Misfiring At Gaddafi: To Kill Or Not To Kill – OpEd


The supposed humanitarian mission in striking Libyan targets has suddenly seemed rather unclear. First, what of those civilians, convenient props in yet another grand operation of international politics? Second, what of the fate of the elusive drag fetishist and dictator, Colonel Gaddafi? Is he slated to be the target of assassination? The Libyan rebels are relishing the prospect and have made statements to that effect.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox is licking his lips at the prospect of targeting Gaddafi, fantasising about killing the despot with a bunker buster bomb. His accepting colleague Foreign Secretary William Hague has decided to keep all options on the widening war table. ‘I’m not going to get into details of who or what might be targeted. All the things that are allowed depends on how people behave.’ This rather insensible line of logic evidently yields only one conclusion: Bad behaviour gets you killed.

There was just one problem. British Prime Minister David Cameron was playing by the not-too-well scripted book of UN Security council resolutions, clinging to the text with the determination of a barnacle. ‘Targets must be fully consistent with the UN Security Council Sources.’ Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay is also selling a line of limited action. ‘Simply put: We want to disable their air force’ (The Chronicle Herald, Mar 22). The Libyan intervention is, however, proving far from simple, however its put.

The head of the UK armed forces General Sir David Richards would also have no talk about assassination. Such a line of attack was clearly ‘not allowed under the UN operation and it is not something I want to discuss any further’ (Daily Mail, Mar 22). Then, the rebuke from an unnamed senior government source: ‘He is right that regime change would be illegal, but there are obviously circumstances where it would be legal to target Gaddafi if his actions are harming civilians.’ In this murky world of double-think, one would think that bombing Gaddafi’s forces into submission, with the prospect of killing him and his sons, would not amount to regime change so much as liquidation.

The Obama administration immediately decided to douse the blood-hungry calls with cold water. Secretary of State Robert Gates has described such talk as ‘unwise’, given the prospect of alienating Arab support for the no-fly zone and the mission. Pentagon spokesman Vice-Admiral William Gortney re-iterated the stance: ‘We are not going after Gaddafi. At this particularly point, I can guarantee he is not on the target list’ (Daily Record, Mar 22).

The international effort in Libya risks becoming rag-tag, skewed by misunderstandings and unclear objectives. The opposition voices from such figures as Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (though repudiated by the meeker President Medvedev) have decided to refer to metaphors of another age. ‘To me,’ stated the Russian Prime Minister on a visit to a missile factory, ‘it resembles some sort of medieval call to crusade when someone would appeal to someone to go to a certain place and free someone else.’ The Colonel will be relieved with that designation, as it is something he has felt all along.

Members of the African Union have made it clear that no aircraft committed to the mission shall be allowed to fly in their airspace. The Arab League is getting more agitated with each passing day. With the US keen to leave the leadership side of Operation Odyssey Dawn to other powers, there is the prospect that NATO might take over the creaking stewardship. Turkey, through the offices of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, is none too thrilled by that prospect, wanting the operation to be concluded swiftly so that Libyans can decide the issue for themselves.

Only a few days old, and ‘mission creep’ is seeping through the Libyan adventure like damp rot. British Labour leader Ed Milliband smells it. ‘We all know ambiguity about the case for intervention is one of the biggest problems we had in Iraq. We cannot afford mission creep, including in our public pronouncements’ (Daily Mail, Mar 22). That, it would seem, remains wishful thinking.

Binoy Kampmark

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]

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