Friday, April 18, 2014
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Obama should use Kosovo as the example, and act decisively on Libya

I opposed the intervention in Libya, but once in, I don't think we can be half-hearted.

Obama should use Kosovo as the example, and act decisively on Libya

I opposed the intervention in Libya, but once in, I don't think we can be half-hearted.

That doesn't mean boots on the ground. But it does mean that, once President Obama said Gadhafi must go, he can't afford to let the Libyan war turn into a stalemate that leaves Gadhafi in power. Nor can NATO, as an institution, afford that.

The entire Middle East, including the leaders of Iran and Syria, is watching, as Gadhafi's men aim heavy artillery at civilians in Misurata. All are waiting to see whether Obama's pledge meant, well, nothing. Also watching are the leaders of North Korea.

Obama cannot simply shrug and say, "Sorry, I didn't mean it, I need to get back to my budget problems." The region will write him off as fatally indecisive. Nor does it suffice for Obama to split hairs by saying that Gadhafi's exit is the desired outcome, but not NATO's military goal.

So what are NATO's options?.It's instructive to look back at the air war over Kosovo in 1999. That bombing campaign lasted from March 24 to June 11, 1999, and involved up to 1,000 aircraft operating mostly from bases in Italy and aircraft carriers in the Adriatic. The Kosovo campaign, with its similarities to and great differences from the Libyan effort, offers lessons for what to do and what to avoid.

Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic was a tough guy, who didn't want to give up control over Kosovo. The Serbs were able to carry out massive ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians despite the bombing, or to change Milosevic' position, but NATO members did not want to send in ground troops.

What, then, turned the tide?

NATO began bombing "dual-use" targets in Milosevic's capital, Belgrade, striking bridges, factories, power stations, schools, houses, hospitals, telecommunications facilities, Serbian state TV, and the headquarters of the political party led by Milosevic's wife. (By intent or accident they even hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.)

Some called this war crimes, but it did get Milosevic to agree to remove his troops from Kosovo, and let around one million evicted Albanian refugees go home.

Tripoli is far less developed than Belgrade, and it would be dicey for western planes to carry out such extensive raids on an Arab capital. But they can do much more than they have until now.

On Monday, NATO planes bombed Gadhafi's compound and a state television complex. More of the same – targeting Gadhafi, his cronies, and communications network - is necessary to convince him and his entourage that he cannot win this struggle.

War crimes, you say. Well, Gadhafi's deliberate shelling of civilian homes and hospitals in Misurata is a war crime, and more such massacres are certain to happen if this struggle continues indefinitely. Better to act decisively now than have the Libyan war drag on for months, claim many more civilian lives, and destabilize neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. In order for this to happen, Obama must make a decision to lead.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. In 2009-2011 she has made four lengthy trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past seven years, she visited Iraq eleven times, and also wrote from Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, China, and South Korea.

She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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