Based on current trends, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is losing his war against his own people. That's good. Gadhafi's defeat will be another significant victory in the struggle against tyranny.
However, inept coalition leadership, especially from the Obama administration, means the war is far from won.
In late April, Gadhafi faced a war on five military fronts. A sixth front is now emerging. Gadhafi must divide his forces and devote resources to each sector.
(1) Eastern front (or Benghazi front). Here Gadhafi's fighters confront the bulk of rebel forces under the Transitional National Council (TNC).
(2) Southern front. Berber rebels in the Nafusa Mountains have maintained control of supply routes from Tunisia.
(3) Misrata. Rebels succeeded in breaking Gadhafi's siege of this western coastal city in May.
(4) Coastal Libya (west of Tripoli). Resistance flickers here but never disappears.
(5) NATO's attacks on Gadhafi's command sites in western Libya are this conflict's strategic air war. President Barack Obama said Gadhafi must go, which makes him the most critical strategic target. The NATO naval blockade stops Gadhafi from shipping oil, which squeezes his finances while permitting TNC oil sales. This week, the U.S. State Department confirmed at least two tanker-loads of oil have been sold by the TNC.
The incipient sixth front is Tripoli, Gadhafi's bastion, where discontented citizens increasingly oppose him. When an oppressed people snap fear's psychological bonds, they shatter the dictator's most potent weapon.
Gadhafi has tried to destroy individual fronts (e.g., Misrata), but he lacks the combat power. The TNC alone is weak, and the TNC's allies (especially the U.S.) refuse to use their overwhelming combat power decisively. The result is a peculiar, multi-front siege of Gadhafi's regime that has become a war of military and moral attrition.
Yet overall the trends indicate Gadhafi is losing, albeit very slowly.
Slow is the problem with a siege, whether attacking a castle or a country. Military attrition warfare in inhabited urban areas yields mounting civilian casualties and runs counter to the expressed purpose of a war cast as an operation to protect civilian lives.
The Obama administration is largely responsible for the conflict's slow pace. The administration has repeatedly missed opportunities to shatter Gadhafi's forces and accelerate his regime's decline by employing overwhelming combat power. For example, U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunships at Misrata would have quickly destroyed Gadhafi's besieging artillery and tanks. The administration refused to do it. Scores of civilians died needlessly, and the war grinds on. The fact the rebels are winning speaks to their relentlessness, despite coalition fecklessness.
Hesitant leadership has plagued the Libyan war from its inception. President Obama pledged to overthrow Gadhafi -- the right and worthy goal -- then proceeded to obscure that commitment. The allegedly eloquent Obama failed to use his bully pulpit to preach the gospel of freedom and the rule of law, old-time American sermons that speak to the reviving hopes of the oppressed in the 21st century. Instead of clarifying vision, he vacillated and fled from responsible leadership instead of embracing the opportunity to lead responsibly.
Why? Perhaps he thought vacillation was the sine qua non of smart; it would appease his anti-George W. Bush domestic political base. Instead of seeking congressional support, which Bush did, Obama opted for "Alice in Wonderland" word games and would not even call the Libyan war a war. The word games violated common sense; his gimmickry cheapened the presidency. Ultimately, he failed to secure the American people's support for a war of liberation against a vicious dictator and a longtime supporter of anti-Western terrorists.
Now, even though the rebels are winning, Obama faces growing opposition from a disgruntled American political left and right, and he is caught in a fight over the War Powers Resolution.
To Gadhafi, this Washington ruckus signals a weakening will to defeat him. Dictators survive on delusions and continue to kill while they cling to them. Obama administration policies feed Gadhafi's delusions. The result is a savage irony. Barack Obama's political ineptitude has become Gadhafi's most important strategic ally -- Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe and Iran to the contrary.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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