As American forces rain down missiles on Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya to prevent the dictator from massacring his people, one cannot but hope that the coalition mission is a tremendous success. All Americans stand behind President Obama and with our troops in harm’s way – or at least, I would hope so.
This is not necessarily to say that the decision to use force was wise. Conservative columnist George Will nicely delineated some of the important questions that the president and policymakers should have considered before committing to military force, many of which haven’t been answered satisfactorily enough, at least not publicly. But despite whether the current mission is wise or not, it is undeniably just. America is again going to war to protect a long-suffering population from the tyranny of a brutal dictator – I just hope we have an idea of the opposition elements we are fighting on behalf of. (This has been a tremendous failure of our government – to not know, long before these Arab revolts started taking place, the make-up of the opposition forces in each country.)
Yet, even as the air war is raging, there could be a way out before we become more enmeshed in this conflict. America is fighting two tough wars in the Middle East and we hardly need another one, especially one that is not necessarily vital to American national security interests. And though Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen now says that the Libyan operation will be limited in scope and is not meant to remove Gaddafi from power, President Obama has previously stated that Gaddafi must give up power. A prolonged no-fly zone (even a no-fly zone plus) certainly doesn’t seem sufficient to force Gaddafi from power and it isn’t even clear if it is enough to prevent him from continuing to commit crimes against his own people.
Here’s an alternative approach: America should offer Gaddafi and his equally revolting sons the opportunity to leave Libya and live the rest of their days in some dictatorial fiefdom, like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe (at least, so long as that remains Mugabe’s fiefdom, pray it not be long).
I know this sounds unpalatable. In a fair world, Gaddafi and his clan would face the sword of justice. But life isn’t always fair. The best option, for America and for Libya, is for this war to end as swiftly as possible and with as little bloodshed as possible. If Gaddafi would agree to leave the country in return for immunity for his crimes, we should take it. Sometimes justice must be left to the Almighty.
It should be remembered that we offered a similar deal to Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war began. As is too often forgotten, in a last ditch attempt to avoid war, President Bush offered Saddam Hussein an exit option in a nationally televised address. He was given 48 hours to agree to leave the country in order to avoid the conflict and bloodshed that eventually ensued. It was an offer, unfortunately, Saddam didn’t take America up on.
But there is reason to believe that Gaddafi might, especially with missiles raining down on his country. Shortly after the Iraq war began in 2003, Gaddafi apparently called Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. According to an account the prime minster’s office relayed to Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper at the time, Gaddafi told Berlusconi that watching the American invasion of Iraq scared him.
“I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid,” Gaddafi is reported as saying.
America’s invasion of Iraq ultimately motivated Gaddafi to come clean and give up his WMD programs, which were far more extensive than what Western intelligence analysts had thought. (This, by the way, was one of the greatest unheralded successes of the Iraq war, a success the Libyan rebels and the coalition forces fighting against Gaddafi should be very thankful of.)
Gaddafi seems like a paranoid man. He likely doesn’t want to end up hiding in a “spider hole” like Saddam Hussein. Even if America is publicly saying that it won’t use ground troops, Gaddafi can’t be too sure in his paranoid mind that the U.S. will stick to that or that it won’t find his hiding place and bomb him to smithereens. He knows what American forces could do if they wanted to. Given this, he very well could be willing to give up power and leave the country along with children so long as he could take some cash and be assured that he wouldn’t be hunted down and prosecuted, if not killed.
This is an option the U.S. should be actively pursuing behind the scenes. There were reports that the rebels rejected an offer by Gaddafi to leave Libya earlier in March. It is unclear what the exact terms of the offer were or if it was sincere, but at the end of the day, the rebels don’t get the last say when American and other coalition forces are involved in military action to save them.
I hope such avenues are being pursued as we speak. If they are not, they should be with much haste, no matter how nauseating the thought of letting a mass killer like Gaddafi walk free may be.