Last week Christopher Hitchens argued that NATO’s failure to remove Gaddafi makes a mockery of the stated humanitarian goal of the mission in Libya. In the wake of the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, this passage has new resonance:
The special forces of almost any NATO state-most certainly those of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France-are more than equal to the task of taking him out on their own. If he can’t be arrested, he can certainly be killed. This doesn’t seem to me to violate the letter or the spirit of, say, the official prohibition on assassination of foreign leaders first promulgated during the administration of President Gerald Ford. Qaddafi is now the commander and symbol of a depraved armed force with which we are engaged in direct hostilities. Like Mullah Omar or Osama Bin Laden, he is a legitimate military target and, if only the international courts would not also be so laggard, a legitimate legal and political one as well.
Assuming they can find him — and his location should be a lot easier to pin down than bin Laden’s was — there’s no doubt that Hitchens is right about the feasibility of a special forces mission. But conducted by whom? The other day Michael Totten laid out the case for unilateral US action on this front, and he’s not wrong. But of the three countries Hitchens mentions, surely the French have the most pressing interest in Libya. Yesterday an aid ship evacuating migrant workers from Misratah had to turn away hundreds of Libyan civilians, presaging a refugee crisis that will directly impact southern Europe if the stalemate in Libya continues. Gary Anderson at Small Wars Journal has predicted that French (and possibly Italian) boots will be on the ground in Libya soon enough. Let’s hope he’s right.