The New York Times headline this morning said it all with regard to the bombardment of Libya: “Target in Libya Is Clear; Intent is Not.” On one level the multi-lateral action directed at the Gadhafi regime has clear backing from the United Nations Security Council; it is aimed at protecting ordinary Libyan civilians from the aerial bombardment of Gadhafi’s airforce. That is what a ‘no fly zone’ is supposed to do, and it follows that reasonable targets can include military hardware that threatens the UN backed force.
But it has quickly become clear that all manner of moving and non-moving targets on the ground can be fair game. Whether all of this is within the purview of the UN Security Council resolution is a moot point.
The objective is officially at least, clearer: it is to protect Libyan civilians from military attack from the air, although once again the trail of burned out Libyan government troop carriers and tanks suggests that the attack has been broadened.
And what of Gadhafi himself? The Obama administration would clearly like to see the back of him, as would most other countries, and especially those that have done so well trading with him of late. But regime change may not be on the official UN agenda. The UN for its part has lived up to the doctrine of ‘responsibility to protect’. For it’s part it would probably like Gadhafi to stand down as part of a post-war round of negotiations.
Of course the most sensible outcome, and one avoiding the Libyan leader being killed by American and European led forces, would be to somehow organise his arrest by forces loyal to the Arab League. Gadhafi could then be transferred to the Court of International Justice to be arraigned on charges of crimes against humanity. What is left of his regime in Tripoli and the West would likely collapse. Following that, free and fair elections could be organised by the UN.
Wishful thinking? I wonder.