A president facing skepticism from Congress commits U.S. forces to a bombing campaign, citing the urgent imperative of protecting an endangered civilian population. Critics suspect regime change is the real motive. More than two months later bombs are still falling, and the chorus of lawmakers questioning the aim and length of U.S. intervention grows louder. Finally, the dictator surrenders, and the aggression in Kosovo ends.
The capture of Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic has revived memories of NATO’s role in halting a bloody conflict in the Balkans. While there are clear differences between the two – then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing campaign was racially motivated, whereas Col. Muammar el Qaddafi is trying to protect his rule from an insurrection – there are parallels as well.
The campaign in Libya has entered its third month, and Congressional pressure on President Obama is mounting. He has exceeded the 60 day window in which the commander in chief can deploy military force without Congressional approval, prompting criticism from both sides of the aisle. He originally said he backing the Libyan rebels to prevent a slaughter of civilians but has since pivoted, stating “it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power” and pressuring Col. Muammar Qaddafi to step down.
Clinton’s bombing campaign lasted 78 days, and a bipartisan group of Congressional representatives filed a complain questioning his constitutional authority. Clinton never explicitly cast the operation as an attempt at regime change, but less than two years after the NATO campaign ended he was arrested and ultimately died while awaiting a trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court, the same body that recently issued arrest warrants for Qaddafi on the same charges.
With Obama, as with Clinton, it seems unlikely that Congress will cut off funding – a court threw out the complaints against Clinton, and the Congressional outcry against Obama has been muted. But the clock is ticking. After Milosevic surrendered it was revealed that Clinton was planning for a potential invasion of ground forces, and some speculated that the threat of a land invasion helped to force Clinton’s hand. Obama has repeatedly vowed to never send ground troops to Libya.
But still, Libya could be approaching the point where it diverges from Kosovo, hardening into a stalemate rather than causing the fairly swift surrender of a violent autocrat.