Today – as Barack Obama announced Monday – the United States hands off the war in Libya to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It will be hard to tell the difference.
NATO isn’t exactly a third party. The U.S. military is the muscle of the alliance, and NATO can’t reduce Moammar Gadhafi’s armed forces from the air without American support.
The Air Force and Navy provide essential surveillance, targeting, transport, drone, electronic warfare and aerial refueling capacity. American pilots will remain in the battle in a very big way. The Air Force has recently deployed C-130 gunships and A-1 “Warthog” attack aircraft in Libya – slow-moving, low-flying warplanes that have devastating firepower and can target Libyan forces dug into cities.
Meet the new intervention, same as the old intervention. But as Obama argued persuasively Monday, labels like “NATO” and “U.N. Security Council” and “Arab League” mean a lot in an operation like this.
It’s a blessed relief to see Britain and France – France, especially – stepping up to a military leadership role that has frequently been punted to the United States, which then gets the blame and the bill for whatever goes wrong.
France has been most aggressive in seeking to overthrow Gadhafi by military means; it has recognized the rebels as a legitimate government and wants to arm them directly, not just enforce a no-fly zone. British Prime Minister David Cameron sounds almost as bellicose.
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