Having laughed off Libyan government peace feelers, Official Washington is now beating the drum for a new round of "shock and awe" bombings and close-combat air strikes to "finish the job" of ousting Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
Typically, this Washington debate is being framed as a series of choices for President Barack Obama and NATO: one, abandon the current campaign of air strikes and let Gaddafi prevail; two, continue the conflict at its current pace and accept a stalemate; or three, commit more military resources to "win."
The neoconservative-dominated opinion circles of Washington are almost unanimous in their determination to push Obama and NATO to adopt option three. It is a consensus not seen since almost all these same Serious People supported George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003, which started off with the "shock and awe" bombing that was supposed to solve everything.
Left out of today's Libyan debate is any consideration of building on the African Union's proposal for a ceasefire and a transition to democracy with Gaddafi on the sidelines. Gaddafi's embattled regime agreed to those terms, but the plan was spurned by anti-Gaddafi rebels and doesn't even rate a mention when the "options" are listed in the Big Media.
Besides taking a page from Bush's "shock and awe" playbook, the Smart Talk in Washington also suggests modeling "regime change" in Libya after NATO's bombing of Serbia in 1999.
Those NATO strikes against the capital of Belgrade inflicted hundreds of civilian deaths, with estimates ranging from about 500 to more than 1,200, including the killing of 16 people working at the Serb TV station.
NATO generals justified their bombing of Serb TV on the premise that "enemy propaganda" is a legitimate target in wartime, even if the station's personnel were unarmed and defenseless. Since then, the intentional targeting of civilian TV and radio stations has become part of Western military doctrine when trying to overthrow Arab and Third World regimes.
The Serbian model is now being applied to Libya with the blessings of senior military officials who participated in that campaign. For instance, Gen. John P. Jumper, who commanded U.S. Air Force units over Serbia, told the New York Times that bombing high-profile institutional sites in Belgrade proved more effective than the destruction of Serbian tanks and other military targets.
"It was when we went in and began to disturb important and symbolic sites in Belgrade and began to bring to a halt the middle-class life in Belgrade, that [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic's own people began to turn on him," Jumper said.
Now, Jumper said a similar approach is being pursued in Libya. This week, NATO planes bombed Libya's capital of Tripoli briefly knocking Libyan TV off the air and blasting Gaddafi's personal residence (although NATO insisted that the raid wasn't an assassination attempt, wink-wink).
In other words, the anti-Serb air campaign, which was estimated to kill four Serb civilians for every Serb soldier slain, is now becoming the model for NATO's military strategy in Libya.
Contradicting a Mandate
One might think the application of the Serbian model to Libya would raise red flags in the U.S. news media since it suggests that NATO may end up killing large numbers of civilians under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians.
However, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times, major U.S. news outlets have ignored this obvious contradiction. Instead, there's a renewed excitement over the prospect of a new "shock and awe" bombing of an "enemy" country that's been stripped of its air defenses.
In influential U.S. opinion circles, it's pro-war propaganda all the time. Indeed, the New York Times seems to publish only editorials and essays favoring an expanded conflict.
Dominating the Times op-ed page on Tuesday was a call from retired Army Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik to "finish the job" in Libya.