Weekly Standard: Force Gadhafi Out, By Any Means The U.S. military is now engaged in Libya against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's regime, but grappling with what should happen to Gadhafi should the rebels win. Peter Wehner of The Weekly Standard argues that while we may not know the end results of intervention, one thing is certain: Gadhafi must go.
NPR logo Weekly Standard: Force Gadhafi Out, By Any Means

Weekly Standard: Force Gadhafi Out, By Any Means

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi attends the opening session of the Africa-EU summit in November 2010, before the current conflict. Now that the U.S. military has intervened in Libya, many wonder what the endgame is. Mahmud Turkia /AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Mahmud Turkia /AFP/Getty Images

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi attends the opening session of the Africa-EU summit in November 2010, before the current conflict. Now that the U.S. military has intervened in Libya, many wonder what the endgame is.

Mahmud Turkia /AFP/Getty Images

Peter Wehner, former Director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Critics of America's intervention in Libya have wondered how much we really know about the anti-government opposition. This is a legitimate line of inquiry. We should be thinking about the devil we may not know. But in Libya today there is also a devil we do know. His name is Moammar Gadhafi.

Born in the desert near Sirte in 1942, Gadhafi seized power in a military coup in September 1969. He has never relinquished it. During his reign, Libyans have lived under one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

How repressive? Freedom House gives Gadhafi's regime the worst possible ranking in political rights and civil liberties. Political parties are illegal. Organizing or joining a party is punishable by long prison terms and death. Corruption is pervasive. There is no independent press or freedom of assembly. Human Rights Watch reports that since he assumed power, Gadhafi has repeatedly used arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, and political killings to maintain control over the population. Now he is hiring mercenaries to wage war on his own people, promising to "punish [those seeking liberation] without mercy."

Not content to have turned his own country into a giant prison, over the years Gadhafi has also supported maniacs like Ugandan president Idi Amin, Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam, and the Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. He has embarked on military campaigns into Chad and Egypt and provided aid and comfort to a Who's Who of terrorist groups, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Italian Red Brigades, the Basque separatist group ETA, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) of Colombia. He has encouraged assassination attempts against dozens of Libyan dissidents and emigres and political opponents throughout the greater Middle East and Europe.

And let us not forget that he has committed acts of terrorism against America. In April 1986, Gadhafi ordered an attack on the La Belle discotheque in West Berlin, killing several U.S. servicemen and injuring well over 200 others. President Reagan responded to this attack by striking targets in Tripoli and Benghazi. Two years later, on December 21, 1988, a bomb aboard Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 innocent passengers. Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was convicted of planting the bomb. In 2003, after denying Libyan involvement for years, Gadhafi's regime formally accepted responsibility for the attack. In February, Libyan justice minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil told a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing. It was not for nothing that Ronald Reagan called Gadhafi "the mad dog of the Middle East."

Gadhafi, while malevolent, is also shrewd. He is capable of adjusting his behavior when under pressure. After America decapitated Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, Gadhafi — fearing he might meet a similar fate — agreed to abandon his support for terrorism, relinquish his programs for developing missiles and weapons of mass destruction, and made payments totaling $1.5 billion to the families of those killed on Pan Am 103. The United States later rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Libya began to normalize relations with Western nations. Even a mad dog, it seemed, could be contained for a time. But as we have seen in recent weeks, in his response to the uprising of those seeking liberation from his rule, Gadhafi remains capable of wanton brutality and threats of terrorism against the West.

The United States, having gone to war against the Libyan regime, now has to decide whether or not to allow Gadhafi to stay in power. Acquiescing to Gadhafi's continued rule in Tripoli not only would be a disgrace, but a moral and strategic error of enormous consequence. The only decent outcome that can emerge from Operation Odyssey Dawn is to see Gadhafi gone. A person of unusual cruelty, the Libyan tyrant has built a grotesque and soul-destroying regime. Four decades-plus in power have been more than enough. It is time for the Butcher of Tripoli to leave the stage.

Whether that exit is accomplished by means of exile or cruise missile or hangman's noose is irrelevant. In this instance justice may be delayed. But it need not be denied.