How the No Fly Zone Can Succeed

The United Nations no-fly zone over Libya is risky but it can have a good outcome under certain conditions. Above all, it should look more like Kosovo than like Iraq.

[I should clarify that I think US participation in this effort should have been conditional on a vote of the US Congress. However, likely the Europeans and Arab League would have pursued the policy even in the absence of US involvement. In any case, my question as an analyst is where things might go from here.]

1. It should not be open-ended, but rather should have an expiration date. The no-fly zone is a response to a specific humanitarian crisis (the Qaddafi regime was firing tank and artillery shells at urban crowds protesting it). That crisis must not draw the UN allies into a years-long quagmire. (Such a situation developed in Iraq in the 1990s and contributed to the ultimate destruction of that country).

2. It should be a no-fly zone, not a war on the Qaddafi regime. Qaddafi tank columns should be interdicted from moving on Benghazi or Tobruk. But tanks just sitting around in Tripoli should not be targeted.

3. Once the no-fly zone is in place and Benghazi and points east are protected from reprisals, brokers should intervene to negotiate a diplomatic solution.

4. Officers who committed war crimes, as with ordering live fire on civilian crowds, must be prosecuted, but not everyone in the Libyan military should be tarred with that brush.

5. Amnesty might be offered to pro-Qaddafi officers and politicians provided they break with the dictator and send him into exile, as happened in Egypt and Tunisia. It is desirable that there be some continuity between the old regime and the new one, and that tribal factionalism and feuds and reprisals be avoided.

6. Countries opposed to or lukewarm toward the no-fly zone, but which are themselves democracies, such as India, Algeria and Russia, could be enlisted to meet with the officer corps in Tripoli and impress on them the need for a transition to parliamentary elections.

It is not impossible that there will be an outcome the world can live with, as happened in Bosnia and in Kosovo. In both places, local forces took the lead on the ground. Kosovo as a state originated in an externally enforced no fly zone.

That the world community has intervened in Libya but not in say, Yemen and Bahrain, has raised cries of hypocrisy. These charges are largely deserved. It is worth noting, however, that nowhere else in the Arab world where there have been widespread protests has the regime consistently responded with such massive brutality as in Libya. Yemen, with the sniper massacre of crowds on Friday, is moving in that direction, but Qaddafi has likely killed thousands since February 17, not just dozens.

From February 17, a peaceful protest movement broke out throughout Libya. Civilian crowds gathered without violence downtown, in Benghazi, Tobruk, Dirna, Zawiya, Zuara and even in the outskirts of Tripoli as in the working class town of Tajoura. City notables and military men in the east of the country formed a provisional government. Many diplomats declared for the provisional government, as did many officers and even cabinet members.

The Qaddafi regime responded with brutal violence to these non-violent protests. Early on, live fire was used against protesters in Tripoli itself. Last week, convoys of tanks rolled into Zawiya, supported by heavy artillery, firing on civilian crowds and on civilian apartment buildings. The tanks occupied the city center, and there are reports of a mass grave of the protesters. They were just protesters. They were easily defeated because they did not know, and most of them still do not know, how to handle a weapon. There were large numbers of self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the rebel ranks.

A reporter on the scene in Zawiya spoke of ‘large numbers of deaths’ and a ‘massacre.’

The Zawiya scenario was repeated, in Zuara to its west, and in Misrata to its east (Misrata, a city of 600,000 and Libya’s third largest, appears to have fallen to Qaddafi this weekend, with his tanks occupying the city center in a dreary repetition of the death and destruction at Zawiya earlier).

Libya began as a protest. Some of the protesters (apparently only a few thousand) were turned into armed rebels as they sought to defend themselves. Qaddafi responded to the protest movement by firing tank and artillery shells at the protesters and at infrastructure in the rebel cities. Many are without water and electricity, creating a humanitarian crisis.

NATO military forces flying in response to the UNSC resolution must seek to replicate the successes in Kosovo and not the failures in Iraq.

72 Responses

  1. I am shocked that you are supporting the attack on Libya; more, I am deeply disappointed. For may years when I lived in the USA I followed your contributions on Democracy Now. You were one of the authorities I would turn to,to check my own reading of situations. No more !

    • I am an analyst. I presented an analysis of how the no-fly zone might result in an outcome ‘the world can live with.’ Go back and look and you’ll see that I never called for intervention; and I would have insisted the US Congress vote on one. But we live in a world where this has happened, so the question is, ‘what next?’ I’m sketching out the conditions under which ‘what next?’ is not so horrible for the Libyans and for the rest of us.

      • Prof Cole asked “what next?”.

        A reminder to all those war advocates: there is nothing in the rule book that says Libya can’t fight back, maybe by launching terrorist attacks in the US. People should remember that if they make their military so strong it becomes untouchable then they put themselves in the firing line because that’s the ONLY way left for an enemy to fight back.

        Then again, as (the utterly repugnant) Qaddafi said “what would the US do if armed rebels were marching on Washington?” Or what about when the military massacred anti-war protestors at Kent State University? Should the international community have declared a no fly zone over the US to protect innocent civilians?

        Hypocrisy can be a dangerous thing.

        • Hypocrisy can be dangerous. So can absolute consistency. I see one less gigantic massacre of citizens petitioning for basic freedoms. The fact that such massacres occur elsewhere hardly demonstrates, in its own right, that there is a flaw in the Libya intervention. Does no one here have a serious criticism of it? The hypocrisy line is very weak.

        • With respect Sigil, how do you know there was going to be a “gigantic massacre”? Qaddafi may appear unbalanced, and he has plenty of like-minded followers, but there has been more than a touch of media demonization in play.

          Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia all shot down protesting civilians, the difference in Libya is that the protestors took up arms against the government. I am neither an apologist nor an appeaser but I believe that ANY government has the right to use its military to defend itself – ideally that’s what military SHOULD be used for, not invasions aka “interventions”.

          I think Qaddafi should either hold elections or go. I further believe that it is deeply wrong for Nato to be blatantly assisting the rebels (because they ARE “rebels” not “protestors”).

  2. We’re going to need a military draft to babysit so much of the world. We’re still babysitting Kosovo. In 3 years, we’ll be asked to babysit yet another nation, and three years after that yet ANOTHER nation. And on it goes. At what point do the American taxpaying suckers say “enough!”? It is unfair of the world to constantly look to us taxpayers to BAIL nations out of their misery. NATO, UN … whatever. It’s all primarily the USA. Not good. We’re screwed.

    • The British and French and Qatar and Norway and Canada would have done this without the US, Jim. Maybe it would have been better if they had done so, but this is not all about Washington, which was dragged into it reluctantly.

      • Canada would definitely not be involved without the USA.

        I doubt that the other Western Bloc countries would engage in a war without open US support.

        I know that the Obama gov’t in the US wants to showcase the Euros as being in some sort of lead, contra Bush, but there is no reason for anyone else to accept that sort of propaganda, clever as it is.

    • 818 US troops in Kosovo and we’ll need a draft? Really? Greece, with 711 troops, must not have any menfolk left at home. KFOR was never primarily US troops. US was not the major contributing member, despite population size. it’s been primarily regional.

  3. I don’t think I’m alone in my reaction to your interview on atiwar.com, where I left the following comment:
    Wow, it is disappointing to hear Juan Cole on Antiwar.com regurgitating the propaganda of the cruise missile left. It seems obvious to me that he hasn’t really taken a close look at Kosovo. The line about “mass graves” really got me. I suggest he read Johnstone’s piece in Counterpunch this week and Malic’s piece on Antiwar.com. Without the space to get into it, let me say that “mass graves” in Yugoslavia had to be found or at least produced to establish the legitimacy of Nato and the ICTY. I’d also like to remind him that the 78-day bombing was collective punishment, killing men, women, and children, demolishing downtown areas of Pristina and Belgrade, destroying millions and millions of dollars of civilian infrastructure, leaving the country scattered with cluster bombs and depleted uranium. These interventions are much more humanitarian if you’re watching them on TV in a different country. link to counterpunch.org

    • Yeah, I haven’t regurgitated any propaganda. I’ve been following what has been happening on the ground in Libya, from a wide range of Arabic, French, Italian and other sources. You in contrast wouldn’t know where Zuara was on the map without looking it up.

    • Diana Johnstone and Nebojsa Malic are not reliable sources on the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, or on anything else. They’re crude propagandists — dishonest and astonishingly careless with the facts. For critiques of their output, see the links at Balkan Witness
      link to glypx.com

      …and Eric Gordy’s “East Ethnia” blog
      link to eastethnia.blogspot.com

    • I have gone out on a limb to support the military action against Gaddafi (the first US military action on foreign soil I have ever supported). I did not support the intervention in the Balkans, at least not the botched way (too late and too much) it was done. The only things the two have on common is the world not wanting to stand by while a horrible civil war escalated into a genocide.

      My reservations are the precedent and my possible naivety about continued involvement and corrupt interests which will attempt to exploit that.

  4. Professor Cole, I usually agree with most of your insight regarding the middle east, and I appreciate the hard work that you do. Your analysis surrounding Libya is deeply flawed in my opinion. History has clearly proven that military intervention in the middle east is not successful. The current military aggression perpetuated by the US and other western nations will fail for the same reasons that it failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The no-fly zone will prove to unsuccessful, because it has come far too late in the game. It might have proven successful if it was implemented two weeks ago when the rebels had control of 80 percent of the country. What benefit will it serve at this point?

    Since the no-fly zone will not be enough to defeat Ghdaffi and his gang, the western allies will be left with no other choice but get further involved in the civil war. They will eventually become the hated imperialist, as the US became in Iraq and Afghanistan. This coalition will be forced to police a dirty civil war, which is the type of quagmire that we should be avoiding at this point in our sad history.

    If I understand your position on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, you were against it from time of its inception. How is this any different? If anything Saddam was far more brutal than Ghdaffi. During Saddam’s rule he killed at least 200,000 Iraqis. According to your current logic, would you have been supportive of the invasion of Iraq if it was successful?

    Despite whether this military invasion is successful or not it is a grave mistake. The bottom line is that western nations should not be meddling with other countries internal affairs, especially since it is being done in a hypocritical and reckless manner. According to your current logic the Iraq war was justified and future military intervention in the middle east will also be justified. At what point do we draw the line? Many people could argue that Syria should be invaded as well, because of their brutal regime. It is a slippery slope that we should not be skiing down.

    • It isn’t important whether you ‘agree’ with my ‘opinion.’ I’ve been trying over the past 9 years to convince people that agreeing or disagreeing with opinions is pernicious. Please do research & analysis, and come to different or the same conclusions based on your evidence and reasoning. That would require research and thinking things through, not reacting to opinion leaders.

      • According to my understanding of the situation after researching and doing my own analysis I have come to my own conclusions on the matter in Libya. Most of the time I fully agree with your analysis and objective reasoning. What perplexes me about the situation in Libya is that many progressive thinkers, not only you have not been critical about western military aggression in Libya. In some cases many progressives have been in full support. It seems to me that you have taken a middle of the road stance on the issue, which seems to be at odds with other views that you have expressed regarding similar circumstances in the middle east. Maybe my interpretation of your views on other issues such as Iraq has been wrong all along. I would just like some clarification as to why you have not been critical on intervention in Libya. I do not mean this as a personal attack, but I cannot see where you are coming from on this particular issue.

    • History has clearly shown that the people in the Middle East are not ready for democracy. Pre-2011 history, that is.

      On a more serious note, the intervention at least sends a clear signal to other dictators (Saleh, Assad) that the Tiananmen option carries significant risks. Unfortunately, it came to late for the people of Bahrain. That democratic societies in North Africa and the Middle East are in the long-term interest of the West should be obvious.

      I agree that the intervention is a gamble. The unofficial goal of removing Gaddafi must be accomplished by Libyans. But on Friday there were reports of fresh demonstrations in working-class districts of Tripoli that had been brutally suppressed in the weeks before. So there’s hope that it may pay of.

  5. Western intervention in Libya may have been an indirect intervention in Yemen. Fear had been growing in Yemen that Saleh might have implemented the Qadaffi model on the protestors, and, although it’s impossible to understand the psychology of Saleh’s officers, I believe the intervention in Libya can be correlated to the large number of defections in the Yemeni Army (as they realized the Qadaffi model is another road to failure).

  6. Juan,

    I posted the following as a couple of potential endgame scenarios on my blog, highchairanalyst.blogspot.com. What do you think of their likelihoods:

    Since nobody seems to want to talk about an endgame, I thought I’d give it a shot and propose three potential, if not entirely oversimplified, “what if” scenarios: the good, the bad, and, their stepbrother, the likely. Take in each with a heavy dose of salt, as they say.

    The Good: Over the course of the next ten days forces loyal to Gaddafi realize that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew, having overextended themselves and witnessed the deadly might of Western firepower. Libyan Gaddafi loyalists and hired guns desert the Colonel and allow the anti-Gaddafi forces from Benghazi and the east, reenergized and rearmed, to advance back towards Tripoli, retaking lost ground and the initiative. Having destroyed Gaddafi’s aerial units, armored vehicles and command and control capabilities, the Allied powers revert to standby mode, deferring a continued offensive to ant-Gaddafi units on the ground. As the anti-Gaddafi troops near Libya’s capital, protests reemerge in Tripoli and the remaining troops loyal to Muammar, promised amnesty for putting down their arms or switching sides, turn on him, unwilling to risk their lives for a lost cause. Gaddafi is either killed, arrested or commits suicide. Arab League members and the international community promise $10 billion in aid to newly freed Libya to help rebuild. Reconstruction efforts are closely monitored by the UN and international media. A Libyan interim government made from a broad coalition, with the help of international democracy-building institutions, sets carefully monitored timetables for constitutional and democratic reforms and elections.

    The Bad: What began as a limited Western operation begins to get out of hand. Having hunkered down in Tripoli, with enough of his forces intact, Gaddafi remains defiant. Attempting to break a stalemate, with anti-Gaddafi troops unable to push west from a lack of training and men, the intervening powers step up their air attacks. Unable to properly identify targets, due to self-imposed constraints concerning the use of soldiers on the ground, missiles inadvertently hit non-military targets. The results are devastating: scores of civilians are killed, and their bodies are broadcast over T.V. and the internet. Outrage builds and the Arab world abandons the Western powers, with the No-Fly Zone mandate irreparably damaged. Great Britain, France and the United States are left with two unsettling choices: continue their mission, as international condemnation sets in, and likely send in ground forces to defeat Gaddafi, or cease operations. Libya remains divided with no end in sight.

    The Likely: Having had his offensive capabilities seriously damaged by the West, some of Gaddafi’s troops, particularly his mercenaries, desert. Still, enough remain to hold on to a number of key areas, including the capital. Wary of killing civilians, now widely used as human shields by the regime, Western powers limit their campaign. Over the course of the next couple of weeks fighting remains mostly at a standstill, with neither force strong enough to dislodge the other. World opinion mounts for a ceasefire. Gaddafi is offered a backchannel way out and takes it, given a certain amount of resources and the promise that he will not be turned over to the ICC. Internal divisions within the anti-Gaddafi Libyan coalition as well as from former Gaddafi loyalists surface. International aid is sent for rebuilding efforts, but without a clear indication of how the money will be spent and who will spend it. An interim goverment composed of former members of Libya’s ruling elite, as well as tribal leaders, Islamists and exiles is formed, resulting in a less sectarian, although still regionalized, version of Iraq.

    • “less sectarian but still regionalized” sounds a lot like the US in 2009 v. 2008. But it’s not a bad outcome unless you introduce weapons fire. The question is how the regions interact.

    • Hi, Bonnie. I can’t see signs of all out war in Libya. A few tanks were destroyed south of Benghazi, and some anti-aircraft batteries were taken out (which used to happen in Iraq in the 1990s all the time). So far it is much less than what happened in Iraq in the 1990s.

      • You are right — there was more than just intercepting figher jets in Iraq in the 1990s. But they were fairly isolated incidents, over a period of 10 years. This weekend’s operation was ‘shock and awe’-style. I regret this switch from the softer touch diplomacy with Egypt back to the aggresive stereotype. Hope they follow your advice and that it works out.

        • Bonnie, I would say the the shock and awe phase of establishing a NFZ comes at the beginning, when extent air defense must be overcome. After that they only need be attacked as they are rebuilt. In Iraq, Gulf War One had accomplished that task. Maybe people built up false expectations, thinking there was no difference in scale of violence between establishing a NFZ, and maintaining one.

  7. I think we are focusing too much on the “no-fly zone” here. United Nations Resolution 1973 is much broader and “authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary General, acting through national or regional organizations or arrangements…TO TAKE ALL NECESSARY MEASURES…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas….” This means, as it should, that British, French, U.S., and other participating air and naval forces may strike Qaddafi’s ground forces, command and control facilities, and other elements that have nothing to do with his airborne aircraft and helicopters. And as in all military interventions, there will be the unfortunate civilian casualties.

    This also means that the forces allied against Qaddafi will determine how best to accomplish the mission. This, too, is as it should be. One cannot call upon the Western powers who have the military and naval capability to intervene (as the Arab League has called for intervention), and then have second thoughts about the decision (as has been reported) when the inevitable civilian casualties occur. The coalition against Qaddafi is acting under the mandate of the UN Resolution, not the Arab League. And lest anyone think it “cute” to point out a so-called “contradiction” that some civilians unfortunately are casualties in the effort to “protect civilian and civilian populated areas,” it is not a contradiction at all. Anyone with the slightest understanding of military operations knows that the goal of a pristine operation is illusory, and that the best one can hope for is to minimize such casualties in attempting to achieve mission success.

  8. You do understand that a discourse of ‘eternal’ propositions shouted in caps makes you sound like a fanatic?

    • It is hardly fanaticism to accentuate (yes, in caps) the most important, operative part of the resolution in order to distinguish it from what appears to be an interpretation that simply calls it a “no fly zone.” Note the title of your piece, “How the No Fly Zone Can Succeed.”

      Actually, I was not so much challenging the substance of your piece as I was anticipating the negative responses to the Western coalition’s attacks on Qaddafi’s forces that go beyond the “no fly zone” and include some civilian casualties, but that, nevertheless, fall within the UN resolution’s “all necessary means” mandate. My main point is that the Arab League and others (including UNSC members) cannot call upon Western military and naval action against Qaddafi and expect to shape that action, except in regard to the broad mandate inherent in the UN Resolution. Command and control of this operation lies neither at the United Nations nor at Arab League headquarters.

    • First off, I read with my eyes and not my ears. I no more hear “shouting” when I read upper-case letters than I hear “whispering” when I read lower-case ones. As a helpful hint, you might want to have your software service provide italics and bold capabilities so that posters may add these visual elements for emphasis, should they so desire. In suggesting this, I do realize that some people reading italics may experience a sense of vertigo and that exposure to “fat” lettering may make others feel overweight, but in the interests of discouraging fanaticism, we can surely make some sacrifices.

      Apropos of the subject at hand: i.e., yet more “humanitarian” killing of some objectionable humans in “defense” of other preferred humans, James Carroll had a word of caution about that back in 2003:

      “Saving souls by killing bodies is impossible. Beware a nation announcing its innocence en route to war.”

      Finally, since America is so broke that it can no longer tolerate collective bargaining by American workers, I must assume that Libyan oil revenues will eventually defray the significant costs of this latest humanitarian blood-letting. Or not?

  9. I thought the reason that we are “doing something” in Libya and not against other brutal dictators is that the rebels, having started their revolution and gotten semi-organized, clearly and consistently asked for our help by imposing a no-fly-zone. I don’t know that any of the others asked for that, or did I miss something?

    • Yep, other countries did not have armed revolutionaries. And where is the logic in helping a side in a war if there are no vested interests?

  10. We don´t know how this will end, noone of us.
    I followed the events and I was scared nobody would come and do something for the poor folks in the east of Libya, who, Arabs, tribal people and not the only opressed people in the world or none of all that, were and probably still are in real danger of being killed within the next two weeks.

    If you´re dead, you can´t re-join peace talks later on when the world has finally made up its mind that the guy who killed you might, after all, have been a villain large-scale enough to do something about him. Qaddafi played that card like he´s always done – let them talk.

    That was one the things that infuriated me most about Bosnia back then – that it actually seemed liked politicians HOPED if they talked a little longer, their problems would solve themselves. Well, they did more often then not, the war was an absolute disgrace for the European neighbors.

    We´ve had quite a lot of none-of-our-business-talk here today in Germany… people tend to forget they can´t keep out of the matter entirely any more because by selling weapons and conducting business with Qaddafi but not with his people, we´ve all taken sides already. Apparently, the Swiss three-monkey-model sells best with voting cattle.

  11. It will be worth if the rebels rebound quickly and get the fuel and vehicles necessary to roll back down the coast and besiege Tripoli. At that point the West will be helpless to dictate a replacement government, while the besieged dictators of several other protest-riven countries will feel the tide rolling against them.

    But we’re betting the whole region on the courage of a few thousand rebels who may already be dead because they were the ones willing to expose themselves. Bush invaded Iraq precisely because he assumed those sorts were already killed in the rebellion that his father refused to support in ’91, and thus they would not interfere with Cheney’s plans for occupation. Call it the Warsaw ’44 strategy. The legitimacy of this whole operation is in the hands of the Libyan activists on the ground. If their leaders hunker down in their bomb shelters and demand ever more US intervention, the world will believe that the quid pro quo is that they are getting it by selling off their country to US Big Oil.

  12. Juan: You state that the UK, France, etc, would “have done this” without the US. That’s extremely unlikely given the level of military integration within NATO.

    Also, Kosovo should not be used as a model. First, Kosovo was not just a NFZ but an actual air war. Second, that alone did little to determine the outcome. The game changer was the resolve to send ground troops (and Russia telling Milosevic they wouldn’t help if that happened). I do not see any parallel with Libya.

    • I agree with this proposition. Prof. Cole has provided no evidence whatsoever for his claim that the others would’ve gone ahead even if the US abstained.

      The abstentions would be USA, China, India, Russia, Germany and Brazil. And France and UK would gone ahead with Gabon, Lebanon, Colombia, Portugal and others?

      Hard sell.


  13. A military official said Air Force B-2 stealth bombers flew 25 hours in a round trip from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and dropped 45 2,000-pound bombs.

    Its all so mechanical. Well we’ve got these planes in Missouri, so why not use them. We’ve cruise missile cruisers and submarines, throw them in. Don’t forget the fighter bombers, we’ve go hundreds of them, plus what France and Britain can come up with.

    No doubt the CIA and special forces are chomping at the bit for a piece of the action (if not already doing their part), and the NSA is listening to every phone conversation and reading every e-mail originated in Libya.

    As far as the rebels are concerned, they just acquired loan of the best military violence machines on the planet.

    Once those machines are put into use, you’ve got to show some good results beyond just rubble, but that may take a while (ten years after the rubble phase in Afghanistan, it’s still a patient wait).

    • If intervention in Libya turns out to be a mistake, these are going to be exactly the reasons why. Perhaps I am being insanely naive in hoping, this time, it won’t be true; the Libyans will step up, establish a representative government, kick the foreign military out and far away, and live freely and normally.

      I don’t want to fall back on the moral relativism of the right and neoliberalism, but besides hoping for the best, shouldn’t we consider life under a brutally redoubled Qaddafi state. :-/

      • The problem is, in my opinion, that practically no single sizable state in the world, neither Russia, nor China, Saudi Arabia, Iran etc, are treating their population with any degree of notable difference when it comes to suppressing the descent. For argument sake, if you think that even here in US one could reliably expect himself to toss rocks at the government buildings and police without risking getting shot at in the process is just utterly naive. I’m not trying to make false equivalences here, but the reality is that every security state in the world brutally represses every form of violent descent, disregarding the safety of the people in the process. So to accept this notion as a solid criteria for an immanent and justified invasion, is in my opinion both irresponsible and reckless.

  14. “1. It should not be open-ended, but rather should have an expiration date. The no-fly zone is a response to a specific humanitarian crisis … that crisis must not draw the UN allies into a years-long quagmire.”

    Western powers are striving implicitly for regime change. If Gaddafi’s regime survives and there is a stalemate, then you can expect war to continue indefinitely. Given the demonisation of Gaddafi, it is inconceivable that they will accept an accomodation in which he remains in place. The coalition is betting that there will be an internal coup which will remove Qaddafi and lead to a replacement of his regime. (This is not unlike Iraq in 1991 when it was expected that Saddam Hussein would be remove by a coup, although in that case the goal was not a full-scale change of regime.) If no coup materializes, then you can expect the western powers will try to kill Qaddafi.

    “2. It should be a no-fly zone, not a war on the Qaddafi regime.”

    Sorry, but it already is a war on Qaddafi’s regime. The Security Council gave an inch by sanctioning the protection of civilians. But the western powers have taken a mile by pursuing their real objective of regime change.

  15. “I should clarify that I think US participation in this effort should have been conditional on a vote of the US Congress.”
    Just wondering–when Harry Truman sent US air, sea, and land forces to Korea in 1950 in compliance with a UN resolution, did he notify, or request permission from, Congress?

  16. As someone who opposed the war in Iraq, predominately since it was foretold by “PNAC’s clean break” paper, and had a distinct feeling of being “manufactured”. This action does not seem to be “manufactured”. IMO.

  17. <>

    I was wondering if you can go more into this, Prof. Cole. I believe we should be aiding the rebels in every way we can. The more of Qaddafi’s tanks that are destroyed by the coalition the easier it will be for the rebels to capture Tripoli and end this civil war. I think coalition intervention is more than justified. The democratic forces would have been destroyed if not for the Security Council resolution. So why not go further?

  18. I’d been wondering if Iraq would not be a bad outcome, i.e. the Gulf I situation of a long term no-fly leaving Kurdistan to form a virtual free state. Someone pointed out to me that historic “Cyrenaica” is more or less the presently occupied western Libya, though I don’t know if the people on the ground there think of themselves in nationalist terms. The questions about who, what and how are the resistors are still perplexing.

    • The problem is that we would still have to embargo Gaddafi’s half of Libya, and the price of oil would thus still go through the roof causing global suffering (remember what happened when it hit $140?). Meanwhile people would starve in that part of the country, while the rebels’ single most useful service to humanity, the continuation and extention of the Arab revolution, would grind to a halt.

      On the other hand, now that the rebels are not being exterminated, they have the breathing space to prove they actually stand for something worth our intervention. Unfortunately, the track record on past regimes created by no-fly zones is mixed. However, the physical isolation of those regimes from the First World and the obscurity of their politics let them get away with very low standards of conduct. The very conditions that made the Libyan war so visible, so rapid and so accessible to Western intervention must now be employed to hold the revolutionary regime to a standard of conduct so high that it is undoubtedly an integral part of the democratic wave in North Africa. In fact, they have a chance to go considerably further than Egypt in that the Army will be shattered and the rebels and mutineers will not accept merely an amended constitution.

      • The price of oil (Brent crude around $115) this minute is already discounting Libya. Any higher prices will be from instability, real or potential, in the Gulf States.

  19. Craig Murray

    link to craigmurray.org.uk

    A senior diplomat in a western mission to the UN in New York, who I have known over ten years and trust, has told me for sure that Hillary Clinton agreed to the cross-border use of troops to crush democracy in the Gulf, as a quid pro quo for the Arab League calling for Western intervention in Libya.

    The hideous King of Bahrain has called in troops from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait to attack pro-democracy protestors in Bahrain.

    Can you imagine the outrage if Gadaffi now called in the armies of Chad. Mali and Burkina Faso to attack the rebels in Ben Ghazi?

    • Spectral,

      Thanks for posting that. It is worht noting that I posted that before the Arab League called for intervention and while the US was still pretending not to support the no-fly zone. So it was intelligence on what was going to happen which proved true – my friend was not indulging in post event rationalisation.

  20. I pretty much agree with Juan. All uses of military force should go through congress but that notion has pretty much fallen into the category of “quaint notions” by now.

    I also object to the operation for fiscal reasons. My pension is being threatened supposedly because the country is broke and yet here we go again.

    That being said, once we have begun this thing we had damned well better finish it and the quicker the better. I would go further than Juan and say that the rebels should be given the means to integrate with close air support and precision weapons targeting so that they can advance quickly . The faster this goes the more likely it is that pro Qaddafi forces will cut and run. I think everyone understands that a prolonged standoff is not an option.

  21. Thank you for some much needed realism on this subject.

    While a vote in congress wouldn’t have been a bad idea about two weeks ago, bringing this to a vote before the Paris summit would have been impossible, and any delay would have resulted in a huge massacre in Benghazi, tens of thousands of refugees and a far larger-scale crisis than has occurred.

    Point #4 is especially interesting. I find myself torn between wanting him and others tried in Libya and really not wanting to see another Saddam show trial and execution. What do you think? How should the ICC be involved, if at all?

  22. One thing that appears to distinguish the Libyan situation from that in Egypt or Tunisia is that, strangely enough, there were (are?) people willing to fight for Qaddafi. I have yet to see any convincing explanation why. Money? Both Mubarak and Ben Ali had that too, but no takers. Ideology? Libya doesn’t seem much like Iran. The easy answer is that they fear Qaddafi, but the logic of that answer seems circular—he can do nothing to them unless a significant number of people are willing to carry out the actions (see Mubarak and Ben Ali). I wonder if maybe a good many people feel the rebels are more a threat to them than the current government. I haven’t seen this question asked.

    Qaddafi is clearly a horror, but who exactly are the people on the other side? The ones who have been meeting with Clinton/Sarkozy/Cameron and so forth hardly inspire confidence. The former justice minister whose one claim to fame was complaining that the secret police were holding prisoners a bit too long after he had authorized their release? (Seems like more of a shot in a bureaucratic turf war than a principled stand.) The former minister for trade—the one who led the privatization effort—a famous deal-maker. Really? Let the cruise missiles fly to advance the cause of those guys? It’s difficult to imagine the lot of the average Libyan improving under their leadership.

    Everyone from Obama to Erdogan has been calling all along for Qaddafi to step down. Cynical. Qaddafi must well know that only western-funded dictators get to step down from power and go off into a comfortable exile. Like Francois Duvalier off to France in a U.S. military jet. Or the Shah in his wanderings. Or Suharto to his compound in Jakarta. Or Marcos to Honolulu on a USAF C-130. Or…well, the point is made.

    And what is the long-term plan anyway? If the Libyan army doesn’t cave-in quickly will the various air forces keep bombing ‘targets’ in Libya? Maybe they will coordinate with the rebel advance? That would set an interesting precedent. Or if that isn’t effective enough, maybe some ‘boots on the ground’ to preserve ‘credibility’? Ugh. How many more Libyans will be dead by then?

    Yes, gather as much information as you can. Evaluate it to the best of your ability. Take a position based on that. But, Juan, you forgot the next step. Put your notebook down for a second and look around you to see what company you’re in. If you are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Sarkozy, Cameron, Harper and Clinton, maybe it’s time to look your notes over again. You might still be correct, but…

    • Polat: “there were (are?) people willing to fight for Qaddafi. I have yet to see any convincing explanation why. Money? Both Mubarak and Ben Ali had that too, but no takers. Ideology? Libya doesn’t seem much like Iran. The easy answer is that they fear Qaddafi, but the logic of that answer seems circular—he can do nothing to them unless a significant number of people are willing to carry out the actions (see Mubarak and Ben Ali)”

      RL: Mercenaries are paid huge incentives $6000 recruitment fee, $1000 a day to fight.

      Those who mutinied were shot, en masse.

      A dead “loyalist” soldier had “Misrata. I was forced” written on his palm.

      Obviously, people with noses in Gaddafi’s trough will support him.

      Finally, the unthinking masses are influenced (not to say brainwashed) by the fantasies and lies of Libya State TV. We find it very difficult to understand why the UN/Allies do not ask Nilesat (a company centered in Egypt) to withdraw his service, which at present is controlling the minds of the population. Would Churchill have passed up on the chance to pull the plug on Goebbels?

      Let us hope that the London meeting today takes the decision to close Nilesat. If they don’t, this is an issue that both sides, interventionists and anti-interventionists, can take action on, in the interests of shortening the conflict.

  23. Juan,
    Your strategy sounds fine as a plan A. The problem is coming up with a plan B if/when it doesn’t work.

    I don’t think diplomacy has any chance as long as Qadaffy’s military people stick by him in large numbers. Their will to fight will have to be broken.

  24. Gaddafi promised to massacre the rebels in Benghazi, as he did in Zawiya. The rebels called for help and got it, and a genocide was prevented. I think most of us here identify with a leftist position in foreign affairs, but its pretty sad to see that anti-imperial posturing trumps the prevention of genocide, for so many people. This is the attitude that condemned socialism, because it meant spending decades rationalising Stalin and Mao, no matter what contortions were required.
    The main differences with Iraq were that there were no massacres imminent in 2003, and no UN mandate to prevent human rights abuses – in fact, there was no UN mandate at all, really – and the region strongly opposed the war.

    • To my understanding, “genocide” as a legal term is confined strictly to: either routine and indiscriminate killings of unarmed civilians, or an absolute MASS killing of (formerly or presently)armed people. But by that token, could i allege that for example Russians had conducted a genocide of Germans? Or perhaps the events that recently had happened in Bahrain?

      Clearly, a categorical terminology is easy to produce, unlike handling it’s consequence.

      • What Stalin and Pol Pot did to their political opponents has been classed by some academics as genocide, so I’m using the term in that sense. As Cole has observed, there is a difference in scale between events in Libya and events in Bahrain, even if we account for the differences in population. At any rate, its a lot easier to prevent what is happening in Libya, since Libya is isolated diplomatically. You could cry about inconsistency, as many have done, or just be glad that a pogrom/genocide/unjustifiable slaughter of civilians has been averted, even though others continue to occur.
        Humanity or consistency is the choice here.

  25. I think this will have to go beyond “No-Fly”, and even beyond “No Driving Tanks”.

    One thing which the Right generally gets better than the Left is that character matters; in this case, Qadhafi’s. He’s a crazy person who believes his own BS, and has zero respect for human life other than his own (which in my view, means he forfiets the right to be treated as fully human).

    Give him an out, maybe – a one-way ticket to Kiev, or his very own Reality show – but he can’t be allowed to run a petrostate which can spend billions on weaponry. Left in power, he will have every Libyan who opposed him killed – slowly – then move on to real & imagined enemys outside his fiefdom.

    I’m glad Obama’s talking like we – the US – will stay carefully within the limits of the UN mandate. I’m most encouraged by the leading role being played by France. USA will need real allies someday (soon?) and we need Europe to be militarily competent and independant.

    I think Bush/Cheney intentionally abused Europe in many ways, and I think it was among the stupidest strategic mistakes they made for the US (and yeah, there were some humdingers in that list). I was afraid for a while that Obama would hold back the French, catering to the apparent preference of his Israel Lobby advisors (“but we don’t know who these rebels are…”). Now I’m afraid that he might take HIS own BS too seriously, & leave Qadhafi in power.

    This is a time for the President of the US to say the right thing (“We are there to implement the UN Resolution…”) and do the right thing (help nudge Qadhafi out), and silently take responsibility for the incomplete honesty of the diplomatic language.

    • Recently Obama could not even stop the continuation of built up of settlements in the West Bank, not to mention any other more drastic measures against Israeli right wing government’s will, so what gives you confidence that somehow now Israel’s current political interest is contrary to the position taken by Obama’s administration?

      That assertion simply challenges the odds of realpolitik as we know it.

  26. I find curious the timing of the intervention. Why was it done after the rebels’ fortunes had turned so decisively against them?

    Unless someone is prepared to send in a lot of troops, partition seems the most likely outcome, leaving two very weak governments in place. And the oil of eastern Libya will be available on terms dictated by Europe and the U.S.

    As for the instability that will reign across much of what used to be Libya, that will be seamlessly integrated into the fearmongering propaganda that keeps most of us docile and appreciative of the empire’s protection.

    • Yes, it was crafty of the Arab League to assent to the NFZ only at that point, when the West could have the oil and they could cry “Imperialism!”

      That is the curious timing you are talking about, right?

      • Shall we play that silly game? One might speculate that the curious timing had to do with waiting until the rebel backs were against the wall in order to milk the best post-Qaddafi deal for the oil out of them? Or maybe waiting until the deal for the GCC invasion of Bahrain was finalized and the Arab League endorsement could be secured as cover? Curious timing indeed.

  27. If the rebels were massacred because their calls for a No Fly Zone were rejected by the West, many on the Left would attribute that to imperialist agendas, ie: “They all prefer to deal with the devil they know, someone who kills Islamists and keeps the oil flowing, and they’d all like to see the democratic revolts peter out”.
    Now that the rebels won’t be massacred, imperialism is cited as the reason that the rebels are being aided. Anything used as an all-purpose explanation is being overused, and has lost its analytical power.
    The possibility that its shocking to stand by and watching a massacre is too easily dismissed, I think. To even suggest an altruistic motive for actions in international affairs seems laughably naive in some circles, but then again, how can we ever prove an altruistic motive, on any scale of human affairs?
    I’m not blind to the way the intervention aids Sarkozy’s domestic agenda, forestalls the possibility of massive refugee flows into Europe, and demonstrates that the West remains capable and willing to use its might in the middle east. Isn’t it possible that the politicians responsible for the intervention are trying to reap political advantages from doing the right thing? And isn’t what matters the fact that they are doing the right thing?
    We could of course, wait for an intervention that has no ulterior motives whatsoever, that is supported by a consensus in the international community. Didn’t work in the 1930s though, did it?

  28. Of course we must be skeptical about engagement by the imperial power. It would be willful ignorance to adopt any other stance. After all, many innocent civilians died last week in Pakistan, Afghanistan and perhaps Bahrain at the hands of that power. If altruism and saving human life drove its actions, it would not have killed those innocents.

    I take your point, Sigil, that human suffering is a force in and of itself, especially when displayed worldwide via the media. Imperial power loses some of its legitimacy when it ignores that suffering. Besides, it is an attractive opportunity whenever it can pursue domination within the framework of humanitarian response.

    So no, there is nothing particularly engaging in talking about what drives imperialism. A clear-headed analysis always starts at the same familiar and tiresome place.

    What is interesting is the imperial calculation: why here but not there? What is interesting is the impact of plebian power on this calculation. Interesting too is whether this time the empire will manage to extend its control without over-extending its resources and squandering yet more blood and treasure.

  29. Dear mr cole

    Your analysis is entirely rational and consistent with the facts on the ground. More importantly it furthers the cause of international law and global governance and will move the discourse towards a sorely needed concept of collective security and the application of force in order to check the injustices that occur under the cover of absolute national sovgerenty.

  30. Obama has been adamant about adhering to the UN resolution – supporting a “core principle” of “humanitarian” action to protect “civilians”. The military action has nothing to do with deposing Gaddafi. In fact, by the terms of the resolution, if the rebel forces attack Tripoli and endanger the civilians there who support Gaddafi (they are members of his tribe), then we must fire upon the rebels.

    • Sorry, on The Hill and Drudge now: White House: Helping install ‘a democratic system’ is goal in Libya
      By Sam Youngman – 03/22/11

  31. Have you been following the Administrations comments on Syria Dr. Cole and particularly these words from Terry Vietor a few days ago in response to the killings at Dara’a,

    White House national security council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the US was calling on the Syrian government to “allow demonstrations to take place peacefully”.

    “Those responsible for today’s violence must be held accountable,” he added.

    How will the US hold Assad accountable in a circumstance getting similar to Libya’s? Obama’s lacking a response to the larger Arab (and Persian) Revolution. That failure to address the larger picture’s going to be a problem. The US may find itself facing “no fly zone” proliferation.

    • The burden of confronting injustice and violence against innocent people of the world is one that must be shouldered by all the nations of the world. Not just the US or the Obama administration.

  32. I hope some of you liberals will actually vote for Ron Paul in 2012 and give him some of your enthusiasm. I know some things about him you are opposed to -but at least Ron Paul would have gotten us out of Iraq and Afghanistan by now and Dr Paul would never have opted for military intervention in Libya.

    Even if you don’t like some things about his stance on some issues – you will find he is more to your way of thought than most other politicians and MOST importantly – he does what he says he will do… he is honest and he is not owned by the powers that be like Obama is.

    Truth will save us

  33. Moi – How do I know there was going to be a gigantic massacre?
    Gaddafi’s forces started the civil war by firing tank shells into unarmed demonstrations. He has attacked hospitals and put his own cities under siege, shooting his people from the rooftops. He has had decades to grant democratic freedoms, and shown no willingness to do so. Benghazi is the centre of his opposition, a rebellion that has come close to toppling, and may still do so – not to mention one that has disgraced him in front of the world. He has accused them of being drug-fueled al qaeda terrorist imperialist stooges – an accusation that sounds insane to us, but carries absolutely no connotations of mercy either. Plenty of reports suggest that he has been ruthless in the cities that he has reoccupied.
    To me, that all indicates a massacre was imminent in Benghazi. Some of these facts may be disputed or reinterpreted, and no doubt there has been propaganda at work (on BOTH sides, to be fair). But the pattern does suggest a huge slaughter was averted. Put it this way, where was the armed rebellion against the Benghazi rebels in the rebel held areas? There was none. All those areas were retaken by elite armoured units and mercenaries. The people in these areas clearly demonstrated they have no allegiance to Gaddafi – and you think he’ll just let that slide?

    • Sigil

      Please don’t get me wrong. I think Qaddafi is despicable and he may well have contemplated undertaking massacres. But other Mid East countries allied to the US definitely have killed protestors and they don’t have no fly zones.

      My issue is that once protestors take up weapons against the State then they become legitimate targets. The Libyan government has the right to defend itself and obviously many Libyans believe so too.

      As for al-Qaeda, this is from Britain’s Telegraph newspaper:

      “Libyan rebel commander admits his fighters have al-Qaeda links”

      Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

      Mr al-Hasidi admitted he had earlier fought against “the foreign invasion” in Afghanistan, before being “captured in 2002 in Peshwar, in Pakistan”.

      link to telegraph.co.uk

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