With air strikes directly targeting Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi’s residence, the notion that the US-led attacks are not “targeting” Gadhafi himself rings false. But many officials still insist he isn’t a target.
Pentagon Vice-Admiral William Gortney gave his personal guarantee today that Gadhafi is “not on the target list,” and Defense Secretary Robert Gates added that killing Gadhafi wasn’t part of the UN mandate. British Prime Minister David Cameron likewise conceded that the UN resolution “explicitly does not provide the legal authority for action to bring about Gadhafi’s removal of power by military means.”
At the same time, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox insisted that Gadhafi was a “legitimate target,” leaving many to wonder if officials are even at any sort of internal agreement on what the goals of the massive air campaign are.
President Obama defended the goals, in his own speech, saying that the US attack is “in support of a international mandate” but that official US policy goes beyond this mandate, and into regime change. Exactly where the goal ends — with Gadhafi’s assassination or with a full-on Iraq-style occupation — Obama wouldn’t clarify, so exactly what the war’s goals are remain nebulous, at best.
Either way, the comments appear to be extremely political. The assurances that they aren’t going beyond the UN mandate are aimed at reassuring the Arab League and others who bailed on the conflict as soon as it turned into a massive bombing campaign. The assurances that officials are going to “get” Gadhafi are aimed at keeping the hawks from complaining the campaign isn’t going far enough. The reality is entirely obscured by the rhetoric, and it seems the missile-based campaign is mostly an end unto itself at the moment.