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Libya: Mission Vindicated

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
The families of the 270 people killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 no longer will have to watch as Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, the man who ordered the attack, visits New York to deliver his long rants to the United Nations. President Barack Obama's decision to authorize cruise missile strikes on Tripoli and the NATO mission paid off. "Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground," the president proclaimed Thursday, "we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end."

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said in a statement, "Though the Administration was criticized both for moving too quickly and for not moving quickly enough, it is undeniable that the NATO campaign prevented a massacre and contributed mightily to (Gadhafi's) undoing without deploying boots on the ground or suffering a single American fatality."

It wasn't a clear call in March. The U.S. military already was stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that enforcing a no-fly zone would not be so quick and painless as some hawks suggested it would be. Others noted that the get-Gadhafi crowd didn't even know who the Libyan rebels were or whether they were extremists who likely would turn on the United States.

The administration seemed lukewarm on the effort. An Obama adviser described the president's role in the NATO mission as "leading from behind." The administration would not use the word "war." On March 18, Obama told congressional leaders that U.S. military action would last "days, not weeks."

European leaders also seemed not to understand that they had started a war that could be long and bloody. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe predicted Gadhafi would be defeated in a matter of days or weeks, not months. Three months later, NATO ran out of shells. Germany, which had stayed away from the Libyan job, had to donate ammunition.

Yet the campaign worked, and that's what counts. I've got four more thoughts on it:

(SET BOLD)--Drones are king; no more boots on the ground. (END BOLD) After suffering more than 4,400 U.S. troop fatalities in Iraq and more than 1,800 fatalities in or around Afghanistan, the American public has no appetite for further loss of blood and treasure. Vice President Joe Biden boasted Thursday that the U.S. effort paid off with no loss of life and a $2 billion price tag. If the two U.S. airmen who ejected from an F-15 that went down March 21 had been caught by Gadhafi loyalists, this saga might have had a very different ending.

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and the American Civil Liberties Union may have objected to the use of U.S. drones to kill U.S.-born terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, but the American public supported the results. No U.S. troops died. If drone strikes in Libya, Pakistan and Somalia are less popular, they are not generating the sort of political heat that can burn a politician.

(SET BOLD)--Congress won't lift a finger to assert its own power. (END BOLD) The 1973 War Powers Act requires that a president halt unilateral military hostilities unless Congress approves them within 60 days. The Obama State Department, however, argued that the NATO attacks were too limited to require congressional approval. Senators and representatives disagreed, but they didn't care enough to approve the Libyan effort or disapprove it.

Credit Kerry and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for introducing a bipartisan resolution to authorize the NATO effort, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved in a 14-5 vote. But Republicans blocked a floor vote on the measure in July on the grounds that the debt limit standoff took precedence. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went along. And nothing happened.

The House did vote, but it voted both ways. First, the House rejected a measure to sustain the NATO effort. Then it voted against a measure to limit military funding in Libya. Members didn't want to support the war, but they didn't want to stop it, either.

(SET BOLD)--Gadhafi's death was the only acceptable ending. (END BOLD) Libyan rebels don't have to worry about the slippery Gadhafi escaping as he awaits trial. The International Criminal Court will not shame itself with an extended trial that coddles the mad dog of the Middle East, as it did with Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, while providing him with a global stage. And Obama doesn't have to worry about American leftists and Europeans trying to undermine his authority, because he's not George W. Bush.

(SET BOLD)--The wounds of Pan Am 103 remain open. (END BOLD) In August 2009, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill released Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only man convicted in the Pan Am bombing, on "compassionate" grounds. MacAskill claimed prostate cancer had left al-Megrahi with only three months to live.

More than two years after the hero's welcome he received on a Tripoli tarmac, al-Megrahi is living in a palatial villa among family. He served eight years for the murder of 270 people.

Libyan National Transitional Council Ambassador Ali Aujali told CNN that his country probably won't hand over al-Megrahi, because al-Megrahi is a "very sick man."

A very sick man? The new regime must think Americans are really stupid. They must think that they can harbor a man who killed 189 innocent Americans and that they still will get boatloads of U.S. dollars to bankroll their new government.

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