Category Archives: Transitional Nat. Council

The fight for Libya

The New York Times reports:

As the military operation continued over Libya on Monday, there was some confusion about which country or organization is actually leading it, and for how long. France, Britain and the United States are in charge of their own operations, which each have different code names.

The participants are being “coordinated” by the United States, but not commanded by it, according to the French Defense Ministry. The Americans, with the most assets, seem to be the lead coordinator, but Washington has said it wants to step back after the initial phase and have NATO take charge of maintaining a no-fly zone and arms embargo.

Britain wants NATO to take over but France does not, and Italy is threatening to rethink its participation unless NATO takes command.

The Guardian editorial:

George Bush assembled coalitions of the willing, a euphemism for his failure to get the UN to back his invasion of Iraq in 2003. Barack Obama has UN cover for a no-fly zone in Libya, but he has paradoxically produced a coalition of the unwilling to enforce it. US commanders expected that Nato would announce yesterday that it was taking over. That was blocked by Turkey, whose prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for immediate talks. Neither Germany nor eastern European members are keen on Nato heading an operation that has nothing to do with the defence of Europe. That might leave Britain or France carrying the can, “using Nato machinery”.

An operation no one wants to lead reflects deeper unease about the scale of the air strikes and confusion about their strategic purpose. The Arab League is meeting in an emergency session today after its outgoing secretary general, Amr Moussa, called for an immediate halt to the military action and for talks. He clearly believes that the attacks have gone far beyond their stated purpose in protecting civilian lives. Mr Moussa’s position is important for two reasons. Not only have Qatari planes yet to become involved, but Mr Moussa himself is a participant in the democratic revolution in his native Egypt. As a possible presidential candidate of a country that will one day resume leadership of the Arab world, he has a personal interest in what he puts his name to.

In Britain, the government appeared increasingly at odds with its defence chiefs over whether Muammar Gaddafi was a legitimate military target. General Sir David Richards said the Libyan leader was “absolutely not” a target, while Downing Street appeared to side with the view of the defence secretary, Liam Fox, that the Libyan leader was a legitimate target if his forces continued to threaten civilian lives. Three days into this mission, these are not insignificant questions. While much was made of the fact that China and Russia abstained in the security council vote, the fact remains that a large part of the world – including India, Brazil and much of Africa – is against this operation. The Arab League, whose support was so essential to the argument that military action had regional backing, is plainly wavering. Mr Cameron may say until he is blue in the face that it will be up to the Libyans to choose their leader once this is all over, but history in this part of the world is against him.

The longer the bombing campaign goes on, the sooner the real issue will have to be confronted: where is it leading? The answer matters on a day-to-day basis. Yesterday, as our correspondent’s account made clear, an ad hoc motorised cavalry of scores of youth fighters on pick-up trucks charged at Ajdabiya, only to retreat in disarray when Gaddafi’s tanks, which were dug in around the town, fired back. The fighters thought that air strikes had knocked out the enemy’s tanks and rockets. And they were surely entitled to think that what was good for Benghazi was also good for Ajdabiya, or Tripoli for that matter. Some had families trapped behind Gaddafi’s tanks, and in other loyalist-held towns there were reports of civilians being used as human shields. If the rebels lack the military means to take these towns back, are coalition warplanes going to fight their battles for them? And if not, would the revolutionary council in Benghazi accept partition? As things stand, the answer to both questions is no. So even if Gaddafi’s forces accepted the ceasefire, the rebels would keep on fighting.

Members of the council have already said they fear the result of a limited air campaign will be a military stalemate and have called for an escalation of air strikes to wipe out Gaddafi’s army. This is the logic of intervention, but it is not in the remit of the UN resolution. Three days ago, air strikes launched to save innocent lives looked simple enough. Very quickly, they have become part of the war.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

President Barack Obama Monday formally notified Congress the U.S. had begun military attacks on Libya, prompting complaints from lawmakers that the president waged war without congressional consent, appearing to contradict his own previous position.

In a letter to congressional leaders, the president said the U.S. had “commenced operations to assist an international effort authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council” and “to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international peace and security by the crisis in Libya.”

Presidents over the decades have conducted military operations without prior congressional approval, including Harry Truman in Korea, George H.W. Bush in Iraq and and President Bill Clinton in Serbia. Congress in 1991 approved the Iraq military action, five months after Mr. Bush deployed forces to the region in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The military action in Libya, which Congress wasn’t asked to approve, irked lawmakers.

Sky News reports:

More than 8,000 Libyan rebels have been killed in the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, it has been claimed.

“Our dead and martyrs number more than 8,000 killed,” said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, spokesman for the National Transitional Council rebel group.

He criticised Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa over comments that appeared to be critical of military action by the United States and its allies against Libya.

The Arab League had called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces but Moussa on Sunday condemned “the bombardment of civilians”.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” Egypt’s state news agency quoted Moussa as saying.
Ghoga said: “Today, when the secretary general spoke, I was surprised.

“What is the mechanism that stops the extermination of the people in Libya, what is the mechanism, Mr Secretary General?

“If the protection of civilians is not a humanitarian obligation, what is the mechanism that you propose to us?”

After Turkish diplomats were able to secure the release of Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks, Lynsey Addario and Anthony Shadid, four New York Times journalists who had been captured by Gaddafi forces six days ago, they have now provided an account of their capture and captivity.

The four had been covering fighting near Ajdabiya when they decided that the battle had grown too dangerous for them to continue covering it safely. Their driver, however, inadvertently drove into a checkpoint manned by forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi. By the time they knew they were in trouble, it was too late.

“I was yelling to the driver, ‘Keep driving! Don’t stop! Don’t stop!’ ” Mr. Hicks recalled in a telephone interview from the hotel where he and the three others were recuperating. “I knew that the consequences of being stopped would be very bad.”

The driver, Mohamed Shaglouf, is still missing. If he had tried to drive straight through, Mr. Hicks said, the vehicle certainly would have been fired on. In any event, the soldiers flung the doors to their gold four-door sedan wide open so quickly that they had little chance to get away.

As they were being pulled from the car, rebels fired on the checkpoint, sending the four running for their lives.

“You could see the bullets hitting the dirt,” Mr. Shadid said.

All four made it safely behind a small, one-room building, where they tried to take cover. But the soldiers had other plans. They told all four to empty their pockets and ordered them on the ground. And that is when they thought they were seconds from death.

“I heard in Arabic, ‘Shoot them,’ ” Mr. Shadid said. “And we all thought it was over.”

Then another soldier spoke up. “One of the others said: ‘No, they’re American. We can’t shoot them,’ ” Mr. Hicks said.

Marc Lynch writes:

The intervention is a high-stakes gamble. If it succeeds quickly, and Qaddafi’s regime crumbles as key figures jump ship in the face of its certain demise, then it could reverse the flagging fortunes of the Arab uprisings. Like the first Security Council resolution on Libya, it could send a powerful message that the use of brutal repression makes regime survival less rather than more likely. It would put real meat on the bones of the “Responsibility to Protect” and help create a new international norm. And it could align the U.S. and the international community with al-Jazeera and the aspirations of the Arab protest movement. I have heard from many protest leaders from other Arab countries that success in Libya would galvanize their efforts, and failure might crush their hopes.

But if it does not succeed quickly, and the intervention degenerates into a long quagmire of air strikes, grinding street battles, and growing pressure for the introduction of outside ground forces, then the impact could be quite different. Despite the bracing scenes of Benghazi erupting into cheers at the news of the Resolution, Arab support for the intervention is not nearly as deep as it seems and will not likely survive an extended war. If Libyan civilians are killed in airstrikes, and especially if foreign troops enter Libyan territory, and images of Arabs killed by U.S. forces replace images of brave protestors battered by Qaddafi’s forces on al-Jazeera, the narrative could change quickly into an Iraq-like rage against Western imperialism. What began as an indigenous peaceful Arab uprising against authoritarian rule could collapse into a spectacle of war and intervention.


Libyans disappoint the anti-war movement and the anti-imperialists

The mere fact that Gaddafi has been served notice that continued military operations will bring reprisals has not been sufficient to persuade him to implement a unilateral ceasefire which he already promised. Benghazi is currently under attack.

Meanwhile, as missiles are coming down on the last refuge of the Libyan revolution, a strange message is going out to the people whose lives are still threatened by Gaddafi’s forces. Social activists and members of the anti-war movement want the revolutionaries to know that they feel betrayed and let down!

There are people in places like Montreal and Chicago who have dedicated their lives — or at least careers, or blogs, or speaking tours — to challenging the mighty forces of Western imperialism, and then the folks in Benghazi hand out an open invitation for NATO to come along and rescue them. Unforgivable!

Max Forte writes:

Elements of the rebel leadership have stained their own name, and stained their revolution. That is inescapable now. But what is damaging to all of us is the narrow, self-centered, provincialism of what is clearly a neo-colonial elite of former regime insiders serving as self-appointed “representatives of the Libyan people,” elites who like the neo-colonized, depend on aid from abroad as part of their self-fulfillment. Cheering for what will be a NATO-led operation, is a validation and legitimation of that organization, and in a time when budgets for education, health, public works, and programs for the poor are all being slashed across the West, they help to validate the need for maintaining heavy military spending. Nobody is out in the streets cheering universities and hospitals, but apparently they are out in the street cheering the bomb. Their provincialism was displayed in their lack of solidarity, or even passing concern, with social justice and anti-war activists in the West, in cases berating those of us who felt we should have a voice — these are, after all, our planes, our bombs, and our political leaders — because all we needed to know was that “Libyans” asked for this intervention. If that is a reflection of the kind of political work and solidarity-building they did at home, then no wonder they had to turn to artificial, prosthetic solutions. Not just the anti-war movement, and the anti-secrecy movement, will be damaged here, as the clock is turned back to 2003 — it is the very meaning of “revolutionary,” which can now be made to include those who would be clients of imperial patrons.

So, the current predicament of the Libyan revolution is not the result of the brutality of the regime and its oppressive rule, but because of its second-rate revolutionary leaders, their lack of political skill and their deficiencies in solidarity-building?

I guess the “fall” of the Libyans actually took place the first day they started shooting back and revealed that they lacked Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence. If only they had possessed the moral strength of their Western supporters-now-turned-critics and realized that Gaddafi could be toppled with pure love.

OK, I’ll dispense with the sarcasm. The fact is, I find it extraordinary, that anyone aligned with any kind of movement whose basis is human solidarity would not have enough empathy to recognize that people whose lives are under immediate threat, do not have the luxury of picking and choosing between possible sources of protection just for the sake of maintaining the ideological purity of their cause.

If revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt had been able to join forces with their counterparts in Libya and collectively bring down Gaddafi, that would have been the dream combination. But it couldn’t happen — or at least, it couldn’t happen soon enough.

And the idea that the Arab democratic revolution is now over because of Western intervention in Libya, conveniently skirts over the implications that Gaddafi’s victory might have for the wider revolution.

The Western intervention of the most dangerous and insidious form would be Western non-intervention as autocratic regimes, emboldened by Gaddafi’s success in crushing the Libyan revolution, followed in his footsteps and crushed revolts across the region while the US quietly took comfort in the restoration of “stability.”

Now that the Obama administration has veered off its previously steady and passive response to the region’s uprisings, the remaining regimes have become more — not less — vulnerable. Hence the Arab League’s support for Res. 1973. The Gulf states are desperate to demonstrate how supposedly different they are from Gaddafi because their inequities and centralization of power are so similar. Gaddafi might not indulge in the same level of gross opulence as his royal Arab counterparts, but he shares their fear of political freedom.

Maybe Benghazi is not populated by failed revolutionaries but the failure comes from the outside through a projection of revolutionary aspirations by those who are disappointed by the lack of revolutionary tendencies in their own societies.

The driving force behind the Arab democratic revolution in Libya and elsewhere is not a lofty desire to change the world — it’s simply a hunger among ordinary people to be able to control their own lives.


UN Resolution 1973/2011 adopted

UN Security Council Resolution 1973/2011 on Libya – full text

10 in favour, zero against, five abstentions.

Voting for the resolution:
Permanent members: United States, Britain, France
Non-permanent members:: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa

Permanent members: Russia, China
Non-permanent members: Germany, Brazil, India

The Resolution authorizes member states “to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamhariya, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force.”

Simon Tisdall writes:

With a boldness that the world had begun to believe he lacked, Barack Obama has gone for broke. The US wants Muammar Gaddafi’s head. It will not rest until he is deposed and there is regime change in Libya. And it will fight to get it.

Obama spent weeks pondering, prevaricating and posturing, infuriating Britain and France, arch advocates of military intervention. He used public appearances to prate professorially about plans, contingencies and downsides. He allowed senior administration officials such as Pentagon chief Robert Gates to give full vent to their doubts and misgivings about a possible Libyan quagmire.

Obama is already fighting two wars in Muslim countries he did not start – in Iraq, now all but finished, and Afghanistan. He did not want to author another. He did not want another foreign distraction ahead of his presidential re-election bid next year. He did not want the cost, the corpses or the inevitable collateral damage – political and human.

But gradually the pressure from hawkish Democrats such as John Kerry and Republicans such as John McCain began to tell. The escalating rhetoric from Downing Street and the Elysee Palace will have had an impact, too.

Obama finally made his mind up. The US would intervene to stop him. And there would be no half measures. All steps short of boots on the ground, as the US under-secretary of state William Burns put it are now urgently contemplated, with a view to immediate implementation.

That means possible, imminent air strikes as well as an air exclusion zone. It means direct head-on combat with Libya’s air force, if it chooses to fight. It means, potentially, western casualties, if pilots are shot down or bail out or are taken hostage. It could mean innocent civilian deaths as the EU’s foreign policy chief Lady Ashton warned last week. And if things do not go well, it may mean escalation beyond all that is envisaged now. Who knows when it will stop.

The immediate impact may be to stop Gaddafi’s advance on Benghazi in its tracks. If that happens, the revolution will have been salvaged, albeit at the very last moment. Whether it can endure is another matter entirely.

The US and its European and Arab allies will hope that Gaddafi, facing the prospect of overwhelming, punitive force, will quickly back down, observe the UN demand for a ceasefire, even agree to negotiations. But to be sure of saving Benghazi, a no-fly zone will not be enough. To drive home the point the game is up, it is likely allied air strikes on Gaddafi’s heavy armour and artillery will be required, and possibly also attacks directed at him personally, as Ronald Reagan tried in 1986.

Gaddafi acts like a bully and a coward. But he is full of bluster. Only a sudden, bloody nose will convince him to desist. This is he is probably about to receive. And the betting must be that, once the revised odds become clear, those remnants of the Libyan army and security forces that have so far remained loyal will desert him, too.

The longer term impact of the intervention is immeasurable – but disaster is certainly one possible outcome. Like the first Gulf war, the involvement and support of Arab countries means the Libyan war will not be defined, except by hardline jihadis and al-Qaida, as another western assault on Muslim lands. But if the fighting is prolonged, if Gaddafi does not quit and run, if his more able sons take up his cause, if the intervention makes things worse not better for ordinary people (as in Iraq), if there is no clear-cut win but ongoing low level conflict and resistance (as in Afghanistan), then Arab opinion will turn against the westerners once more. The post-9/11 nightmare of the Pentagon’s long war without end will reproduce on the shores of the Mediterranean.

But there is a reasonable prospect of success, too. If the rebels, rescued from annihilation, prove capable of creating a government able to take over the running of all of Libya, and not just the rebellious east, then Obama’s gamble could pay off.

If Gaddafi, no longer able to deploy superior firepower and mercenaries, is overthrown by his own people, it will be hailed as an improbable triumph for, among others, David Cameron, who took a harder line than most, earlier than most. Britain (and not Germany, which opposed intervention) may profit from the gratitude of a grateful people. If Libya falls to democracy, then like-minded reformers in Bahrain and elsewhere will be greatly heartened.

Obama and Cameron are looking for another Kosovo or Kuwait, not another Iraq. It’s a story, as they would prefer to write it, with a happy ending, producing a newly independent country, and another friend for the west. But they cannot control the outcome. Now they can only wait and hope they were right.

The New York Times reports:

In the most strident verbal attack on Colonel Qaddafi to date by an American official, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that the Western powers had little choice but to provide critical military backing for the rebels. “We want to support the opposition who are standing against the dictator,” she told an applauding audience in Tunisia on Thursday. “This is a man who has no conscience and will threaten anyone in his way.”

She added that Colonel Qaddafi would do “terrible things” to Libya and its neighbors. “It’s just in his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.”

The Qaddafi government responded to the potential United Nations action with threats.

“Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military facilities will become targets of Libya’s counter-attack,” it said in a statement carried on Libyan television and the official news agency, JANA, Reuters reported. “The Mediterranean basin will face danger not just in the short-term, but also in the long-term.”

There were reports on Thursday that warplanes were already bombarding the outskirts of Benghazi for a second day, opening shots, perhaps, in the battle. And after days of batterings at the hands of Qaddafi loyalists, the opposition forces welcomed the promise of Western assistance.

Rebel leaders doubted that the loyalist forces could mount an assault on Benghazi tonight, in that they were still contesting Ajdabiya, 100 miles to the south, on Thursday morning. But witnesses said there were skirmishes on the road to Benghazi in the afternoon, about 30 miles from Ajdabiya.

Mohamed, a rebel spokesman in the embattled, rebel held city of Misurata — the last major rebel foothold in the west — welcomed the new American tone. “We are very heartened yesterday by the moves in the United Nations Security Council and the urgency of the American stand,” he said, speaking over a satellite phone.


How the West empowered Gaddafi and undermined the Arab democratic revolution

“I am very worried about #Libya. I do not want #Gaddafi to win this, and the complicity of the international community is allowing him to.” @Sandmonkey (Mahmoud Salem), Cairo, March 16.

“The fierce urgency of now” is a concept that Obama abandoned the day he got elected. The Decider got replaced with The Deliberator.

For this president, no decision has ever been so urgent that it couldn’t be mulled over for weeks or months. Meanwhile, what for Obama was empty campaign rhetoric, has for Muammer Gaddafi become his means of survival. As the US and Europe have dawdled and deliberated, the Libyan uprising has effectively been crushed.

The New York Times now reports:

With the advances made by loyalists, there is growing consensus in the Obama administration that imposing a no-flight zone over Libya would no longer make much of a difference, a senior official said. Just moving the ships and planes into place to impose an effective no-flight zone, the official said, would take until April, too late to help rebels hunkered down in Benghazi. While administration officials said the United States would not obstruct efforts by other countries to build support for a no-flight zone in the United Nations, President Obama met with his National Security Council on Tuesday to consider a variety of other options to respond to the deteriorating situation. Among those options are jamming Libyan government radio signals and financing the rebel forces with $32 billion in Libyan government and Qaddafi family funds frozen by the United States. That money could be used either for weapons or relief. The meeting broke without a decision, the official said.

“This is another indication of the constant exploration of different options that we have to increase the pressure on the Qaddafi regime as we go forward,” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Tuesday.

But in fact, the administration’s options have narrowed with the dwindling viability of a no-flight zone. The White House is considering more aggressive airstrikes, which would make targets of Colonel Qaddafi’s tanks and heavy artillery — an option sometimes referred to as a “no-drive zone.” The United States or its allies could also send military personnel to advise and train the rebels, an official said.

But given the lack of consensus behind a no-flight zone, these options are viewed as even less likely.

Simon Tisdall writes:

Disagreement between European countries over Libya has moved from the merely embarrassing to the wholly humiliating, after Germany again blocked Anglo-French no-fly zone proposals at a G8 meeting in Paris. The EU’s Libya debacle is now the foreign policy equivalent of last year’s eurozone meltdown, and similarly damaging to its global credibility and influence. Once again, Europe is being forced to confront an unpalatable truth: unless the US takes the lead, nothing gets done. Europe has not been entirely passive in the face of Muammar Gaddafi’s accelerating counter-attack on rebel forces. The EU has imposed sanctions, frozen the assets of leading figures and backed an arms embargo. It has also loudly proclaimed that Gaddafi must go. But these measures have made no appreciable difference on the ground.

On the question of military intervention, there are almost as many opinions as there are EU members. Britain and France are the most outspoken advocates of a no-fly zone. Germany has been the most vocal opponent. Italy – Libya’s former colonial power – havers and trims like a Berlusconi defence lawyer. Last week’s EU summit refused to back a no-fly zone. So did Nato. Today’s G8 communique does not even mention it.

Alain Juppé, France’s foreign minister, suggested Europe had left it too late to stop Gaddafi winning. “If we had used military force last week to neutralise some airstrips and the several dozen planes that they have, perhaps the reversal taking place to the detriment of the opposition wouldn’t have happened,” Juppé told Europe-1 radio. “But that’s the past. What is happening today shows us that we may have let slip by a chance.”

With outright victory now close at hand, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, in an interview on Euronews, said that a UN decision on a no-fly zone would be of no consequence: “Military operations are over. Within 48 hours everything will be finished. Our forces are almost in Benghazi. Whatever the decision, it will be too late.”

Since France was the first country to recognize the Transitional National Council in Benghazi, he was asked his opinion of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy:

Sarkozy must first give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign. We funded it and we have all the details and are ready to reveal everything. The first thing we want this clown to do is to give the money back to the Libyan people. He was given assistance so that he could help them. But he’s disappointed us: give us back our money. We have all the bank details and documents for the transfer operations and we will make everything public soon.

Al Jazeera reports:

Members of the European Parliament have blasted the European Union for a weak response to the crisis.

Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, said, to repeated rounds of applause: “This makes me sick!”

In Libya we can change the course of events. There are thousands of heroes. We know who they are but Gaddafi knows as well. He knows their names and their families. If he takes Benghazi it will be nothing more than a massacre, a new Srbrenica, a new Rwanda, a new Darfur.

This makes me sick of the EU. We have learnt nothing at all of history. When Gaddafi is back shall we say business as usual? Are we going to close our eyes again? Will we add one black page more to European history?

Rebecca Harms, a German MEP, said the EU was “refusing to line up on the right side, on the side of the just, and the Arab world will not forget or pardon this weakness from Europe”.

One piece of commentary effectively sums up the Obama administration’s role in what is becoming a disaster for the people of Libya:

New administrations anticipate foreign policy as if it will be baseball or football—a complicated team sport, bound by rules, at which they will succeed by dint of individual skill, clever plays and their all-knowing coach. They suit up, only to discover that their sport will be rafting on a uncharted river in full flood, filled with rocks and whirlpools, through which the frantic crew paddles in opposite directions.

Thus too the Obama administration. It came into office planning resets, nuclear zeroes and Israeli-Palestinian peace. It finds itself instead coping with a vast revolution of politics, society and thought in the Arab world—unforeseen and unforeseeable, fraught with opportunity and danger.

For the moment, the administration has survived several rapids—ditching Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak in some confusion and with embarrassing but not indecent haste; nudging the ruler of Bahrain into reform without quite pitching him overboard; and, thus far, avoiding a complete capsizing of the boat in Yemen.

But with regard to Libya it has made mistakes that could haunt this country for years to come. The administration prides itself on the president’s unhurried deliberation, his reluctance to act before considering all the angles, his strategic silences and extended consultations. But steer a raft on a wild river that way, and you end up in the water.

From the outset there were three possible outcomes in Libya: Moammar Gadhafi could go quickly, he could go slowly, or he could stay. The best chance of helping him go quickly would have been an unambiguous declaration of intent to see him off, and the willingness to lead a military effort—most likely a no-fly zone—to help Libyan rebels overthrow his regime.

There was momentum a few weeks ago as one town after another fell to enemies of the regime. A stream of defections, betrayals and surrenders seemed to spell Gadhafi’s doom. The time to intervene is when a small push can have the greatest psychological effect, even if military planners would prefer to do it only after orchestrating a three-week air-defense suppression campaign.

Instead of seizing the opportunity, the administration made cumulative mistakes. It was slow in insisting that Gadhafi had to go—but is now committed to that end, exposing itself to humiliation if he does not. It allowed the Pentagon to publicly disparage military measures, reassuring Gadhafi and dispiriting the rebels, when a discreet and menacing silence would have done far less harm. It called for an international effort when the lesson of decades is that NATO and the United Nations find it impossible to act without American leadership. And when the French government showed strategic initiative and pluck, it undercut a major ally.

The moment has passed. The only question now is whether Gadhafi goes slowly, over months, or not at all. Senior American intelligence officials inconveniently observed the other day in front of Congress that the latter seems the likely outcome. What will happen if they are right?

The administration will have put itself in the position of willing the ends, but not the means—a humiliating position for a great power. Gadhafi will need to recover access to European resources to rebuild his oil industry and regain access to his country’s plundered wealth. He can do that in any of a number of ways. He could threaten to open up the spigot of massive African emigration through Libya, to resume work on weapons of mass destruction, or to sponsor terror—all of which he has done in the past. A divided Europe, which includes a timorous Germany and an Italy preoccupied with the prime minister’s bunga bunga parties, will yield.

The administration is teaching dictators, and the populations they oppress, that you can get away with large-scale mayhem if you avoid YouTube. Instead, let the hard men do their work with assault rifles in alleys and soldering irons in lonely cellars. The thuggish leaders will be emboldened, the populations either despairing or desperate. If one hopes to aid the Arab awakening in the direction of more open and just societies, rather than to empower Islamist terror, this policy is perverse. And, finally, the U. S. has provided cover and reassurance for other unsavory actors—a deafening silence, for example, as Iran arrests leaders of the opposition.

This is a disaster for the people of Libya. It is a moral and political calamity for a generation of Western leaders whose reactions to Rwanda and Srebrenica consisted of ineffectual squeaks of dismay. It may deflect the Arab awakening into directions that will horrify us. And it says dangerous things about American foreign policy. Unless it is reversed, the administration’s Libya policy will convince the world that the U.S. is a feeble friend and an ineffectual foe, paralyzed by its own ambivalence.

That this analysis would come from, Elliot Cohen — a neoconservative proponent of military intervention — is hardly surprising. But to those who have warned about the dire implications of Western involvement in a no-fly zone, I would simply ask: who has been well-served by the West’s non-involvement in what will soon be declared a failed revolution?


The fight for Libya

The Guardian reports:

Libya’s revolutionary leadership is pressing western powers to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi and launch military strikes against his forces to protect rebel-held cities from the threat of bloody assault.

Mustafa Gheriani, spokesman for the revolutionary national council in its stronghold of Benghazi, said the appeal was to be made by a delegation meeting the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, in Paris on Monday, as G8 foreign ministers gathered there to consider whether to back French and British calls for a no-fly zone over Libya.

“We are telling the west we want a no-fly zone, we want tactical strikes against those tanks and rockets that are being used against us and we want a strike against Gaddafi’s compound,” said Gheriani. “This is the message from our delegation in Europe.”

Asked if that meant that the revolutionary council wanted the west to assassinate Gaddafi, Gheriani replied: “Why not? If he dies, nobody will shed a tear.”

But with diplomatic wrangling focused on the issue of the no-fly zone, there appeared to be little immediate prospect of a foreign military assault on Gaddafi’s forces, let alone an air strike against the Libyan dictator.

Christian Science Monitor reports:

On Libya’s eastern front, taking towns may be easy for Col. Muammar Qaddafi – but holding them is something else again.

After days of being pounded by rocket fire and bombing runs from forces loyal to Qaddafi, Libya’s rebel army piled into their pickup trucks yesterday afternoon and cut a ragged retreat from the oil town of Brega to Ajdabiya, 40 miles to the east. They left mounds of ammunition and supplies behind them as they fled, Qaddafi’s fighters surging behind.

That was all according to plan, says Mohammed el-Majbouli.

“We drew [Qaddafi’s forces] forward, and then we maneuvered behind them and trapped them,” says Mr. Majbouli, a former member of Qaddafi’s special forces who is now organizing rebel fighters.

He says a reserve force of rebels with military training had been hidden in homes in the eastern third of the sprawling petrochemical complex at Brega. After the Qaddafi men passed at about 8 p.m. last night, the rebels came out, retaking the town as well as about 20 prisoners from Qaddafi’s forces.

Majbouli’s claim of victory, which is also made by senior officers who have defected to the rebel cause, could not be independently confirmed. But if he is right, it would be the fourth time Brega has changed hands in less than two weeks, emphasizing the strange, shimmering nature of the conflict being fought in Libya’s coastal desert.

While it remains easy for Qaddafi to rain mortars and rockets on rebel checkpoints, he doesn’t appear to have more than a few thousand men, at most, committed to his eastward advance. Without indiscriminate fire on the cities of Ajdabiya or Benghazi – just the sort of act that might galvanize the international community into action, which Qaddafi is likely keen to avoid – it’s hard to see his forces advancing quickly much farther east.

On Saturday, The Guardian reported:

Muammar Gaddafi’s army won control of a strategic rebel-held Libyan town and laid siege to another as the revolutionary administration in Benghazi again appealed for foreign military help to prevent what it said would be the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people if the insurgents were to lose.

The rebels admitted retreating from the oil town of Ras Lanuf – captured a week ago – after two days of intense fighting and that the nearby town of Brega was now threatened.

The revolutionary army, in large part made up of inexperienced young volunteers, has been forced back by a sustained artillery, tank and air bombardment about 20 miles along the road to the rebel capital of Benghazi.

The head of Libya’s revolutionary council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, claimed that if Gaddafi’s forces were to reach the country’s second-largest city it would result in “the death of half a million” people.

Robin Yassin-Kassab writes:

In 2003 America and Britain invaded Iraq without a United Nations mandate. Today NATO is emphasising that it won’t move without both a UN resolution and substantial political support from the Arabs. The Arab League has now called for a no-fly zone.

At the League meeting Omani foreign minister Yusuf bin Alawi warned that if the Arabs didn’t take a strong stance they would open the door to unwanted foreign interference. This may seem contradictory: at the same time he asked the UN to intervene. But his point is a good one. If NATO forces act under a UN resolution and responding to an Arab request, the Arabs will be well-placed to end the intervention at the right moment.

I understand the worries of those who fear Western intervention, after all the West’s crimes against the Arab world. I wish the Arabs were capable of moving by themselves (and I certainly hope that once the revolutions have run their course we will finally see an independent Arab world taking care of internal Arab problems). I like Asa’ad Abu Khalil’s idea of using Egypt and Tunisa as staging posts for volunteer Arab soldiers who wish to aid their brothers in Libya.

It’s a difficult, cloudy situation. The only clear thing is that the Libyans need immediate help. The Transitional National Council’s warning that half a million will be killed is not mere rhetoric, but an entirely logical and legitimate fear.

Ahram Online reports:

Thousands of Libyans march down the Corniche in Benghazi, chanting, “Free Libya,” “Revolutionaries,” “Beasts,” and other slogans. It is part of their military training. They are all volunteers, who chose to become fighters and join the rebel forces in areas like Ras Lanuf, Brega and Zawiyah , which are experiencing heavy air strikes by Gaddafi’s forces.
Among those is Ahmed, 25 years old, an Egyptian who has worked in construction in Libya for the past four years. In spite of his family’s pleas, he refuses to leave Libya. “I came to Libya and it was prosperous, I will leave it as prosperous as it was. I will stay here and fight with my friends until Libya is free, just like Egypt is free now,” said Ahmed who looked pale, but seemed very confident of victory and liberation.

Ahmed is one of many Egyptians who decided to stay and join the Libyan revolution. The volunteers are from both genders and all ages. Nada, 18, is a student who was born to an Egyptian mother and a Libyan father. She was born in Alexandria, but moved to Benghazi at the age of eight and has been living there ever since. She still visits Egypt every year.

“I love Egypt, it’s my second home, but I love Libya too, and I am going to stay and fight where I am needed,” said Nada passionately. Nada wears her hair short and she looks very practical in her suit and yellow shirt, which signifies that she is one of the organizers of the anti-Gaddafi sit-in. She joined the sit-in on February 18, along with her mother, another supervisor.

The Independent reports:

Four men have been arrested for the murder of an Al Jazeera journalist and evidence has emerged that Muammar Gaddafi’s regime is sending undercover squads to carry out a campaign of assassinations, rebel officials claimed yesterday.

The Independent was told that four men were caught in the city of Ajdabiya with evidence linking them to the death of Ali Hassaon Al Jaber, who was killed near Benghazi on Saturday. Under questioning, the suspects allegedly confessed they had been ordered to silence opposition figures and drive out international presence from territories of the protest movement.


Is a no-fly zone what Libyans want?

Jerry Haber observes:

[L]iberal interventionists are highly selective in their moral outrage, and … suffer from a “Saving-Private-Ryan” complex – they will intervene to save people with whom they identify, people on their side. But if the civilians happen to be on other the side of their tribal divide, they become silent.

Indeed. None of those now calling for a no-fly zone over Libya have called for a no-fly zone over Gaza. The difference clearly hinges on whether one has a greater affiliation with those dropping the bombs or those getting bombed.

But does this shed any light on the question of whether a no-fly zone should be enforced over Libya? Not really.

If we reduce such questions to questions of affiliation then all we will ever do is look to see where “my people” stand. If enough progressives start calling for a no-fly zone, then suddenly it becomes the right thing. But if its advocates are all neocons or neo-liberals, then it can’t be right.

This isn’t analysis — it’s politics reduced to the expression of allegiance.

So, turning back to the question of a no-fly zone, let’s forget about whether Charles Krauthammer or Sarah Palin think it’s a good idea, and let’s at least expose the array of questions embedded in what is falsely being presented as a single question. The question is not simply, do you favor or oppose a no-fly zone being imposed over Libya?

The first question is: who, if anyone, has the capability to effectively impose a no-fly zone?

I can’t give an authoritative answer to that question, but I would assume that a combined NATO force would have the capacity — though I might be wrong, given the commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Arab League now backs a no-fly zone. If some of its members also contributed forces, this might diminish the perception that a no-fly zone was strictly a Western intervention.

The second question is: would a no-fly zone have a desirable impact on the civil war?

So far, Gaddafi does not seem to have relied heavily on his ability to bomb or fire missiles on his opponents, so even if a no-fly zone was already in place, it’s not clear that it would have had much impact on the fight thus far. Even so, if Benghazi ends up getting flattened, no one will be served by the hindsight that a no-fly zone could have prevented that from happening.

The third question is: on whose authority could a no-fly zone be implemented?

This can be viewed as a legal question but it’s really a question of political legitimacy.

As with so many good intentions, there is a narcissistic current underlying many of the current calls for intervention:

  • the perceived need that “we must do something” even when it’s not clear that the proposed course of action can be implemented or will be effective
  • the need to promote the image of the United States as a force for good in the world
  • the need to show the world that the US is capable of limiting the power of tyrants
  • the need for prominent figures to assume a proactive political posture in order to sharpen the contrast with their political opponents

None of these serves well as a lens for focusing on the actual needs of the Libyan people.
In an editorial, The Guardian notes:

Some Libyan rebels have called for a no-fly zone, but until now – and this may change – the mood of the Libyan uprising is that this is their fight and their fight alone. Quite apart from the unwarranted legitimacy a bombing campaign would (once again) confer on the Libyan leader among his rump support in Tripoli and the damage it would do to attempts to split his camp, a major western military intervention could have unforeseen political consequences for the very forces it would be designed to support. A no-fly zone saved lives in Kurdish northern Iraq, but failed to protect the Shias in the south under Saddam Hussein. The moral strength of the Libyan rebels and their political claim to represent the true voice of the people both rest partly on the fact that, like the Egyptians and the Tunisians, they have come this far alone. The revolt is theirs, they are no one else’s proxy, and the struggle is about ending tyranny rather than searching for new masters. Even if Gaddafi’s forces succeed in checking the advance of rebel forces, and the civil war becomes protracted, it is the home-grown nature of this revolt that contains the ultimate seeds of the destruction of Gaddafi’s regime. Thus far, it is Gaddafi and his sons who have had to import hired guns from abroad.

The need to maintain a self-reliant revolution can be overstated. I doubt that any of the weaponry of any value that either side is using right now was manufactured in Libya. This is a fight engaging Libyan hands and hearts but using foreign arms. What those outside the fight must attend to above all else is the Libyan voice.

President Obama has already said that Muammar Gaddafi has lost his legitimacy as Libya’s leader, so an important and necessary precursor to the whole debate about providing military or non-military assistance to Libya’s revolutionaries, is formal recognition of their leadership: the Interim National Transitional Council in Benghazi.

The Council has formed an executive team headed by Dr Mahmoud Jebril Ibrahim El-Werfali and Dr Ali Aziz Al-Eisawi who will represent Libya’s foreign affairs and have been delegated the authority to negotiate and communicate with all members of the international community and to seek international recognition.

The Transitional Council’s third decree dated March 5, ends: “we request from the international community to fulfil its obligations to protect the Libyan people from any further genocide and crimes against humanity without any direct military intervention on Libyan soil.”

That seems to leave open the question about whether a no-fly zone is being sought.

If Obama want to show he’s a man of action, the most decisive thing he could do right now is recognize the Transitional Council and send an official US representative to Benghazi to find out exactly what forms of assistance the revolutionaries seek and see what kinds of assistance the US and its allies might be able to provide.