Today the New York Times describes the state of the war in Libya:
WASHINGTON – NATO plans to step up attacks on the palaces, headquarters and communications centers that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi uses to maintain his grip on power in Libya, according to Obama administration and allied officials.
This "more energetic bombing campaign" included "a separate raid on Monday that temporarily knocked Libyan state television off the air."
As the Times' Thom Shanker and David Sanger explain:
Officials in Europe and Washington said the strikes were meant to reduce the Libyan government's ability to harm civilians by eliminating, link by link, the command-and-communications and supply chains that are required for military operations.
That is obviously the justification you're going to hear from the people doing the bombing.Legally speaking, you are supposed to bomb targets that provide some military function–otherwise the attacks could be war crimes. Whether state television provides some concrete military advantage that would make journalists a legitimate target is a topic media outlets should discuss, for obvious reasons. But the Times seems willing to let the U.S./NATO explanations stand on their own.
But a more revealing admission comes later in the piece, when the Times talks about Kosovo and the lessons it teaches us about Libya:
Gen. John P. Jumper, who commanded United States Air Force units in Europe during the Kosovo campaign, recalled that allied "air power was getting its paper graded on the number of tanks killed"–even though taking out armored vehicles one by one was never going to halt "ethnic cleansing."
So NATO began to hit high-profile institutional targets in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, instead of forces in the field. Although they were legitimate military targets, General Jumper said, destroying them also had the effect of undermining popular support for the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic.
"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 Milosevic's own people began to turn on him," General Jumper said.
A military official is explaining that attacking certain civilian infrastructure can help to achieve a desired political outcome. That would seem to meet the conventional definition of terrorism, as violence directed against civilians for political ends. It's not that is new information–NATO airstrikes in Belgrade were intended to harm civilians, and pundits cheered as this happened. But if the point is that the war in Libya is going to be more like Kosovo, this is disturbing.