President Barack Obama in his Monday evening address to the nation on Libya outlined an effort of limitations. The US could not intervene everywhere, but it could intervene to good effect here. America is acting in concert with the Arab League, the United Nations and NATO, not striking out unilaterally. The most important US contribution will be up front, after which the Pentagon will turn the endeavor over to NATO. There will be no effort led by ground troops to overthrow Qaddafi. It is up to the Libyans to deal with him once his armor is neutralized (presumably in the way that the Romanians dealt with Ceausescu and the Serbs dealt with Milosevic). The US simply doesn’t have the wherewithal to do more trillion-dollar Iraq-style operations, Mr. Obama said– another limitation.
Despite the close and elegant moral reasoning tempered by a steady pragmatism, the speech was full of genuine feeling, including empathy and outrage. It strikes me as among the better speeches President Obama has given since taking office.
In fact, the same awareness of limitations combined with honoring obligations to allies should reinforce Obama’s determination to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011, in accordance with the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement concluded between the Iraqi parliament and the Bush administration.
Whether one agrees with President Obama or not on the Libya issue, he was clearly well-informed and in control of the facts and analysis. His fabled intelligence and cool-headedness were on display.
It is a sad commentary that American political discourse is so cheapened and debased by demagoguery promoted by sly billionaires like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers that the responses to Obama from the other side of the aisle were sometimes comical in their ignorance.
Potential Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was interviewed afterward on CNN by Piers Morgan. Trump alleged that the rebels in Libya might be connected to Iran, and that there was a danger that the US intervention might end up turning the country over to Tehran.
Dear American politicians: Please note that while the Libyan liberation movement beseeched the West to intervene, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei roundly condemned the US action in Libya, accusing Washington of seeking a toehold in that country. In other words, bringing up some sort of alleged link of the Benghazi provisional government, which has reached out to Washington, and Iran is about the stupidest thing anyone could say about the situation.
“I have been very reluctant to see the United States to go into Libya. For one thing, we haven’t identified yet who the opposition even is to Qaddafi. We don’t know if this is led by Hamas, Hezbollah, or possibly al Qaeda of North Africa. Are we really better off, are United States, our interests better off, if let’s say Al-Qaeda of North Africa now runs Libya?” [03/24/11] ”
Hizbullah is a Shiite movement of southern Lebanon. There are no Shiites in North Africa, where almost all Muslims are Sunni. Hamas is a Palestinian movement and does not have a branch franchise in Libya. The people of Benghazi and Misrata, together amounting to 1.3 million, the backbone of the liberation movement, are not al-Qaeda, which is not a mass movement. In fact, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is like a few hundred guys and is an Algerian organization. I know, I know, pointing out that Michelle Bachmann has said something uninformed is like pointing out that Lady Gaga has done something outrageous. But we are told that Bachmann made a positive impression among possible Republican voters in Iowa recently, and the world in which we live has such persons as potential presidential candidates.
Sarah Palin wants the US military to go into Libya, kill Muammar Qaddafi and then get back out. Palin doesn’t seem to realize that 110,000 US troops on the ground took 8 months just to find Saddam Hussein after they had invaded and occupied Iraq, and that at that point were were bound by Pottery Barn rules per Colin Powell– we had broken the vase and had now owned it. That vase cost about a trillion dollars all told, as Obama pointed out tonight, along with thousands of US and Iraqi lives. Palin lives in a magical world where she can wave her wand and Sarah suddenly gets her way.
And Mitt Romney is all for invading Libya, but thinks the United States should have done it all by itself without consulting allies and apparently should bear all the costs of doing so. Romney alleged that the US ‘followed France’ into Libya, though in fact the US fired 110 Tomahawk missiles at Qaddafi’s anti-aircraft batteries as the engagement was beginning, making it safe for the French pilots to fly missions there.
Our temporary good luck is that we have a president who knows what he is talking about, knows how to assemble a complex international alliance, and has the moral vision to do the right thing even if it is unpopular. It wasn’t so long ago that none of those things was true, and you can’t count on them being true much longer.
A physician in Ajdabiya says that he has been finding Viagra and condoms in the pockets of the bodies of pro-Qaddafi forces who fell in battle there. He is convinced that these material signal that the troops were systematically using rape as an instrument of war. Aljazeera English reports:
Irregulars of the Libyan liberation movement rapidly advanced along the coastal road going West on Sunday, reestablishing control over Brega, Ra’s Lanuf, Ben Jawad and, they say, going all the way to Sirt (no independent source confirms that they actually reached the latter by mid-morning Monday). The path was paved by British Tornado fighter jets that took out armor and artillery all along the road from Ajdabiya going west to Sirt. Though there were some military encounters, for the most part the rebel forces did not so much reconquer the cities as just drive unopposed into them, since allied bombing raids had softened them up, pro-Qaddafi forces had fled, and local people appear to have accepted the liberation movement soldiers without resisting them.
Sirt, the town of Muammar Qaddafi’s birth, which has been a recipient of much government aid, was bombed repeatedly by United Nations allies on Sunday, with one report talking of nine powerful explosions. Earlier on Sunday there were reports that Qaddafi’s military convoys were racing out of the city toward Tripoli. Mid-morning Monday, an Aljazeera Arabic correspondent reported being stuck and under government fire at Wadi al-Ahmar a few miles outside Sirt. This was the only clash the reporter had witnessed on the road up from Ajdabiya. But most pro-Qaddafi troops had fled. It seems that the pro-Qaddafi forces feared being devastated from the sky and took a chance that they would not be bombed if they were clearly fleeing the scene. It is interesting to me that they appear to have made a beeline for Tripoli rather than falling back to Misrata from which they could have hoped to make a stand. Of course, if the aim was to avoid being bombed, better to park your tank among civilian neighborhoods in the capital.
The recovery of Ajdabiya, Brega and Ra’s Lanuf gives the liberation movement forces an opportunity to begin pumping oil again and exporting it so as to gain resources in their struggle with Qaddafi. They probably cannot do so as quickly as they now suggest (a week!), but likely it is a coming factor in the conflict.
in contrast, I find the behavior of the Qaddafi tank brigade in Misrata closer to the capital to be hard to understand. Pro-Qaddafi tank commanders appear to be attempting to take the city center, and they subjected it to intense shelling on Sunday. But why is it they aren’t afraid of being reduced to black carbon dust by the NATO aerial bombardments, as happened to their colleagues at Ajdabiya and on the road west from there? Even if they could put tanks in the city center, what would they really have accomplished, in a situation where the rebel army is moving quickly west and would likely hit them with rocket propelled grenades once it arrives? Since most of Misrata obviously hates them, how could they think they will be allowed to stay there very long, just by main force?
As I expected, now that Qaddafi’s advantage in armor and heavy weapons is being neutralized by the UN allies’ air campaign, the liberation movement is regaining lost territory. Liberators took back Ajdabiya and Brega (Marsa al-Burayqa), key oil towns, on Saturday into Sunday morning, and seemed set to head further West. This rapid advance is almost certainly made possible in part by the hatred of Qaddafi among the majority of the people of these cities. The Buraiqa Basin contains much of Libya’s oil wealth, and the Transitional Government in Benghazi will soon again control 80 percent of this resource, an advantage in their struggle with Qaddafi.
I am unabashedly cheering the liberation movement on, and glad that the UNSC-authorized intervention has saved them from being crushed. I can still remember when I was a teenager how disappointed I was that Soviet tanks were allowed to put down the Prague Spring and extirpate socialism with a human face. Our multilateral world has more spaces in it for successful change and defiance of totalitarianism than did the old bipolar world of the Cold War, where the US and the USSR often deferred to each other’s sphere of influence.
The United Nations-authorized intervention in Libya has pitched ethical issues of the highest importance, and has split progressives in unfortunate ways. I hope we can have a calm and civilized discussion of the rights and wrongs here.
On the surface, the situation in Libya a week and a half ago posed a contradiction between two key principles of Left politics: supporting the ordinary people and opposing foreign domination of them. Libya’s workers and townspeople had risen up to overthrow the dictator in city after city– Tobruk, Dirna, al-Bayda, Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata, Zawiya, Zuara, Zintan. Even in the capital of Tripoli, working-class neighborhoods such as Suq al-Jumah and Tajoura had chased out the secret police. In the two weeks after February 17, there was little or no sign of the protesters being armed or engaging in violence.
The libel put out by the dictator, that the 570,000 people of Misrata or the 700,000 people of Benghazi were supporters of “al-Qaeda,” was without foundation. That a handful of young Libyan men from Dirna and the surrounding area had fought in Iraq is simply irrelevant. The Sunni Arab resistance in Iraq was for the most part not accurately called ‘al-Qaeda,’ which is a propaganda term in this case. All of the countries experiencing liberation movements had sympathizers with the Sunni Iraqi resistance; in fact opinion polling shows such sympathy almost universal throughout the Sunni Arab world. All of them had at least some fundamentalist movements. That was no reason to wish the Tunisians, Egyptians, Syrians and others ill. The question is what kind of leadership was emerging in places like Benghazi. The answer is that it was simply the notables of the city. If there were an uprising against Silvio Berlusconi in Milan, it would likely unite businessmen and factory workers, Catholics and secularists. It would just be the people of Milan. A few old time members of the Red Brigades might even come out, and perhaps some organized crime figures. But to defame all Milan with them would be mere propaganda.
Then Muammar Qaddafi’s sons rallied his armored brigades and air force to bomb the civilian crowds and shoot tank shells into them. Members of the Transitional Government Council in Benghazi estimate that 8000 were killed as Qaddafi’s forces attacked and subdued Zawiya, Zuara, Ra’s Lanuf, Brega, Ajdabiya, and the working class districts of Tripoli itself, using live ammunition fired into defenseless rallies. If 8000 was an exaggeration, simply “thousands” was not, as attested by Left media such as Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! As Qaddafi’s tank brigades reached the southern districts of Benghazi, the prospect loomed of a massacre of committed rebels on a large scale.
The United Nations Security Council authorization for UN member states to intervene to forestall this massacre thus pitched the question. If the Left opposed intervention, it de facto acquiesced in Qaddafi’s destruction of a movement embodying the aspirations of most of Libya’s workers and poor, along with large numbers of white collar middle class people. Qaddafi would have reestablished himself, with the liberation movement squashed like a bug and the country put back under secret police rule. The implications of a resurgent, angry and wounded Mad Dog, his coffers filled with oil billions, for the democracy movements on either side of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia, could well have been pernicious.
The arguments against international intervention are not trivial, but they all did have the implication that it was all right with the world community if Qaddafi deployed tanks against innocent civilian crowds just exercising their right to peaceful assembly and to petition their government. (It simply is not true that very many of the protesters took up arms early on, though some were later forced into it by Qaddafi’s aggressive military campaign against them. There still are no trained troops to speak of on the rebel side).
Some have charged that the Libya action has a Neoconservative political odor. But the Neoconservatives hate the United Nations and wanted to destroy it. They went to war on Iraq despite the lack of UNSC authorization, in a way that clearly contravened the UN Charter. Their spokesman and briefly the ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, actually at one point denied that the United Nations even existed. The Neoconservatives loved deploying American muscle unilaterally, and rubbing it in everyone’s face. Those who would not go along were subjected to petty harassment. France, then deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz pledged, would be “punished” for declining to fall on Iraq at Washington’s whim. The Libya action, in contrast, observes all the norms of international law and multilateral consultation that the Neoconservatives despise. There is no pettiness. Germany is not ‘punished’ for not going along. Moreover, the Neoconservatives wanted to exercise primarily Anglo-American military might in the service of harming the public sector and enforced ‘shock therapy’ privatization so as to open the conquered country to Western corporate penetration. All this social engineering required boots on the ground, a land invasion and occupation. Mere limited aerial bombardment cannot effect the sort of extreme-capitalist revolution they seek. Libya 2011 is not like Iraq 2003 in any way.
Allowing the Neoconservatives to brand humanitarian intervention as always their sort of project does a grave disservice to international law and institutions, and gives them credit that they do not deserve, for things in which they do not actually believe.
The intervention in Libya was done in a legal way. It was provoked by a vote of the Arab League, including the newly liberated Egyptian and Tunisian governments. It was urged by a United Nations Security Council resolution, the gold standard for military intervention. (Contrary to what some alleged, the abstentions of Russia and China do not deprive the resolution of legitimacy or the force of law; only a veto could have done that. You can be arrested today on a law passed in the US Congress on which some members abstained from voting.)
Among reasons given by critics for rejecting the intervention are:
1. Absolute pacifism (the use of force is always wrong)
2. Absolute anti-imperialism (all interventions in world affairs by outsiders are wrong).
3. Anti-military pragmatism: a belief that no social problems can ever usefully be resolved by use of military force.
Absolute pacifists are rare, and I will just acknowledge them and move on. I personally favor an option for peace in world policy-making, where it should be the default initial position. But the peace option is trumped in my mind by the opportunity to stop a major war crime.
Leftists are not always isolationists. In the US, progressive people actually went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, forming the Lincoln Brigade. That was a foreign intervention. Leftists were happy about Churchill’s and then Roosevelt’s intervention against the Axis. To make ‘anti-imperialism’ trump all other values in a mindless way leads to frankly absurd positions. I can’t tell you how annoyed I am by the fringe left adulation for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the grounds that he is ‘anti-imperialist,’ and with an assumption that he is somehow on the Left. As the pillar of a repressive Theocratic order that puts down workers, he is a man of the far Right, and that he doesn’t like the US and Western Europe doesn’t ennoble him.
The proposition that social problems can never be resolved by military force alone may be true. But there are some problems that can’t be solved unless there is a military intervention first, since its absence would allow the destruction of the progressive forces. Those arguing that “Libyans” should settle the issue themselves are willfully ignoring the overwhelming repressive advantage given Qaddafi by his jets, helicopter gunships, and tanks; the ‘Libyans’ were being crushed inexorably. Such crushing can be effective for decades thereafter.
Assuming that NATO’s UN-authorized mission in Libya really is limited ( it is hoping for 90 days), and that a foreign military occupation is avoided, the intervention is probably a good thing on the whole, however distasteful it is to have Nicolas Sarkozy grandstanding. Of course he is not to be trusted by progressives, but he is to his dismay increasingly boxed in by international institutions, which limits the damage he could do as the bombing campaign comes to an end (Qaddafi only had 2000 tanks, many of them broken down, and it won’t be long before he has so few, and and the rebels have captured enough to level the playing field, that little further can be accomplished from the air).
Many are crying hypocrisy, citing other places an intervention could be staged or worrying that Libya sets a precedent. I don’t find those arguments persuasive. Military intervention is always selective, depending on a constellation of political will, military ability, international legitimacy and practical constraints. The humanitarian situation in Libya was fairly unique. You had a set of tank brigades willing to attack dissidents, and responsible for thousands of casualties and with the prospect of more thousands to come, where aerial intervention by the world community could make a quick and effective difference.
This situation did not obtain in the Sudan’s Darfur, where the terrain and the conflict were such that aerial intervention alone would have have been useless and only boots on the ground could have had a hope of being effective. But a whole US occupation of Iraq could not prevent Sunni-Shiite urban faction-fighting that killed tens of thousands, so even boots on the ground in Darfur’s vast expanse might have failed.
The other Arab Spring demonstrations are not comparable to Libya, because in none of them has the scale loss of life been replicated, nor has the role of armored brigades been as central, nor have the dissidents asked for intervention, nor has the Arab League. For the UN, out of the blue, to order the bombing of Deraa in Syria at the moment would accomplish nothing and would probably outrage all concerned. Bombing the tank brigades heading for Benghazi made all the difference.
That is, in Libya intervention was demanded by the people being massacred as well as by the regional powers, was authorized by the UNSC, and could practically attain its humanitarian aim of forestalling a massacre through aerial bombardment of murderous armored brigades. And, the intervention could be a limited one and still accomplish its goal.
I also don’t understand the worry about the setting of precedents. The UN Security Council is not a court, and does not function by precedent. It is a political body, and works by political will. Its members are not constrained to do elsewhere what they are doing in Libya unless they so please, and the veto of the five permanent members ensures that a resolution like 1973 will be rare. But if a precedent is indeed being set that if you rule a country and send tank brigades to murder large numbers of civilian dissidents, you will see your armor bombed to smithereens, I can’t see what is wrong with that.
Another argument is that the no-fly zone (and the no-drive zone) aimed at overthrowing Qaddafi not to protect his people from him but to open the way for US, British and French dominance of Libya’s oil wealth. This argument is bizarre. The US declined to do oil business with Libya in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, when it could have, because it had placed the country under boycott. It didn’t want access to that oil market, which was repeatedly proffered to Washington by Qaddafi then. After Qaddafi came back in from the cold in the late 1990s (for the European Union) and after 2003 (for the US), sanctions were lifted and Western oil companies flocked into the country. US companies were well represented, along with BP and the Italian firm ENI. BP signed an expensive exploration contract with Qaddafi and cannot possibly have wanted its validity put into doubt by a revolution. There is no advantage to the oil sector of removing Qaddafi. Indeed, a new government may be more difficult to deal with and may not honor Qaddafi’s commitments. There is no prospect of Western companies being allowed to own Libyan petroleum fields, which were nationalized long ago. Finally, it is not always in the interests of Big Oil to have more petroleum on the market, since that reduces the price and, potentially, company profits. A war on Libya to get more and better contracts so as to lower the world price of petroleum makes no sense in a world where the bids were already being freely let, and where high prices were producing record profits. I haven’t seen the war-for-oil argument made for Libya in a manner that makes any sense at all.
I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time. It is possible to reason our way through, on a case-by-case basis, to an ethical progressive position that supports the ordinary folk in their travails in places like Libya. If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left. We should avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo the way the Right makes abortion an absolute taboo if doing so makes us heartless (inflexible a priori positions often lead to heartlessness). It is now easy to forget that Winston Churchill held absolutely odious positions from a Left point of view and was an insufferable colonialist who opposed letting India go in 1947. His writings are full of racial stereotypes that are deeply offensive when read today. Some of his interventions were nevertheless noble and were almost universally supported by the Left of his day. The UN allies now rolling back Qaddafi are doing a good thing, whatever you think of some of their individual leaders.
Friday saw major protests in Syria, Jordan and Yemen, along with continued fighting in Libya. The Arab Spring has not breathed its last gasp, but rather seems to be getting a second wind. Protesters are crossing red lines set by governments and risking being shot. They know that movements are watered with the blood of martyrs. One of the major protests, in Deraa, Syria, on Friday was actually a funeral procession. But the Baathist regime created dozens more martyrs in response to being challenged. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh seems to have admitted he is outgoing, though he is bargaining with the crowds about the timing and circumstances.
The Aljazeera correspondent in Ajdabiya south of Benghazi writes that liberation movement fighters were able to enter the city via the eastern gate, which they now control. They were helped by the bombardment of Qaddafi’s tank brigades by UN allies, which forced the dictator’s troops to withdraw to the western gate. The liberation movement killed 4 pro-Qaddafi troops and took a number prisoner, as well as destroying some of their weapons, including two tanks. For the first time in two weeks, the liberation movement was able to break the blockade of Ajdabiya imposed on the city by Qaddafi’s forces. Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who defected to the transitional government based in Benghazi, said that his fighters had only entered the city when negotiations with pro-Qaddafi forces aiming at allowing them to leave the city broke down.
Aljazeera Arabic is reporting a small demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in support of Libya’s liberation movement, demanding that it be protected from Qaddafi government brutality. Protesters also demanded that the Mubarak family and their associates be put on trial for corruption.
Meanwhile, UN allies bombed Libyan forces near Zintan, which they had been trying to take. On the other hand, Qaddafi’s tanks subjected Misrata’s downtown to a fierce bombardment lasting hours. Since the UN allies are reluctant to bomb tanks already inside cities for fear of civilian casualties, the armor inside Misrata seems to have felt itself out of danger.
The leadership of the United Nations-authorized No-Fly Zone over Libya will pass from the US to the 28 nations of NATO, after an agreement was hammered out with skeptics such as Turkey and Germany. Since the US is part of NATO, it will still be involved in the effort, but the leadership will be NATO as a whole.
In the meantime, signs are emerging that isolated pro-Qaddafi forces may be seeking negotiations with the Benghazi-based liberation movement. Politics in tribal societies is often fluid and fast-changing rather than institutionalized and rigid, which is why descriptions of the conflict in Libya as a concrete struggle between well-defined groups is an error. The million-strong Warfalla tribe appears to have flipped allegiance twice already in the past month and could easily do so again. The tendency to quick switches in allegiance also make it less important that the rebels have so few trained troops. My guess is that people-power will be decisive in most cities if Qaddafi’s tank brigades can be neutralized– i.e. the rebels may not make many conventional conquests.
NATO is buttressed by the Arab League with regard to the UN-authorized No Fly Zone. The United Arab Emirates has now committed 12 fighter-jets to doing patrols, joining Qatar, which has pledged to begin flying missions this weekend. The French insist that the No-Fly Zone will be a relatively short-lived affair, measured in weeks rather than months.
Beneath the level of the No-Fly Zone is the further directive from the UN Security Council that civilians be protected from attack. This effort requires occasional bombardment of aggressive pro-Qaddafi armored and artillery units making a drive on rebel cities, as with France’s destruction of the tank brigade heading for Benghazi last Sunday. NATO will not direct this task, since Turkey and Germany think it goes too far in the way of intervention, so a sub-NATO UN alliance will pursue it, probably led by France.
The “No-Drive Zone” policy pursued by France, Britain and the United States is already bearing fruit on the ground. There were three major aggressive campaigns being waged by the Qaddafi forces as the UN allies began intervening– Zintan in the southwest, Misrata just to the east of Tripoli on the coast, and Ajdabiya in the east, south of rebel HQ Benghazi. Two of them ceased on Thursday, forestalling further massacre of civilians in these major population centers and allowing supporters of the liberation movement to come out of hiding. Ajdabiya remained an arena of contest, but the liberation movement now controls most of th is oil city and there were reports of negotiations.
The liberation movement in Misrata, a city of 570,000 and Libya’s third-largest, are claiming to have retaken it. They describe battles with pro-Qaddafi snipers, in which the locals took out the rooftop shooters. They used stairwell bombs to strand some on the roofs before targeting them. Some pro-Qaddafi tanks remained in the city. But tanks outside it were targeted by the UN allies on Wednesday night and the rest appear to have decided to stop firing on the city center and at the hospital lest they attract unwelcome attention from the skies. The ‘No-Drive Zone’ effort is therefore apparently having a psychological effect already, and is responsible for Thursday’s quiet in Misrata, which had seen a week-long, vicious tank campaign to take it by Tripoli. French fighter jets destroyed a pro-Qaddafi plane near Misrata that violated the No-Fly Zone.
Likewise, Qaddafi’s tanks appear to have drawn back from the rural southwestern city of az-Zintan (pop. 100,000), near Yafran, which is a major rebel center. (The Zintan tribe declared against Qaddafi). The city is no longer surrounded or actively being bombarded, though some 30 tanks remain outside it. Since pro-Qaddafi forces around Zintan have not been bombarded by the UN allies, it is not known why they ceased fighting on Thursday, but it may be fear that violating Resolution 1973 will bring down sidewinder missiles on them.
There are reports of renewed fighting in the western cities of Zawiya and Zuara, which were taken last week in major tank offensives by Qaddafi, but the populations of which had earlier declared in the tens of thousands for the liberation movement. The transitional governing council in Benghazi alleges that Qaddafi’s troops committed a massacre in Zawiya.
The Telegraph reports that a liberation movement commander and former Libyan air force colonel named Ahmed Omar Bani has said at a news conference that Qaddafi’s forces at Ajdabiya have lost contact with their commanders in Tripoli and are seeking a way to withdraw. He said that Muslim clerics (ulama) had been used by Benghazi to negotiate with the tank brigade that controls part of the oil city of Ajdabiya but which is far from the Qaddafi lines and vulnerable to further UN allied air strikes. According to the Telegraph Col. Bani said,
“Some of the Ajdabiya militias have asked to surrender to be left alone and to go back home … We are trying to negotiate with these people in Ajdabiya because we are almost sure that they have lost contact with their headquarters…”
4. Tobruk is no longer in danger of being attacked and its inhabitants massacred. On March 15, this eastern city of 120,000 not far from Egypt, with its major petroleum depot, was in danger of being taken by the forces of Muammar Qaddafi, supported by his air force. There is a good metalled road from Ajdabiya to Tobruk, which Qaddafi’s forces were using. Under ordinary circumstances, Tobruk is a place from which petroleum is exported across the Mediterranean.
6. Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city with a population of 670,000, was given a brief reprieve Wednesday afternoon when United Nations allies bombed pro-Qaddafi tank positions and the aviation academy outside the city. At night, the surviving tanks crept into the city and bombarded its center, including a hospital with 400 patients in it! All through Wednesday, pro-Qaddafi snipers took a toll on pedestrians in the downtown area. Still, the cessation of the bombardment for many hours benefited the city, which could easily have seen many times the 16 dead killed by Qaddafi’s thugs. The bombardment had ceased again early Thursday morning.
7. The no-fly zone allowed an aid ship to land at Misrata with medicines. Misrata is suffering from a lack of water, electricity and services, not to mention medicine!
8. Zintan, the desert city southwest of Tripoli, also gained a brief respite when allied planes struck near the city and forced the pro-Qaddafi tank brigades investing the city to withdraw for a few hours. The tanks attacked again late Wednesday. Some 6 were killed Wednesday instead of the bigger massacre that could have come with a victory for the pro-Qaddafi forces.
9. Instead of being a base for attacks on Tobruk and Benghazi as it was only a week ago, the major oil city of Ajdabiya has been turned into an arena of contest between the freedom movement amateur fighters and the rump pro-Qaddafi armored brigades. While pundits in the US are asking why Ajdabiya hasn’t already fallen (the Libyan army has tanks, the rebels have old rifles), the real question is how long the pro-Qaddafi forces can hold out if a no-drive zone is enforced against them by the UN allies. Ajdabiya is strategically important as the cross-roads of routes leading to some 6 major cities, but it is also a major oil city. Possession of it would much strengthen the liberation movement.
10. Now that Benghazi is not being aerially bombed nor besieged by tanks and heavy artillery, the liberation movement’s leadership has been able to meet and announce a transitional governing council, in a bid to get more organized. I saw the press conference on Aljazeera Arabic. They underlined that it is not a declaration of a government and it is not separatist. Tripoli, they insist, is the capital of Libya.
The liberation movement at the moment likely controls about half of Libya’s population, as long as Misrata and Zintan do not fall. It also likely controls about half of the petroleum facilities. If Benghazi can retake Brega and Ra’s Lanouf and Zawiya, Qaddafi soon won’t have gasoline for his tanks or money to pay his mercenaries. Pundits who want this whole thing to be over with in 7 days are being frankly silly. Those who worry about it going on forever are being unrealistic. Those who forget or cannot see the humanitarian achievements already accomplished are being willfully blind.