The fight for Libya

Simon Tisdall writes:

Muammar Gaddafi’s ceasefire offer will not satisfy western leaders queuing up to take a shot at him – but it’s unclear what will. When the US and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003 the aim was to overthrow Saddam Hussein. When Nato entered Kosovo in 1999 its purpose was to stop ethnic cleansing by Slobodan Milosevic’s army. The precise objectives of the Libyan war 2011, and how they will be achieved, are less well-defined – and therefore, potentially problematic.

The ceasefire hastily announced by Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa in the wake of UN resolution 1973 authorising foreign military intervention will be seen as a welcome first step. Except that regime forces bombarding Misrata and other cities appeared not to hear the news. Given Tripoli’s talent for lies, the enforcement, verification, and permanence of a ceasefire could be a vexed and lengthy matter. It will not happen overnight.

Downing Street has tried to clarify what its eclectic alliance – including France, the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Italy and Denmark (and maybe Malta) – thinks it is doing in Libya. David Cameron and Barack Obama agreed that “the violence against the Libyan people needed to cease, that Gaddafi should depart from power now, and that the Libyan regime should comply with the [UN] resolution immediately”, it said.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, added root and branch regime change to this wish list. “The Libyan people must be able to have a more representative government and determine their own future,” he said.

On this basis, the expanding aim of the intervention is not only to stop the violence and remove Gaddafi (and his sons) from power. Its more ambitious purpose is to oversee a democratic system on western lines in a largely undeveloped country that has never known representative governance and has no tradition of civil rights and individual freedoms. This sounds more like Afghanistan-style nation-building every minute.

A Reuters analysis says:

Finally confronted by a far stronger adversary, Muammar Gaddafi’s pragmatic instincts will be to stall, secure a truce and negotiate continued control of a rump regime based in Libya’s west.

His life as well as his rule at stake, the veteran autocrat will also tighten security control over his entourage to avert any repetition of the numerous coup attempts that have marked his 41 years in power, analysts say.

But his options have shrunk dramatically since the U.N. Security Council on Thursday evening endorsed a no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to shield civilians from his forces.

Analysts who know Gaddafi, an old hand at surviving prolonged international isolation, say the goal of U.N.-backed action must be regime change.

Any endgame short of that will offer openings he can exploit. For example, some expect Gaddafi, adept at brinkmanship, to call for talks mediated by African statesmen to gain time and carve rifts in the coalition ranged against him.

“He’s a manipulator and a survivor,” said Saad Djebbar, a UK-based Libya expert.

“He shouldn’t be allowed to negotiate to stay on in Tripoli. He wants to engineer the division of Libya, like Korea was split into a North and a South in the 1950s.”

Reuters reports:

Muammar Gaddafi’s government said it was declaring a unilateral ceasefire in its offensive to crush Libya’s revolt, as Western warplanes prepared to attack his forces.

But government troops pounded the rebel-held western city of Misrata on Friday, killing at least 25 people including children, a doctor there told Reuters. Residents said there was no sign of a ceasefire.

And in the rebel-controlled east, the government declaration was dismissed as a ruse or a sign Gaddafi was desperate.

“We have to be very cautious. He is now starting to be afraid, but on the ground the threat has not changed,” a French spokesman said. Britain, like France a strong advocate of armed action, said it would judge Gaddafi by “actions, not his words”.

CNN reports:

Even as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the ultimate goal for the U.S. was to see Libya’s president cede power, a senior administration official says the U.N.-mandated no-fly zone and military action to support it would not necessarily last until Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi steps down.
This official, who spoke on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, said that “right now, we’re focused on stopping the violence.”

Clinton said Friday, “The first and overwhelming urgent action is to end the violence. And we have to see a clear set of decisions that are operationalized on the ground by Gadhafi’s forces to move physically a significant distance away from the east, where they have been pursuing their campaign against the opposition.”

The purpose of the no-fly zone, the administration official said, is to prevent Gadhafi from attacking his own people.

“It’s not designed to have him go. That’s not the purpose,” the official said. “The purpose of the military action is to prevent massive humanitarian loss of life, to stop the violence. If the violence stops, then you shouldn’t leap to say then the military action will continue until he leaves.”

The Guardian reports:

How soon before the no-fly, no-drive zone in Libya is enforced by US forces? According to US Air Force chief of staff Norton Schwartz, speaking to senators in Washington yesterday and reported by Foreign Policy – plans to impose a no-fly zone in a few days were “overly optimistic” and said: “It would take upwards of a week.”

The Washington Post reports:

In the streets and alleyways of this cowed and fearful city, the lingering traces of a crushed revolution are fading fast.

At one junction, the charred remains of incinerated tires burned by demonstrators are being flattened by traffic as Tripoli gradually returns to a semblance of normality. A scorched police station is operating again, with police in black uniforms and green bandanas sitting on stools outside. The bloodstains in a sandy side street where residents say soldiers opened fire with live ammunition have been washed away by spring rains.

And in Green Square, the symbolic heart of the city, government supporters gather on a daily basis, not anti-regime protesters, to chant slogans and brandish portraits in a triumphal assertion of Moammar Gaddafi’s continuing grip on power.

While the United Nations has now authorized military action to protect rebels in the far east of the country, it may now be too late to revive the failed uprising in the capital. Libya’s foreign minister may have declared a cease-fire on Friday, but in Tripoli, Gaddafi’s stronghold, the real battle for Libya appears already to have been fought and won by a regime that was willing to use live ammunition against its opponents.

Reuters reports:

Four New York Times journalists who were captured by Libyan forces while covering the conflict there will be released on Friday, the Times reported.

The son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Seif al-Islam, told ABC News they would be released, and the Times reported that Libyan officials told the U.S. State Department on Thursday evening that all four would be released.

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2 thoughts on “The fight for Libya

  1. M. Smith

    And so the massive confusion about motives and objectives begins. NFZ? Regime change? Stalemate? Cowboys in Paris and London (surprisingly less so in Washington) itching to bomb somebody. The US establishment thoroughly conflicted due to being overstretched and “intervention fatigued?” It is shocking that Paul and I were only what, two days ago kissing the possibility of a NFZ goodbye. Now we have the ominously vague “all necessary measures” (but no ground troops of course!) and Obama declaring that western demands (as valid as they may be) are non negotiable. Keep an eye out for Rambouillet style “diplomacy” crafted to allow no way out for the baddy du jour so as to “force” the Knights of the Realm to use all those “necessary measures.”

  2. Renfro

    I don’t trust ‘unnamed officials” quotes but if this—-

    “It’s not designed to have him go. That’s not the purpose,” the official said. “The purpose of the military action is to prevent massive humanitarian loss of life, to stop the violence. If the violence stops, then you shouldn’t leap to say then the military action will continue until he leaves.”

    —is true, it’s a big mistake. Gaddafi has to go period. Not removing him would mean any effort is a total waste and pointless. Left in place he will continue to jerk everyone around and worse.

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