Poorly informed Libyans make emotive appeal for no-fly zone

Phyllis Bennis writes:

While the Libyan revolt is playing out in vastly different ways, and with far greater bloodshed, it is part and parcel of the democratic revolutionary process rising across the Arab world and beyond. And just as in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere, there is no evidence that the Libyan population supports foreign military involvement.

To the contrary, although at least part of the anti-Qaddafi leadership is indeed calling for some kind of military intervention, there appears to be widespread public opposition to such a call. Certainly there is fear that such foreign involvement will give credibility to Qaddafi’s currently false claims that foreigners are responsible for the uprising. But beyond that, there is a powerful appeal in the recognition that the democracy movements sweeping the Middle East and North Africa are indigenous, authentic, independent mobilizations against decades-long U.S.- and Western-backed dictatorship and oppression.

At a demonstration after a funeral for rebel fighters in Benghazi (shown in the video below) protesters can be seen holding up signs saying “Libyans Need No-Fly Zone” and “United Nations: we want no-fly zone quickly.”

Perhaps the signs were being held aloft by foreign agents, or maybe these particular Libyans have not been paying enough attention to Washington’s think tanks and don’t know how difficult a no-fly zone is to operate or what wider military involvement it might entail.
Or, maybe those outside Libya who refuse to make any distinction between a no-fly zone implemented in response to Libyan appeals and a no-fly zone imposed without consultation, simply don’t want to hear what Libyans are saying when it conflicts with the views to which so many non-interventionists seem so deeply attached.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the Interim Transitional National Council based in Benghazi, in an interview with CNN reiterated his appeal for the international community to immediately impose a no-fly zone.

Is anyone listening?

There seems to be a highly questionable logic at work here among the opponents of a no-fly zone: if Gaddafi can effectively crush his opponents, then the uprising can’t have had enough popular support, but if there’s sufficient popular support, then no outside support is necessary.

In other words, the message to the revolution is this: if you’re going to win, you won’t need our help, but if you need our help, you probably won’t win. Good luck guys.

Does this have implications for the Palestinians?

Isn’t the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement a form of foreign intervention?

If the Palestinians in the West Bank can’t muster the will or the force to kick out the Israeli occupiers, then maybe outsiders should not be making any effort to tip the balance of power.

Good revolutions, as the White House cynically says, grow organically. And believe me, contrary to all the anti-imperialist fear-mongering that’s going around right now, moderately tough-talk notwithstanding, Obama’s actually firmly on the side of the non-interventionists. The international community and especially the US and even more so the Pentagon, are loathe to get involved in this conflict.

So who do you want to align yourself with? US Defense Secretary No-No-Fly Zone Gates or Pro-No-Fly-Zone Mustafa Abdul-Jalil?

To those who argue that US involvement would undermine the credibility of the revolution, consider this observation by Salem Abdel Wahad, a 30-year-old Libyan rebel soldier:

We find one thing strange: the position of the United states. It’s impossible that the U.S. would not have imposed a no-fly zone, impossible, unless they have some agreement with Gaddafi against the Libyan people.

There is no neutrality in this war. If you don’t support the revolution, you are by default against it.

The debate for and against a no-fly zone is not closed, but it should at least be met on honest terms — without concealing the fact that Libyan appeals for a no-fly zone are only growing louder, and without claiming that a no-fly zone would inevitably lead to a full-blown Western intervention. Can a no-fly zone help or are there more effective alternatives?

Aviation Week spoke to two retired US Air Force generals who say that the difficulties in imposing a no-fly zone have been over-stated by the Pentagon.

Any attack, the two generals contend, would be far more limited in scope and greater in effect than critics have suggested.

“[Defense Secretary Robert] Gates has said that a no-fly zone can’t stop helicopters,” the first Gen. says “That’s wrong. There are only three places in Libya where helicopters can stage, fuel, rearm and re-equip – one in Tripoli, one in Benghazi and one in the eastern oil fields that are in the hands of the rebels. They are all near the coast. All the rest of Libya is barren.

“The U.S. Air Force has specialized in operations to take down integrated air defense, crater runways and destroy helicopter staging areas,” he says. “We know where they are. You can shoot down low-flying helicopter with Aim-9X Sidewinders. The suppression would take 24-48 hours with assets that aren’t being used for Iraq or Afghanistan.

Former US diplomat Peter Galbraith described the way a no-fly zone operates to Mark Colvin on Australia’s ABC News:

PETER GALBRAITH: Generally what happens is that once you’ve declared the no-fly zone, that the target air force is unwilling to fly its aircraft, of the pilots themselves individually are unwilling to fly and so by and large you don’t then need to have patrols to enforce it.

In the case of the no-fly zone that was over Iraq during the time that Saddam Hussein was in power, the Iraqis never actually challenged it, and so it was able to be enforced by a couple of planes patrolling every day.

MARK COLVIN: Do you first though have to take out their radar and other navigational aids?

PETER GALBRAITH: Not necessarily. Again if you declare it, there’s a good chance that the country will choose not to challenge it, or again that the pilots will stop to fly. But it’s also important to remember that in the case of Libya a significant purpose here is psychological. You have a country where a large segment of the population, including of the armed forces, has gone over to the rebellion.

The others may be sympathetic to the rebellion, or certainly are not necessarily committed to Gaddafi who are looking to say, to see how this is going to turn out. And once it’s clear, that Gaddafi is not going to remain in power, they are not going to defend him.

And so one of the purposes of declaring a no-fly zone is to send a signal that the international community is determined that he will not be able to put down the rebellion and this will perhaps hasten his departure or will make people, make it clear that he is not in fact going to succeed in putting down the rebellion.

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10 thoughts on “Poorly informed Libyans make emotive appeal for no-fly zone

  1. godfree roberts

    It looks like an armed insurrection backed by foreigners–not a ‘revolution’. Libya has long been the best dictatorship in the Middle East and I suspect that most Libyans would prefer waiting for the democratic movement to reach them, rather than suffer Western-sponsored civil war.

  2. Colm O' Toole

    You know sometimes you can judge which position to take on International Affairs by judging who is for it and who is against it.

    Via Pepe Escobar:

    “Those who do back a no-fly zone make a dodgy catalogue; former African colonial powers France and Britain; US Neo-Conservatives; and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – which includes Bahrain (which already lethally repressed protests), Saudi Arabia (who may do the same during this Friday’s “Day of Rage”), Oman (which may do the same if protests continue) and Qatar (whose al-Jazeera is barely covering the democratic aspirations of fellow GCC members).”

    But I think it is an academic debate anyway, doubt there will be a No Fly Zone because Russia and China are against it and the EU, as usual, is still discussing what position to take. I think Gadaffi will be toppled without any foreign assistance. He has already lost most of the population and no amount of money or mercenaries can make up for that fact.

    The only problem for the revolutionaries is getting around the town of Sirt which is Gaddaffi’s home town and stuck in between the Rebel East and the parts of the West in control of the rebels once that falls or is bypassed it will create a supply chain of rebel held towns spanning all the way to Tripoli.

  3. Renfro

    godfree roberts March 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm
    It looks like an armed insurrection backed by foreigners–>>>>>>>>

    ROTFLMAO…so now we have the China hasbara activists commenting on Libya and the West?

  4. Christopher Hoare

    So Peter Galbraith is saying the same thing I said from the beginning — the psychological effect of the no-fly zone is powerful enough to scatter and cow Qaddhafi’s forces without any major military action. It seems a no-brainer, but must be qualified in one aspect.

    There is no nation or group of nations in the world so free of avarice and deception that they might be trusted with a neutral and impartial offer of support to the Free Libyans. Isn’t that a condemnation of the state of world politics in our ‘enlightened’ age of the twenty-first century?

  5. Norman

    In todays issue of tomdispatch.com, is an article by David Bromwich titled: The Embarrassment of Empire, for those who haven’t read or know of. I think it’s an eye opener about what is going on with the U.S. It’s also telling as to why the U.S. sits on the fence throughout these past couple of months.

  6. dickerson3870

    Why the US must not intervene in Libya ~ by Stephen Kinzer, Comment, guardian.co.uk, 03/10/11

    (excerpts) Americans are hardwired to expect their military to fix foreign crises, but we should resist the calls of DC’s armchair generals…Intervention in Libya has all the makings of another Middle East quagmire. The urge to intervene there, however, is not driven solely by factors related to Libya….beneath it all is the deep belief that when there is trouble in Libya – or Liberia or Lesotho or Laos or Lithuania – the US needs to take a decisive stand and push to impose the solution it finds best.
    The reasoning is simple, and deeply rooted in US history. The world is a dangerous place, it needs to be managed, and the US is called to do the managing

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/mar/09/libya-usforeignpolicy
    P.S. FROM IRA CHERNUS, 01/20/11: “…White Americans, going back to early colonial times, generally assigned the role of “bad guys” to “savages” lurking in the wilderness beyond the borders of our civilized land. Whether they were redskins, commies, terrorists, or the Taliban, the plot has always remained the same.
    Call it the myth of national security — or, more accurately, national insecurity, since it always tells us who and what to fear. It’s been a mighty (and mighty effective) myth…” SOURCE – http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/01/20-7

  7. esteban

    nothing built by force
    is ever sustainable

    you can kill a man
    but not an idea

    hitler was a coward
    afraid to kill alone

    it was his ideas – and
    now we got a drone

  8. scott

    I support the dropping of bombs on Khaddaffi. We should imagine that policies we support could spin out of control and blowback on us. So, after considering that, I still support the same position–after all if we had other foreign powers occasionally bombing the leaders of other nations, that would be a vast improvement in warfare. We should do a lot more killing of leaders, and far less of their minions.

    Rather than a fleet of jets, each nation would need just one or two. Or, the more sporting could just wield epees. Hell, it would make great sport if we’d put our leaders out there like two roosters in a cock fight. We seem to like making war on TV, why not these international wrestling matches between people who are equally reliant on theatrics and stunts to sway our emotions. Let em all die in a war of attrition.

  9. Steve

    We are so dumb. One of the simplest and most useful things that you could do with the worlds premier military and we can’t see our way clear to do it. But if it’s stupid and if it involves weapons of mass idiocy and lasts for years and years and decades and gets millions of people killed – we’ll then that’s completely self evident, innit!

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