If you knew the answer -- "... to the shores of Tripoli" -- you might have beaten IBM's Watson computer. But you might also be qualified for a high-level job at the Obama White House.
Because the folks over there seem to have no idea what's really needed today off the Tripolitanian shores, better known as Moammar Gadhafi's Libya. President Barack Obama scolded the Gadhafi regime Wednesday, urging it not to slaughter its own people while announcing he was sending Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton off to consult with our allies.
But, Mr. President, have you any idea just how much more effective it would be were the Libyans to wake up tomorrow morning and glimpse off their shores the wonderfully menacing silhouettes of U.S. Navy warships? Especially if you were then to announce that the U.S. was imposing both a no-fly zone and a naval quarantine. And that its objective was to block any effort by the Libyan regime to land more mercenaries or to use aircraft to bomb its opponents.
You could even announce that we were doing this in concert with our allies and that we were seeking U.N. approval while preparing for any humanitarian eventuality -- or similarly soothing weenie words.
There would be three prompt effects:
- The sight of those ships would encourage the demonstrators as nothing else, underlining international support for the regime's ouster.
- It might also serve as a useful signal to Gadhafi's inner circle that this is an appropriate time for the dictator to receive the martyrdom he so fervently wishes.
- Because naval "presence" is the most flexible of all forms of power projection, it can be used to send these signals, to intervene if matters worsen or to withdraw if they do not.
On Wednesday, Libya's former justice minister told a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, killing almost 300 people. Small wonder that such a monster turned on his own citizens like a mad dog -- or why history sometimes requires retribution that no courtroom can provide.
Outcomes in human affairs are uncertain, but, a century after his birth, can you just imagine what Ronald Reagan's reaction would have been?
Retired Col. Ken Allard, a former dean of the National War College and NBC News analyst, is a prolific writer on national security issues.