How to catch Qaddafi

History has a strange way of repeating itself, often more quickly than anticipated. Within hours of invading Panama in 1989, U.S. forces had decimated the Panamanian Defense Forces and were greeted as liberators by the long-suffering Panamanian people. Yet the failure to immediately capture Gen. Manuel Noriega, the thuggish, pock-marked Panamanian strongman, dominated perceptions of ...

FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

History has a strange way of repeating itself, often more quickly than anticipated. Within hours of invading Panama in 1989, U.S. forces had decimated the Panamanian Defense Forces and were greeted as liberators by the long-suffering Panamanian people. Yet the failure to immediately capture Gen. Manuel Noriega, the thuggish, pock-marked Panamanian strongman, dominated perceptions of Operation Just Cause. At the first post-invasion news conference in Washington, reporters asked: "Could we really consider Just Cause successful as long as we did not have Noriega in custody?"

History has a strange way of repeating itself, often more quickly than anticipated. Within hours of invading Panama in 1989, U.S. forces had decimated the Panamanian Defense Forces and were greeted as liberators by the long-suffering Panamanian people. Yet the failure to immediately capture Gen. Manuel Noriega, the thuggish, pock-marked Panamanian strongman, dominated perceptions of Operation Just Cause. At the first post-invasion news conference in Washington, reporters asked: "Could we really consider Just Cause successful as long as we did not have Noriega in custody?"

More than a decade later, coalition forces overwhelmed the Iraqi Army and seized Baghdad after a lightning three-week campaign in spring 2003. But the ostensible target of the invasion, dictator Saddam Hussein, disappeared. Despite the initial euphoria of liberation, ordinary Iraqis were plagued by a sense of growing unease and disbelief as graffiti praising Saddam began to emerge in Iraq’s so-called Sunni Triangle, bearing messages such as "Saddam is still our leader" and "Saddam the hero will be back." While Noriega was apprehended within two weeks and the feared guerrilla campaign never developed, Saddam evaded coalition forces for eight months, during which time the Sunni insurgency that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and nearly devastated Iraq coalesced.

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Benjamin Runkle, PhD, has served as in the Defense Department, as a Director on the National Security Council, and as a Professional Staff Member on the House Armed Services Committee.
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