Austin Bay

Gun battles in Tripoli's suburbs signal the death throes of Muammar Gadhafi's dictatorship. Regime change is succeeding, albeit slowly and with needlessly protracted agony.

The honest understand that the Libyan War of 2011 is about regime change -- the termination of four decades of megalomaniacal misrule, torture, corruption, tyranny, terrorism and genuine warmongering. Col. Gadhafi, like Iraq's megalomaniacal Saddam Hussein, imprisoned his own country, to the benefit of favored cronies and clans. He also waged imperialist war on vulnerable neighbors, invading and occupying northern Chad, including the Aouzou Strip with its uranium mines. (Yes, he, too, dreamed of a nuclear arsenal.)

Gadhafi armed and financially supported proxy forces throughout Africa. To rattle the British (and likely with the encouragement of the Soviet Union), he supplied the Irish Republican Army with weapons. He is ultimately responsible for the terror bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.

So good riddance. Would that Ronald Reagan had finished him in 1986, when U.S. aircraft bombed Libya in retaliation for a Gadhafi-directed terror attack on American soldiers in Berlin. However, the Cold War and Gadhafi's relationship with Moscow constrained American military and political options.

In 2011, NATO's political hesitancy and vacillation by Western leaders extended the war, and that extension led to more civilian casualties and deaths. The conflict became a curious war of attrition -- needlessly, in my view, given NATO's technological advantages and the rebels' willingness to fight Gadhafi's heinous regime.

Informed historians, and people who actually wanted to protect Libyan civilians from Gadhafi's depredations, will eventually condemn as a terrible mistake the U.S. decision in April to withdraw USAF AC-130 gunships. The AC-130 combines devastating precision aerial firepower with over-the-battlefield loitering capability -- exactly what the rebels needed in both urban combat (for example, the siege of Misrata) and in open terrain against Gadhafi's motorized forces.

However, U.S. President Barack Obama's domestic political needs and looming re-election campaign trumped the battlefield advantages of USAF gunships. Obama could not bring himself to call the Libyan War a war, which it obviously is. This was a too-clever-by-half rhetorical attempt to avoid warranted comparisons with his regime-changing predecessor, George W. Bush, and placate his left-wing political base, which is deeply invested in damning Bush's Global War on Terror.

Austin Bay

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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