representative in Tripoli reports that coalition air strikes have killed 40 civilians in that city. This is apparently one NATO can’t waive away as Gadhafi planting corpses to look like NATO is causing civilian deaths.
I love the line about “working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels” about the problem. I assume those would be the CIA agents in the country as a result of a secret order by President Transparency? Hello, Congress? Yeah, don’t worry about it, I’ll call you from Brazil.
Anyway, back to the point at hand – the NATO warning about civilians seems much more in the spirit of the UN resolution than does helping rebel forces by bombing opposition units as the rebels advance or striking Tripoli in an obvious (but denied) attempt to facilitate regime change.
So if NATO is so hot to ensure the rebs don’t kill civilians and doesn’t plan on letting Gadhafi do it, it appears NATO is the only one doing it right now.
Oh, by the way, if you haven’t seen it, Andrew Sullivan is having a melt down over all of this. He has a bad case of the vapors:
It’s so surreal, so discordant with what the president has told the American people, so fantastically contrary to everything he campaigned on, that I will simply wait for more confirmation than this before commenting further. I simply cannot believe it. I know the president is not against all wars – just dumb ones. But could any war be dumber than this – in a place with no potential for civil society, wrecked by totalitarianism, riven by tribalism, in defense of rebels we do not know and who are clearly insufficient to the task?
To answer Sullivan’s question – no. At least I can’t imagine a dumber one, but then there’s always the possibility that our leader may manage to find one. Expect it to happen the next time he decides on a foreign junket. As for Sully – that’s what blind and unquestioning love does for you, big boy. Maybe next time you’ll remove the blinders and ask some pertinent questions of your candidate of choice – like what in the world have you ever done that qualifies you for this job?
Wait, I’m talking about the left here, aren’t I?
Nah … not going to happen.
Anyway, back to the issue:
The increasing murkiness of the battlefield, as the freewheeling rebels advance and retreat and as fighters from both sides mingle among civilians, has prompted NATO members to issue new “rules of engagement” spelling out when the coalition may attack units on the ground in the name of protecting civilians.
It was unclear how the rules are changing — especially on the critical questions surrounding NATO’s mandate and whether it extends to protecting rebels who are no longer simply defending civilian populated areas like Benghazi, but are instead are themselves on the offensive.
“This is a challenge,” said a senior alliance military officer. “The problem of discriminating between combatant and civilian is never easy, and it is compounded when you have Libyan regime forces fighting irregular forces, like the rebel militias, in urban areas populated by civilians.”
Of course it is “a challenge”. It’s worthy of “Mission Impossible”. As this mess, this civil war ebbs and flows, telling red and blue from white is going to verge on impossible. And with reports of Gadhafi arming civilians (one assumes to enable them to defend themselves) NATO also gets to decide whether or not armed civilians are fair game.
This is the sort of situations you find yourself in when you commit to “dumb wars”. But then our fearless leader knows all about “dumb wars”, he doesn’t want to fight them. And yet, there he is, fighting one in Libya. You can hear Sully crying from here.