Yesterday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, promised a “limited” campaign in Libya on Meet the Press. “No boots on the ground,” he assured the host, David Gregory. And he seemed indifferent about Libyan president Moammar Qaddafi’s fate. Whatever the American mission is, Mullen cautioned, “it isn’t about seeing him go.”
But anything less than Qaddafi’s ouster would be deemed a failure by Victims of Pam Am Flight 103, Inc. On Dec. 21, 1988, 270 people — including 189 Americans — died when the airplane exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Members of the organization — friends and relatives of the passengers — have long suspected that Qaddafi ordered the bombing, and former Libyan minister Mustapha Abdeljalil confirmed their fears in February of this year. Now, they demand that the United States bring Qaddafi to justice.
“It is unacceptable to us that Qaddafi stay in power,” Brian Flynn, vice president of the organization, tells National Review Online. Flynn, who lost his brother John Patrick in the attack, affirmed his support for the current “ratcheting approach: Start by establishing a no-fly zone and then eliminate the capabilities of the Libyan military.”
“I personally offered to buy one of the Tomahawk missiles,” Robert Monetti, who lost his son Rick on the flight, says.
Their motivation isn’t revenge, Flynn contends: “We often get criticism — even from some of your columnists — that this is about avenging Pan Am Flight 103. This is not about vengeance; it’s about accountability and justice.”
Kathleen Flynn, John Patrick’s mother, wonders why the U.S. hasn’t asserted its right to remove Qaddafi. “[Qaddafi] blew up an American plane,” she reminds NRO. “This administration has not really addressed that as strongly as I would have liked. . . . Hillary Clinton should have known better. She’s been through this with us. Her husband has been through this with us. I’m surprised at their lack of bringing that into the forefront. We have every right to attack Libya.”
Eileen Walsh — who lost her father, Warren Buser; her brother, Michael Buser; and her sister, Lorraine Halsch, in the attack — is especially pessimistic about the U.S.’s military campaign. “I think it’s too little, too late. I don’t think they’re going to get Qaddafi,” she says. When asked how the U.S. erred in handling the crisis, Walsh responds, “By electing Obama.” Flynn agrees that, at least in the beginning, Obama didn’t “come out strong enough.”
Monetti, however, defends the president and praises the international coalition “It’s easy to say Obama should have done more or done it quicker,” he says. “But I think what’s been accomplished has been pretty impressive.”
One concern that grips all the victims is Qaddafi’s replacement. Of the rebels, Walsh warns, “We’re not real sure who these people are.” John and Barbara Zwynenburg, who lost their son Mark in the attack, echoed Walsh’s worries in a recent interview with Fox News host Neil Cavuto.
But Flynn thinks anyone would be better than Qaddafi. “I’ll take my chances on that, frankly,” she says.
How to rid Libya of its longtime leader is a tricky question. “My hope is that if we prevent the slaughter of civilians, the mercenaries he’s hired might become aware that their position is rather precarious — they’re not going to get paid, they’re probably going to get killed — and so maybe they’ll go home again,” Monetti reasons. He thinks ground forces should prove unnecessary: “The Libyans will take care of Qaddafi on their own.”
On the other hand, Flynn wants a more aggressive approach. “I think we should go to the limit. I think we should do everything we can possibly do insofar as taking out Qaddafi.”
On military strategy, the victims differ. But on the need for action, on the illegitimacy of Qaddafi’s regime, on the justice of the case, they all stand in agreement: Qaddafi must go.
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.