The New York Times gives retired lieutenant general James Dubik a platform to do it.
Unlike the Bosnian Croats in 1995 and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001, the rebel forces in Libya are too disorganized to take advantage of NATO air support. To give them a fighting chance, NATO must put military advisers and combat air controllers on the ground — not just British, French and Italian, but also a small number of American ones.
These advisers would help bolster the weak rebel army’s organization and capabilities while ground controllers could mark targets, identify the forward movement of rebel forces, and distinguish civilians from fighters more effectively than pilots can from their cockpits. Such measures are essential, but they would require relaxing the Obama administration’s prohibition on the use of American ground forces.
This course of action would not defeat Colonel Qaddafi’s forces overnight, but it would put far more pressure on his regime and potentially protect more civilians in more of the country. If Colonel Qaddafi falls, the United States and NATO will have a responsibility to help shape the postwar order, including providing security to prevent a liberated Libya from sinking into chaos.
But why? Oh, right. Because we’re already in it, but not yet in it to win it. “The charade is over: America has intervened in a civil war with the de facto aim of regime change in Libya,” writes Dubik. “Washington must now accept that decision and face its consequences.”
Don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming. Dubik could have written this column back when the bombing first started and asked the Times to sit on it for a month. Of course the United States and NATO’s initial military commitment would be barely enough to force a stalemate in Libya. And of course the minute that stalemate became the new status quo our most serious publications would begin running op-eds encouraging the United States to put boots on the ground.
Will we? I hope not, for so many reasons. But I didn’t think we were going to bomb Libya in the first place, and we did. This is the logical next step.
If and when it happens, I wonder what we’ll hear from the folks who actually believed Obama’s promise of a limited engagement. “He lied to us?” Well, maybe. But I suspect he believed, just as they did. The worst lie was the one they told themselves.