Top Ten Ways that Libya 2011 is Not Iraq 2003

Here are the differences between George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current United Nations action in Libya:

1. The action in Libya was authorized by the United Nations Security Council. That in Iraq was not. By the UN Charter, military action after 1945 should either come as self-defense or with UNSC authorization. Most countries in the world are signatories to the charter and bound by its provisions.

2. The Libyan people had risen up and thrown off the Qaddafi regime, with some 80-90 percent of the country having gone out of his hands before he started having tank commanders fire shells into peaceful crowds. It was this vast majority of the Libyan people that demanded the UN no-fly zone. In 2002-3 there was no similar popular movement against Saddam Hussein.

3. There was an ongoing massacre of civilians, and the threat of more such massacres in Benghazi, by the Qaddafi regime, which precipitated the UNSC resolution. Although the Saddam Hussein regime had massacred people in the 1980s and early 1990s, nothing was going on in 2002-2003 that would have required international intervention.

4. The Arab League urged the UNSC to take action against the Qaddafi regime, and in many ways precipitated Resolution 1973. The Arab League met in 2002 and expressed opposition to a war on Iraq. (Reports of Arab League backtracking on Sunday were incorrect, based on a remark of outgoing Secretary-General Amr Moussa that criticized the taking out of anti-aircraft batteries. The Arab League reaffirmed Sunday and Moussa agreed Monday that the No-Fly Zone is what it wants).

5. None of the United Nations allies envisages landing troops on the ground, nor does the UNSC authorize it. Iraq was invaded by land forces.

6. No false allegations were made against the Qaddafi regime, of being in league with al-Qaeda or of having a nuclear weapons program. The charge is massacre of peaceful civilian demonstrators and an actual promise to commit more such massacres.

7. The United States did not take the lead role in urging a no-fly zone, and was dragged into this action by its Arab and European allies. President Obama pledges that the US role, mainly disabling anti-aircraft batteries and bombing runways, will last “days, not months” before being turned over to other United Nations allies.

8. There is no sectarian or ethnic dimension to the Libyan conflict, whereas the US Pentagon conspired with Shiite and Kurdish parties to overthrow the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime in Iraq, setting the stage for a prolonged and bitter civil war.

9. The US has not rewarded countries such as Norway for entering the conflict as UN allies, but rather a genuine sense of outrage at the brutal crimes against humanity being committed by Qaddafi and his forces impelled the formation of this coalition. The Bush administration’s ‘coalition of the willing’ in contrast was often brought on board by what were essentially bribes.

10. Iraq in 2002-3 no longer posed a credible threat to its neighbors. A resurgent Qaddafi in Libya with petroleum billions at his disposal would likely attempt to undermine the democratic experiments in Tunisia and Egypt, blighting the lives of millions.

Posted in Iraq,Libya | 179 Responses | Print |

179 Responses

  1. I don’t agree with last point in which you suggest that other countries force USA to engage in intervention all knows what is reputation of USA soe if this country begin war under cover of human rights itd (the same covers use by USA in order to bring control of countries which has oil) so I wasn’t be surprised if in next leaks of wikileaks we will find documents in which will be written that secretary of state talks with foreign ministry of France that they begin charge and later force USA to engage which USA goverment will accept.

    • Just the same that it is not right for anyone to label all muslims as terrorists, it is wholly unfair that you would label the United States in such ways.

      You seem to forget that the United States has very few declarations of war on it’s record that were not reactionary.

      We need to embrace the new sensibility that the Obama administration has brought about, wherein they adopt the attitude of the greatest generation, where war declarations come at times of only the greatest need.

      I appreciate the points made in this article, and agree with them 100%.

    • What the he’ll are you trying to write? It’s unreadable.

      • Must be a non english/american speaker. Who the hell do they think they are coming on here, taking our women and using bad grammar. Should be a law

    • That makes absolutely no sense… and not just because the grammar and sentence structure are atrocious.

      • Then you were able to divine a meaning of some sort with which to disagree? You’re a better person than I am–I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what on earth this person was talking about.

        I suppose that should make me diffident about criticizing them too strongly–who knows, I might be in roaring agreement with them if we were able to unravel the message.

  2. excellent! I see the world still knows by far not enough about Libya, and the terrible situation for simple people. The sheer anger made them so fighting in fierce ways. There no big choice: die now with a weapon in there hands or later been executed. I have never seen such a low treatment of live. there is nothing they can loose, except their home country and pride. The Regime in my eyes has nothing in common with the people in Libya. I think, not even with any civilization on this planet. I vote for further actions against thus regime, because we are all living in civilizations, and this one needs protection.

    • I am Libyan, and i agree with all what you have said, and if i may add, that lots of people do not know that in fact there was no system in libya, nofunctioning state. there was only one man, rules and controls everything, letteraly everything.
      I am 41 years old, and this is first time in my life i feel that i have a presedent, which is the head of Libyan transitional Councel.
      for us libyans, this is not change of regime, its leberation.

      • Good for you for speaking out, Salem, and trying to explain your country to the outside world!

        Best of luck to you and your fellow citizens! Inshallah!

  3. But Juan, do you think the US and UN allies would have gone to war with Libya were the country not floating on a sea of light sweet crude? For all the differences between the Iraq and Libya wars, oil — and the desire to control access to it — is a common factor that cannot be ignored.

    • Quite the contrary, because Col Gadaffi has been happy to sell oil for many years now. If oil where to be the point the west better keep things as they are…

    • George – could you provide source for “Libya floating on sea of oil”? Saudi Arabia has about 8 times more oil than Libya, and Canada has 40 (yes, FORTY) times more oil than Libya in the form of bitumen that is recoverable at $50 or less per barrell.

      And the difference between light sweet oil and heavy crude is only $2 a barrell, a non-sequitur.

      How can you claim that the liberation of Libya is all about its few drops of oil, when Canada, next door to the US has 40 times more oil? Makes no sense.

      • Canada’s oil is already being exploited by multinational oil companies for a primarily American market. I understand that there is even an agreement in place to construct an oil pipeline which would move oil from Alberta to the States as fast as it can flow.

        I do not know who controls Libyan oil supplies, but I suspect it is not the multinational oil companies. Not yet.

        That was what they sought to remedy in Iraq and they’ve succeeded in doing so.

        Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the United States – or should I say the Saudi government is.

        • All or most oil companies are multinational, so what is the point? The Chinese are the biggest investors in the Alberta oil sands. I don’t buy nationalism that each country must do its own oil, resource, etc. work. That makes absolutely no sense economically, and is silly. Unless you wish poverty.

          Libyan oil was heavily invested by the French, Italians, and Russians. It is only 0.8% of world oil reserves, and a small fish.

          Iraqi oil is in the hands of its national and elected government. So not sure what your gripe is.

      • I call shenanigans on your “$50 or less a barrel” figure. If it is so cheap, why aren’t they bringing it to market, when oil prices are currently over twice that figure?

        • @Tartessos – obviously you have zilch business acumen and experience. First, do a google on Alberta oil sands and you will see the government of Alberta estimate (2006) to be $25 a barrel for recovering oil sands, including environmental remediation. Second, this industry is expanding rapidly, but takes 5 to 10 years to obtain its permits and arrange financing due to environmental oversight and permitting. Third, the billion dollar projects need to be financed and oil was $60 a barrell just last year and there is no guarantee it will stay at $105. There is market risk. Also technology is improving and reducing the cost of recovery.

          Sorry to shatter your simplistic theory that all global affairs can be reduced to the US syphoning Arab oil.

          When oil was back in the $30 to $40 range, the oil sands was a viable industry.

        • “Iraqi oil is in the hands of its national and elected government. So not sure what your gripe is” Try BP Oil, the one we fought the war for and Haliburton and the Trans Afghan Pipeline

      • @ Mazlum: You are very good at making unsupported statements, throwing out straw men, and the like. You still haven’t proven your case. Nice try though. You might want to note that the $25 figure you quote is 5X the cost to produce crude in the Middle East. You are also ignoring the increased carbon emissions, etc.

        As for my “simplistic theory that all global affairs can be reduced to the US syphoning Arab oil,” I made no such claim. Go back to watching Glenn Beck.

        • @Tartessos – What a non-sequitur – Oil can be $5 a barrell extraction cost in the Middle East – so what? You still have to buy it at $105 /bbl, and the profit is pocketed by the treasury (or sheikh) of that oil producing country.

          The Canadian oil producer does not have access to the M.E. oil. But can produce oil at $25 to $50 /bbl. Source: the report by the Alberta Provincial government on oil sands production costs.

          So what is your point? That because Saudi Arabians can produce oil at a lower cost, other countries should refrain from producing oil?

          The oil sand’s llife cycle carbon emissions is not very different from that of conventional petroleum production – just marginally higher. Pls. provide source for your claim.

          It is a well known fact that the anti-colonial anti-democratic left has not even a basic understanding of economics or finance.

    • Europe was already getting Libya’s oil. It may have even made them more reluctant to back the opposition at first. While I don’t doubt oil played a part in influencing action, there are other concerns as well. Having a failed state on the southern Mediterranean is a significant threat to Europe in terms of curbing migration, among other things.

      • When you put the threat to Europe of Libya as a failed state into geographical context, how does it differ from Tunisia, Algeria or Egypt? Libya’s ruler is both a celebrity in a media-driven age as well as being enough of a buffoon as to garner the contempt of Westerners. But where are these massacres? I hear plenty of reports talking about the threat, and I certainly don’t want a verifiable body count before action is taken, but when you consider how many people are dying in Darfur, in Congo, in any number of African nations, why are Libyans the only ones worthy of such direct intervention by the sophisticated military forces of rich Western nations.

        Something smells about this whole operation. Given the rubber stamp being given it by the mainstream media, we’ll have to wait for Wikileaks to provide greater context.

        • I admit that am not a stratigic thinker, I am a simple libya citizen who suffered to a some point from Gaddafi regiem, just as any other libyan,
          what have been said about oil, i think its non sense,as we know USA doesnt buy oil from Libya, invisting in it thats different story. the west need to quarentee oil supplies, we( libyans) need to sell it,
          the difference between Libya and Dar fur and other places where lots of people die, is that in libya you have a govrenment lunching a war on its own unarmed people.
          and of course , there will be always hiden agendas, and as we know, there is no morals in politics, thought it can be used as an excuse. excuse my por english, but i hope my point is clear!

    • i think proximity – to europe, egypt and tunisia – was much more important than oil in precipitating action in libya, as was the importance of continuing the momentum for the arab uprisings.

      if oil were all that mattered to the west, then the us and europe could have just let gaddafi get on with it, and continued doing business with him.

      sure, people can ask, why do they not intervene in e.g. ivory coast. i suspect the sad truth is that western leaders discount the chances of establishing a democratic foothold in the heart of africa.

      • ” why do they not intervene in e.g. ivory coast. i suspect the sad truth is that western leaders discount the chances of establishing a democratic foothold in the heart of africa.”

        The person that won in the ivory coast won due the establishing a democratic system there. The person that loss refused to go and started attacking protesters.

        You can find this on the bbc if you wish to read more,

        link to

        • This war is about who controls Libyan oil politically, not access to oil per se. Libya has the world’s 9th largest oil reserves. A friendlier government would probably mean better access for the U.S. and other western powers in the long run, and would get the very unpopular Qaddafi succession plan off the table. While the Western powers apparently don’t have much of a feel for what the opposition really looks like, weakening Qaddafi buys them time to influence the result.

    • HY says “Libya has the world’s tenth largest oil reserves.”

      This is not an accurate way of describing Libya’s oil reserves and is misleading. It sort of makes it appear that Libya possesses 10% of world oil.

      In fact, Libya has only 0.8% of world oil reserves – a drop in the bucket. And I have not even counted shale oil which is phenomenally large, and mostly in the US and Russia.

      Also, it is not 9th – but 10th in ranking.

  4. The situation in Libya is similar to that in Iraq in 1991. As it is known Iraqi people had rised up against Sadam’s regime and 14 of 18 provinceswere become under opposition control. Then the Iraqi people was massacered by Saddam’s regime with blessing for the whole world.I still remeber what president George Bush said at that time “I have no sympathy with Iraqi people”

  5. Glad you are pointing out these differences, Prof Cole. I’ve read a ton of lefty commentary conflating Iraq with Libya. It’s an embarrassment. Another lefty mistake is focusing on the ‘hypocracy’ of not aiding the protesters in Bahrain and Yemen. Obviously the US can not afford to go against the Sauds at the moment, despite their autocratic ways. Better to do 1 thing right than *everything* wrong!

    • Or one could conclude that the US rulers are not and can never be reliable allies for people’s in revolt. Lefties accusing superpowers of defending murderous regimes cannot be countered by accusing them… of spelling mistakes!

    • The claims of hypocrisy towards Yemen and Bahrain have some merit, but it should be clear to everyone that Libya represented a far more dire situation. The casualties in Yemena and Bahrain are still below 100. By the time this coalition acted in Libya, the reported death count was already well beyond 1,000, and unreported deaths – especially those resulting from disappearances – probably pushes that number into the multiple thousands.

      There are other factors as well. Getting involved in Yemen militarily would be an absolute nightmare… it would make Iraq look like a walk in the park. Bahrain would seriously threaten the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, and I don’t think anyone in the U.S. has an appetite for an oil embargo. Obama couldn’t afford that politically.

  6. 11. So far there is no Libyan Chalabi being acclaimed in DC as a “new Washington”.

    But, I’m afraid, sooner or later one is bound to be produced. Only then will we know what this intervention is really all about.

    • I do not share your cynicism about expecting one to be produced. Many points in the the Iraqi side of this comparison were promoted by Chalabi and cohorts. So in fact your observation about the lack of a Chalabi is a very good point precisely because it underlies several of the other key differences.

  7. The situation in Libya and Iraq are not the same, but close enough to warrant the comparisons being made by those critical and weary of further US military aggression. Why would the US be “dragged” into any military intervention? The US is the most powerful nation in the world and does not have to bow to the will of any other nations. This has been extremely evident throughout US history. If the US really did not want to go into war they should have put their foot down and said no. In practically every other situation the US is defiant, and does as it pleases. Obama’s lack of a spine is rather disturbing, and is unfortunately his defining characteristic. He is always trying to please someone else. How about we need to start thinking about the American people. Can the US really afford another potential war monetarily and politically?

    The threat to the world posed by Gadaffi and especially US interests is minimal at best. The fact that Gadaffi will undermine democracy in other parts of the North Africa is highly speculative as well. This is the same old rhetoric that is used to get people to support military intervention. There is hardly any evidence to prove that contention, and is a moot point. Also, just because the UN creates a resolution that has the support of the Arab League does not make the military action legitimate. The UN’s and especially the Arab League’s legitimacy is greatly in question considering their dismal track record tarnished by double standards and overall ineffectiveness. Flawed policy does not become legitimate because a large gang of imperialist bullies authorizes it.

    Finally, it is difficult to say the level of involvement that the US will actually face in the coming days or weeks. It is already clear that US is already shouldering most of the burden, even though that was not supposed to be the deal. Leading up to the Iraq war we were told several times that it was going to be a quick and easy victory. In this case the US is saying that they will not stay for a prolonged period of time, and will have a limited role. History does usually repeat itself, and is likely to do so in Libya. I hope that I am mistaken, but I have a strong belief that things are going to turn ugly.

  8. Thanks for this, Dr. Cole.

    If I could ask you something: If rebel forces rule the country or some part of the country, what sort of governance are we likely to see there? Are we likely to see Qaddafi-like brutality by whoever is in power, or will things be substantially better? And is there anything the US or our allies can do to improve this situation?

    • The opposition has made their democratic intentions fairly clear. Whether that plays out is a completely different matter, but I think it is safe to assume it won’t be worse than Qaddafi.

    • There will be no body, i say no body will ever think to do one tenth of what gaddafi did, democracy and freedum of speech are the least what we want and will fight for, and will give no chance anymore to anyone to stop against peoples will.

  9. Very well presented. Wish the media were as clear. I am not so sure as Juan about the Arab states were ‘urging’ and ‘dragging’ the western world into this. Not the impression I got. But then I don’t read Arabic so am restricted to news in English and French.

  10. Dear mister Cole,

    First I would like to point out that I like your blog a lot. It is very instructive.

    I can agree with 8 out of your 10 points, but not with point 8 and 10 however.

    In my humble opinion, there is clearly an ethnic component to the Lybian rise. Khadaffi did exactly the same as Saddam: privilege the tribes of his own descent in the West and disadvantage the tribes in the East, which is one of the reasons why Benghazi rose against Khadaffi.

    Furthermore, I am not so sure Saddam did not pose a threat to his neighbours any more in 2002-3. He had an army many times bigger than Tripoli (albeit weakened by the many wars), he invaded other countries before and he was the same psychopath Khadaffi is proving to be now.

    Best regards,
    Joost Verplancke

    • Sectarianism is has key differences with tribalism. The most significant difference being that nobody outside of Libya is concerned with Libya’s tribal affairs. In the case Iraq, a proxy war has developed between Saudi Arabia (backing Sunni militia) and Iran (backing Shiite militia). This is a major factor in the sectarian violence that has played out in Iraq, and it doesn’t find a likely parallel in Libya.

  11. Juan,
    In response to point 10, the US and its allies (in particular the dictators it supports in the Middle East) are deeply opposed to democracy and are working to thwart democratic experiments around the world. Anyone familar with the machinations of US dominated institutions like the IMF and the World Bank already knows this. The resources they can employ to undemocratic ends dwarf Libya’s.

    The US and its allies would likely have invaded Iran by now if they had not run into unexpected trouble (in fact an undeniale disaster) in Iraq. A bogus military “success” (Kosovo, Grenada, the 1990 Gulf War, the bombing of Libya in 1986) where the carnage can be easily covered up – softens the public up to get behind “disasters” in the future.

    Finally, if the politcal class in the West were capable of a “genuine sense of outrage at brutal crimes” (to quote your point number 9) most of them would be in jail.

  12. I never thought what is going on in Libya was anything like the invading of Iraq. I honest felt President Obama was not looking for reasons to do this. Like Bush and Cheney made up reasons to go into Iraq. But if Gaddafi and his thugs had killed thousands of it’s people (and we don’t know that they haven’t already done that) what would the people who are now criticizing the President say? They would be sitting on those same cable shows saying how we should have done something to stop that mad man.

  13. Doesn’t US involvement delegitimize the rebels? And why can’t the Arab League, if they’re so gung ho to get rid of Qaddafi, do it themselves?

    • The Arab League is a dictator’s club, and Qaddafi was simply an outcast member. But seriously, none of the member states really have an appetite to engage in a military conflict, especially as it could threaten their power at home. Really, they have nothing to gain from it. They don’t need anything from Libya. States like Qatar and the UAE may send a few aircraft and Egypt is apparently sending military aid to the opposition, but full-scale war with Libya serves no interest to any of them. Beyond this, they simply don’t have anything close to the military capacity that the U.S., U.K. and France do.

      • “The Arab League is a dictator’s club, and Qaddafi was simply an outcast member.”

        That makes not getting involved sound like an even better idea. Really, US mideast policy is completely insane. We fought against Hussein, and presumably next is Iran (I really hope not: I was friends with some of their nuclear engineering students at MIT in the mid 70s). But both Hussein and Iran are at the very top of bin Laden’s hit list. And we previously fought and died alongside Hussein against Iran. And now a brief interlude to help out the other Arab dictators (whom we are likely to be fighting against in Bharain). How can we be so stupid?

  14. I don’t have any real sense of who the rebels are and what sort of post-Qaddafi regime they want. Knowing that would make the decision to support them much clearer. Do you have any insight here?

    • Prior to this becoming a full-scale war, they were pushing for the exactly the same goals of the demonstrators in Egypt and Tunisia.

  15. Still unconstitutional. Still no end game. Still no threat to the US. Guy was our best pal until he wasn’t. We’re still broke.

    The main difference is, it’s “liberal” interventionists doing this with a guilty conscience, instead of the GOP.

    Second difference is, it’s not directly a war to defend the FZE (Israel)–just an indirect result of the anti-Muslim anti-Arab mindset promoted by the FZE’s supporters.

    Big mistake. (I hope i’m wrong).

    • I’m not interested in debating constitutionality or economics, but I really don’t understand how this intervention could be considered the result of an anti-Arab/Muslim bias. And I am by no means oblivious to such things – I lived in Syria for 3 years and my wife is Iraqi, so I am quite sensitive to anti-Arab bigotry that is indeed widespread – but in the case of Libya, we are supporting what was clearly demonstrated to be the desire of the Libyan people. The French bombardment of tanks and artillery massing outside Benghazi alone probably saved hundreds – if not thousands – of lives. While it is certainly fair to question the intentions of some – I’m sure military contractors are always thrilled by the need to replenish stocks – I don’t see how racism plays into this.

  16. Doesn’t history tell us that an intervention led by the US, UK, France, and Saudi Arabia will serve the interests of the predatory international establishment, not the Libyan people?

    • You make a very valid point, but I’d also suggest that such things aren’t necessarily exclusive of each other. The previous arrangement did serve the interests of the predatory international establishment, while also lining the pockets (bank vaults, we should say) of the Qaddafi regime. One can hope that whatever takes its place will at least share the revenues with the Libyan people and be accountable to them.

  17. “Reports of Arab League backtracking on Sunday were incorrect, based on a remark of outgoing Secretary-General Amr Moussa that criticized the taking out of anti-aircraft batteries. The Arab League reaffirmed Sunday and Moussa agreed Monday that the No-Fly Zone is what it wants”
    There is a disconnect somewhere, possibly in Moussa’s mind. It’s not possible to establish and enforce a no-fly zone unless the UN force has command of the air, which requires taking out Qaddafi’s anti-aircraft. Also isn’t the UN taking out Qaddafi’s tanks and artillery where they are being used to attack civilians? What is the Arab League’s view of that?

    “There is no sectarian or ethnic dimension to the Libyan conflict”
    Isn’t it actually a tribal conflict, Qadaffi’s tribe and its allies against other tribes?

    • Moussa is concerned about his own bid for the Egyptian presidency, and his comments have to be viewed in that context.

      Tribal conflicts are significantly different from ethnic and sectarian ones in that they are much less likely to be exasperated by foreign powers which share those ethnic or religious ties.

  18. Juan, I agree with this for the most part, but a few things I disagree with:

    3. If the West went around intervening in countries every time there was a massacre of civilians they would be constantly involved in many countries around the world.

    4. The Arab League wanted a no-fly zone but thought the attack on Libya had gone too far. Notably, the African Union opposed any intervention. Are they less relevant?

    7. It is hard to imagine how this could possibly be ended in a matter of days, and how it will be resolved without an outright invasion to stop Gaddafi.

    9. I think it is too soon to say whether or not the US pressured other countries to vote in favor of this in the UN, or to abstain as many did.

  19. The justness or righteous of this conflict does not permit the president to break the law. I know it’s tempting to want to help everyone in need, but at this point, our government isn’t even pretending to acknowledge the separation of powers.

    Millions for bombs means less for the poor, the homeless, the sick, and the future. I cannot stand behind agressive war, simply because “this time it’s for the right reasons.”

    • I agree that only Congress should be able to declare war, but Presidents since WW II have been de facto declaring it on their own, and the War Powers Act of 1973 gave them the legal authority to do so for at least 90 days (nevermind whether that is constitutional or not — so far, it stands — it was originally meant to *place limits* on such power, but it soon proved to have the opposite effect). Louis Fisher has a fine book on this part of the legislative process — (Texas A & M, 2000).

      Thanks for your insights Juan!

  20. I’ve been following Prof. Cole’s blog since before it was big and have always respected his opinion. He’s been my main source on the Middle East. That’s why I’m a bit surprised to find myself disagreeing substantially with him, surprised enough to join the fray.

    Here’s the problem I see: Ghaddafi has been an appalling ruler for 41 years, not to mention a terrible citizen in the international community. Most of us would like to see him gone. Moreover, his threat of committing more massacres of civilians was, and in this I agree with Prof. Cole, enough to warrant international intervention. I don’t have time to discuss the “hipocrisy issue” of Bahrain/Yemen. Some people here are better than me at that and Prof. Cole has acknowledged it. Also, I am somewhat troubled by the precedent this sets. In my most paranoid moments I imagine further down the road the “West” conjuring some kind of crisis in, say, Venezuela that is served to justify an all-out attack, with regime change and all. But when I’m back to sober I think that, well, in terms of villainy probably Ghaddafi is on a different league than any other regime the West may not like, so chances are this was an exceptional measure taken for exceptional circumstances.

    But, those two considerations aside, and judging this intervention only on the merits, here’s what I wonder: wouldn’t it have been much better to do this while putting also in place a political mechanism to broker some possible peace talks (through Turkey, for instance)? You might say that that would have meant leaving Ghaddafin in power to which I have two responses: 1. We don’t know. That depends on the actual balance of forces on the ground so, conceivably, peace talks could lead to his resignation and 2. As of December 2010, the international community was OK with having Ghaddafi in power. The goal of removing him (and I agree it would be better to have him gone) was, and should be, subordinated to the actual cost of getting rid of him. I would rather see a drawn out political process that over time leads to a modicum of behavior change and, later, to regime change, instead of a bloody mess of a civil war so that at the end we can say that “at least Ghaddafi is out”. The second option is the one that neocons now tout in Irak. They say, “well, at least Saddam Hussein is out”. Yeah. Too bad there are 700 000 iraqis that are no longer around to appreciate the improvement and 2 million that have to celebrate far away from the home they used to occupy.

    Furthermore, I don’t see a political mechanism as a substitute for military action. They could go in lockstep. Between the coalition of enforcers of 1973 and, say, Turkey and Brazil, the international community could set up a “good cop/bad cop” routine on Ghaddafi that may be more effective than just using one instrument.

    I see Prof. Cole seems to be open to such a thing. But the problem is that, as things stand right now, nothing is happening on that front. It may not be too late to do it. But time is running out, and very, very quickly. Furthermore, from what I’ve heard, the US actually torpedoed the efforts of Turkey at mediating. (Reminds me of the hapless Hans Blix and how the Bush Administration just heaped scorn on him and his efforts at getting a decent job done.)

    I think the UN should be immediatly looking for back channels for diplomacy, finding a broker, contacting both sides, setting up a negotiation table and offering its resources to monitor a possible cease fire. Ghaddafi remains in power? Sure, that’s bad if it happens. But there will be time to sort that out, probably with fewer casualties.

  21. Prof. Cole, re point 8 about there being no sectarian or ethic dimension to the Libyan conflict… what about tribal loyalties? Do you see those playing a major role going forward?

  22. In contrast to the first 9, point 10 seems rather speculative, and reminiscent of hyperbolic pre-2003-invasion claims about the sort of outsized regional influence Saddam might wield if he were to remain in power. Likewise, #5 seems to take as given that no escalation or land invasion will occur; to people who remember the 1990s no-fly zone over Iraq, that fact seems by no means guaranteed.

    I’ve also seen alternate reporting on #8 that suggests the opposite; that the rebels in Libya are temporarily united in opposition to Qaddafi but are likely to once again factionalize once he is out of power.

    Would you be willing to do a post on similarities to Iraq 2003?

  23. And why is this not Iraq NFZ 1991? Which solidified SH’s power, ravaged the population, and helped foster AQ?

    • Local forces, not just invading outsiders, are doing the fighting, and they’re committed to taking out the government and establishing a new one themselves.

      As opposed to a partial invasion by outside powers that didn’t have any intention of going to Baghdad.

  24. I’ve been looking for a perspective in this complicated situation that I can be comfortable with. Yours goes a long way to helping me. But I’m still worried.

    Everything you say here is true. But:

    On Point 4, I am not convinced. The reactionary potentates are fine to see a republic go down the drain, but when it comes to one of their own (Bahrein), not so much.

    On Point 5, eventually there will have to be boots on the ground, like it or not. No war’s ever been won with aircraft.

    On Point 8, Libya is a patchwork of three statelets, one of which has retained a somewhat autonomous character. It is not hard to imagine that it might come apart. Moreover, it is a very tribal society. Libya’s integrity may become an issue.

    In general, I hated watching Qaddafi rolling over his opponents with his tanks. But the Western forces are responding with some pretty heavy manners. Will the Arab countries (and the Arab street) go along with this? For what it’s worth, I see that Ralph Nader is calling for Obama’s impeachment over this.

  25. What is missing from this posting is an analysis of what the “realist” wing of the US ruling circles expect to get out of the Libyan intervention. Without this, the posting seems unlikely to reassure those elements of the international community who oppose the intervention.

  26. I have been on the non-intervention side of this argument and feel like I’ve been taken by the shoulders and shaken to come to my sense, although I’m still skeptical. I have been trying to go over exactly how this violence began. This is the key point you bring up. The country was 90% taken by the rebels peacefully. Quaddafi provoked them into taking up whatever ‘arms’ they had. This was a violation of the nature of the Arab uprising; even Yemeni officials are now turning against the violence of the government.

    You are the only commentator I know who lays this out so objectively and politically without milking the humanitarian issue emotionally. Marc Ambinder at Atlantic was also a thoughtful defense of the action.

  27. But what Obama did not do was obtain congressional approval. Since when does the UN run American politics? Isn’t it usually the other way around? I certainly did not give Obama permission to wage war in Libya, nobody asked me what I thought of it. And if Obama wasn’t behind this why was he trying to mollify the Arab League? Why does he say he is going to turn leadership over to the UN if we aren’t, like leading this? Though I appreciate your website which is often informative I cannot agree with you on this issue.

  28. Your points are fair enough until the last, which seems highly speculative. I’m not aware that Qaddafi has revealed any motive other than defending his own regime. The moderate democratic revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia do not yet appear to pose existential threats to him. Your central thesis that this attack, launched by a Democratic president, is vastly different from the naked aggression of Bush’s war is correct, but it obscures the truth that the US has strong reasons for wanting regime change here. In fact, it’s more important to the US than Qaddafi to put a buffer state between Egypt and Tunisia, keeping those moderate revolutions from spreading.

  29. Your whole argument for intervention is based on the reported massacres of protesters by Gaddhafi and his forces. But the protesters are not all defenseless civilians. There are many armed men among them. And they don’t seem to lack ammunition. Many pictures even showed them with heavy tanks and heavy anti-aircraft guns. It looks to me more like a civil war (or tribal war?) — albeit with one side outgunned by the other side — rather than a one-sided massacre of civilians.

    • There’s a timeline, Dinh Le.

      First, the protesters were peaceful and unarmed, and Khadaffy slaughtered them.

      Then, they started to take up arms, and were joined by elements of the military who refused to take part in the slaughter.

      Certainly, there are armed men now.

    • The world would never know all the truth behind our suffering and our needs. I am in direct contact with my brothers in Benghazi and for example they dont have food easy to carry or water, no night vision goggles no military training, no military vehicles and yet their freedom is so precious that they die for it. Isnt it enough to the world to see the way we have risen and what this man who vowed to protect us has done to us? What else does the world need to understand our cause? How much more blood?

      • Your country, your blood. You have a right to fight, bleed, and die for what you want. Or not. That does not mean that the United States has any obligation to kill your countrymen for you. And as for your lack of military training and weaponry, et cetera, every time I see you aimlessly shooting bullets up into the air (with no regard for where they come down or upon whose head), I have to surmise that (1) you do indeed have no military training and (2) you have abundant ammunition to waste. In short: you do not inspire in me any desire to squander my own country’s time, blood, and money abetting your obvious lack of organization, discipline, and purpose.

        If you really want your freedom, then fight for and win it yourself. Then your country will belong to you and not the foreigners who always intervene for their own crass, commercial interests and not out of any “morality” or “humanitarian concern.” Americans have a long and sordid history of destroying villages in order to save them. So take great care whom you ask to save your village for you.

  30. Please send this to Michael Moore. He’s been trying to imply that the Libyan rebels are icky ‘cuz some of them (some of the slim minority who actually know how to use rifles, much less operate tanks or planes) may have been part of Al Qaeda!!! In Iraq!!! (He glosses over the fact that Gaddafi’s been importing mercenaries from Chad and elsewhere, and the fact that the Taliban, Al-Qaeda’s best buds, have denounced both the rebellion and the aid given by the West to the rebels.)

    • Maybe we should refresh Michael Moore’s memory : the Lockerby bombing , bombing of the Berlin disco, the time Gadaffi was endorsing terrorism until he ran out of cash ? And that leaving Gadaffi in place could well mean a return to that era ???

      • I don’t think that Michael Moore has any problem with his memory. Who needs a memory when just reading the daily headlines of America’s latest bombing, night-raid, or hired-CIA-mercenary blunder suffices to explain the greatest source and extent of “terrorism” in the world today? Where do Americans get off lecturing the rest of the world about “terrorism”?

        And when “overwhelming Shock and Awe” neither overwhelms nor shocks nor awes — the “enemy” simply disperses and changes tactics — then what? I remember this depressingly familiar cycle only too well. I suspect that the hapless President Obama will have some difficulty handing this devolving mess off to some other, greater fool. Few have a shorter or shallower memory than he apparently does.

        Every day that the Libyan leader doesn’t lose, he wins. And every day that President Obama doesn’t win, he loses. I first learned this lesson back in Southeast Asia some four decades ago. I’ve never forgotten it, and President Obama seemingly has no capacity for learning it in the first place. I’ll take Michael Moore and his memory any day.

    • I adore Moore, but the guy needs to stick to domestic issues. He’s just not very insightful when it comes to commentary on foreign affairs.

  31. Genuine sense of outrage from those who had armed him for decades, and still support crushing rebellions in Bahrein and elsewhere this very week. Euh I don’t think so. If the West were seriously opposed to Gaddafi they coudl release to the rebels the billions of dollars of frozen assets Gaddafi has around, or give arms to the rebels. The intervention is much more about gaining a foothold again in the region. Highly selective outrage don’t hack it.

      • Yes. First, buy someone’s oil with some money. Then steal the money back again — hopefully, after “unfreezing” it — and then use the stolen money to buy loaded weapons for children who have no leader, no organization, no purpose, and who don’t know one end of a rifle from the other. That ought to result in quite few deaths among the children. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

        Unfortunately, the day the bombing peters out because the bombers have gone bankrupt and/or have grown tired of losing to yet another middle-eastern nobody, then chances are that the Libyan leader — or his sons, or someone else from his tribe — will do what he would have done, anyway, without all the additional bombing and blundering and death resulting from America destroying more villages in order to save them.

  32. Prof. Cole, I’m sorry to see that you’ve decided to become a hawk. Yes, a legal procedure was followed, but now what? The rebels seem to be sitting around waiting for NATO to knock off Qaddafi for them; they certainly can’t do it on their own. The UN resolution doesn’t authorize the overthrow of Qaddafi, and in many places Qaddafi’s people can outgun the rebels without use of air power. Meanwhile, in Yemen and Bahrain the authorities are also killing protesters in large numbers, and Bahrain has imported mercenaries, um, Saudi troops, to fight its own people. Would your logic require intervention in Yemen and Bahrain next?

    And when was the Constitution amended to allow a UN resolution to substitute for Congressional authorization to use force abroad? Candidate Obama said that the president does not have the power to do what President Obama just did.

  33. The representative of Libya at the UN had sided with the revolution and was in favour of the NFZ and the resolution.

  34. Juan, have Qatar or Saudi Arabia participated in the air strikes, as I heard they had promised? Is this a realistic expectatio? I know it would make me feel better. Are they still fully behind this military intervention, or are they having second thoughts?

  35. Juan,

    I also have to take issue with number 1. Yes, the UN Security Council approved a measure, but now both Brazil and the Chinese government have come out against the measure, so it seems clear that they were opposed to it. One can only imagine why they abstained instead of voting against it. It is no secret that the US yields great power in these matters.

  36. Why ten? Are you going on Letterman or are those just all the reasons? They all seem pretty solid though. You might have added that the Pottery Barn rule doesn’t necessarily apply here. Once the Libyan government is broken we don’t own it. Libya’s own people have given a pretty convincing demonstration of their desire to self govern. And you don’t have the sectarian divisions you described in Iraq. But maybe that’s restating things.

    Just curious , as in Egypt, to what extent would the country’s military and bureaucracy be willing to take orders from elected officials?

  37. The last point is rather weak. Libya cannot realistically influence neighbors too much. But the other points are valid and important.

  38. Dear Dr Cole

    While many of these points may be valid, there are some things you have not considered.
    1. The generals, right from last weekend, were talking about doing far more than what has been authorized.
    2. Ditto a number of politicians, Prime Minister David Cameron among them, who said Qaddafi has “to go.”
    3. There is a loop-hole in the agreement that more or less gives carte-blanche to breaking it by conceding all necessary measures to implement the purported purpose of protecting civilians.
    3. Hence the no-fly zone seems to include bombing military equipment on the ground (tanks fly along with pigs).
    4. Qaddafi has been targeted, whatever the generals or the
    politicans say.
    5. Your point 7 is naive. The idea that the UK, France, Canada, et al., could muster the will and power to do this?
    polticians say–some admit it, some don’t.
    6. Your point 8 is just wrong. Look up Justin Raimondo’s recent article on the artificiality of Libya, its origins as three distinct regions.
    7. Your point number 10 is categorically about pre-emption, reminiscent of George Bush. You are speculating about the evil the man might do–which a no fly zone could not prevent, but regime change will. Therefore you are advocating regime change, I’m sorry to say.
    Time to think again, Dr cole.

  39. 11. A Republican was President during the Iraq situation, and an immaculate Democrat is President now.

  40. Prof Cole has given us an excellent summary of the differences between Iraq and Libya. They could hardly be more different. It was wrong to invade Iraq. It is right to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.

  41. “President Obama pledges that the US role, mainly disabling anti-aircraft batteries and bombing runways, will last ‘days, not months’ before being turned over to other United Nations allies.”

    To me, this is the sticking point. What if the action authorized by the UNSC resolution is not enough to turn the tide of the conflict? Will NATO and the US let its allies lose, or widen the scope of the conflict? And if it is the latter, will they seek UN/Congressional approval, or act on their own authority?

    • I think this is a crucial point that is often overlooked; this conflict and the UNSC decision has created a greater problem of legitimacy of the UNSC decisions than we realize. In either of the scenarios above, UNSC ends up shooting itself in the leg. The solution the US is pushing for now, it seems, is to quickly build a coalition that includes other Arab nations and have the NATO carry out the enforcement and execution of its decisions, albeit it a limited fashion.

      By the way. I am pretty sure that Professor Cole is not an apologetic of the militarism. And the comparison of Iraq and Libya is one of the first things that comes to mind. However, to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, the moral question here, especially for the French, is to how to justify that Libya is not Yugoslavia, and how to justify the lack of intervention to Bosnia between 1992-95 versus a swift intervention in Libya.

  42. A counterargument

    1. It doesn’t matter if the US goes it alone or in conjunction with the UN. The sole question is whether the act of intervention itself is justified. I don’t believe that it is.

    2. Similar uprisings are taking place in Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. So if we unabashedly support freedom and human rights, why is the US complicit in the crimes carried out by the rulers in those countries?

    3. Although the war justification for Iraq was undoubtedly a ruse, the case is still not made for Libya by this contrast.

    4. Why does a transnational entity like the Arab League get to decide whether or not a foreign group of nations (such as the UN) can intervene in a particular nation’s affairs?

    5. So if the UN/US lands forces, you’ll suddenly oppose the intervention? If so, I’ll hold you to this…

    6. Once again, I concur that lies led to the US invasion of Iraq. But once again the Bahrain, Saudi, and Yemeni governments have committed similar acts of violence against their respective citizens. And the US/UN remains complicit.

    7. This is a distinctive difference, but I reiterate my point in #1. Also, it’s US Tomahawk missiles that have done most of the destruction so far.

    8. Once again, I will grant you this fact. Even though I still find it mostly irrelevant for answering the question as to whether or not the US/UN has a right to intervene in the affairs of a sovereign nation.

    9. Once again, the means are not what must be justified. What must be justified is whether or not the US/UN has the right to intervene.

    10. Call me cynical, but I think the greater danger is a US-backed (or UN-backed) leader (e.g. Mubarak, King Abdullah II) in a “democratized” (i.e.g liberalized) Libya attempting to undermine the truly democratic and revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt. The former Egyptian regime and the S. Arabian regime are two prime examples as to what tends to ensue once these Western nations are able to lay legitimate political and economic claims to the goings-on in oil-rich nations.

    The other main issues that bother me are as follows:

    ~All of the Western nations leading the force against Gaddafi actively promoted, armed, and cut deals with him until just a few weeks ago. In fact, until the uprisings, Gaddafi was considered a de facto ally in the “Global War on Terror”. Same as Mubarak.

    ~This move by the West potentially gives Gaddafi a galvanized regional support network. Suddenly, many may no longer see him as the brutal dictator that he is. He may now become another sort of “false messiah” – a visible champion of anti-Western imperialism in North Africa.

    • @CHRIS – Didnt know that Migs, SA-200s and T72 were manufactured by Americans. Where did you get that?

      • I don’t know about MiGs, but I never said they sold them MiGs.

        I shouldn’t have said “all.” But other countries which are part of the NATO alliance (including the US’s perpetual ally, the UK) sold weapons to Libya according to the following source:

        link to

        The article also discusses how difficult it is to monitor transactions like this, which in itself is troubling…

        • You are wrong again Chris.

          First off, the statistic you quote is ONLY EU sales ! – It does not indlude sales from Russia, South Africa, China etc.

          2nd, the Guardian statistic you quote is only AFTER 2005 and purposefully omits sales from 1969 to 2004 (35 years of sale). An inventory of existing armament including naval and air weapons will most likely show that 95% of arms sale to Ghaddafi has been from the socialist block.

          But no – the clueless “anti-imperialist” left has to doctor the facts and play with out of context statistics to suit their incoherent ideology.

        • The US sells to many weapons around the world, to bad guys, I agree. This is NOT an example of that.

        • @Mazlum // I can’t respond directly to your post below (for whatever reason), so I’ll respond to my own.

          I’m happy to know that you’ve already outed yourself as a red-baiter – an. argument loaded with poison-the-well fallacies and ad hominem attacks. a.k.a. a sign of fear… But fine, I’ll play your game.

          1) The statistics I linked you to CLEARLY STATED that it was EU sales only! It astounds me that you would feel the need to point that out as if it backs up some point you’re trying to make. (Didn’t know you were actually trying to make one, tbh.) Neither the data interpreter nor I ever said that the Soviets didn’t sell Gaddafi weapons. Because guess what? EVERYBODY WHO KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT ANYTHING KNOWS THIS TO BE THE CASE. So good job at stating the obvious!

          2) Once again, the article CLEARLY STATES that it’s AFTER 2005. And ONCE AGAIN, It’s hilarious to me that you would even feel the need to point this out. As if this exposes me as criminally biased or something…

          The fact that the Soviets sold weapons to Gaddafi is immaterial. Better yet, the PERCENTAGE of armaments sold by NATO members to Gaddafi in contrast is also irrelevant. What’s relevant is that these members’ forces have armed him AT ALL, even within a small window of time. And the question is “why?” BECAUSE IT’S EITHER 1) STUPID OR 2) CORRUPT TO SELL WEAPONS TO THE BAD GUYS! Take your pick.

          For even more context, Bush called this psychopath an “ally in the War on Terror” almost a decade ago. For a time, every right-winger in the US forgot about all of Gaddafi’s crimes against humanity. Of course, this alienated the people who suffered at the hands of Gaddafi, as they NEVER forgave him. Now the imperialists see an opportunity to play the hero of those that have suffered in order to extend the West’s power and influence into Libya (and North Africa) – and they’re jumping on it.

          THAT’S what I believe. And I could care less if you don’t buy it. Because maybe it’s not IN YOUR INTERESTS to believe it!

          And the hypocritical superficiality of your last statement would make me laugh if I had any sense of humor (or warmth) at all in my cold, hard hammer&sickled heart.

        • @GMan: I didn’t intend to say that the US sold weapons to Gaddafi. My implication was against the various other NATO forces. And I have since admitted as such.

          But thanks for not being a rabid right-wing automaton like Mazlum and for recognizing the facts: that the US does sell material support to, assists, and apologizes for despicable world leaders and dictators.

    • I see Chris – you want to condemn the west simply because it has not been perfect as per your standards – at the same time turning a blind eye as to where Ghaddafi is receiving the bulk of its arms responsible for the slaughter of 5,000 to 10,000 people. Your ideological interest seems to only be to trash the west – no matter that western assistance was in relation to fighting Islamism – and certainly not to support Ghaddafi’s dictatorship. And oh BTW, the west in return also got him to drop building nuclear weapons & chemical weapons – but no – you rather see a uranium bomb as opposed to help against Islamism – and obviously you dont care about the Russians loading Ghaddafi up to the ears ready for slaughter. The lack of decency and human compassion in your post is specific to the western imperialist conspiracy cults. And yes, that is a justified ad hominem.

      Selling non-repression arms to bad guys who in return don’t build nuclear bombs is not so bad after all.

      Funny how Galloway and Chavez and Kirchner and every post-colonial leftwinger or socialist called Ghaddafi an “anti-imperialist” darling and then you have the gall to criticize folks who want to bring him down as “formerly friendly rightwingers”? Why would rightwingers want to line up with this guy who blows up 747s in the name of anti-imperialism and “death to the west”?

      Your case boils down to Bush at some time considering Ghaddafi as anti-Al Qaeda. That’s all you have. The vacuity of your arguments is for all to see. And the lack of humanity and decency in supporting Ghaddafi – well that is another matter altogether.

      Finally when you equate 5,000 killed in Libya with 60 in Yemen or 15 in Bahrain, (but not 300 in leftwing Syria) – you need to get a sense of proportion.

      • Wow! There are so many baseless assumptions and stretches in your response that I don’t even know how where to begin.

        First of all, I never said I didn’t have a problem with the USSR arming Gaddafi to the teeth. The USSR was just as responsible for the decades of misery that ensued in the world during that period as were the US and Western Europe. It’s HILARIOUS to me that you maintain this bipolar view of the world though, still. That someone is either with the West or they’re advocates of the Soviet system. HILARIOUS. SIMPLEMINDED.

        Second, it’s funny that you bring in Islamism as your intended little trump card. FACT: Selling arms to Gaddafi is as bad as selling arms to (or doing deals with) ANY terrorist (or group of terrorists) that have aims at harming innocent civilians. It’s COUNTLESS the number of lives Gaddafi has ruined. And YES – contrary to your baseless conclusions about my allegiances/ideology/whatever the hell it is you’re trying to prove – I DO have MORE PERFECT STANDARDS as to how snakes like him ought to be treated. Any society/world I’d be proud to be a citizen in surely wouldn’t sell him weapons&etc, even in order to placate him. By the way, what’s that all about? Let the mass murderer off the hook because we’re scared he might bring more nuclear weapons into the world? HAH! Is that really what you believe the reasoning is? Please. The only reason Libya didn’t become Iraq2003 (or at least get mentioned in the “Axis of Evil” speech) circa the same era is because Gaddafi called himself an ally of the West. (And if that’s the case, then I’M no ally of the West.) But yeah, he told the Bush administration what they wanted to hear and they publicly called the mass murderer an ally. Just as they allied themselves with King Abdullah Hassan, Mubarak and others. NOT to supress Islamism. But to suppress democracy. To promote imperialist rule, basically. And you clearly support this. So, tell me now Mazlum, who between the two of us has the more braindead ideology? I think it’s you!

        BTW: Your mention of Kirchner, Chavez, and Galloway as likening Gaddafi to some beacon of anti-imperialism is basically evidence of the last point I made in my original post. Perhaps you’d like to go back and read it? Or was your whole intention just to use the slightly erred weapons statement as a lead in to your own little full-on assault?

        it’s also quite telling that you call these people “socialists” (along with Syria). Makes me also believe you’re the kind of person who calls Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Castro the same. Yet, despite my left-wingedness, these are not my kind of dudes and never will be. You see, I have a weak stomatch for genocide, top-down bureaucracy, blatant attacks on workers and the poor, racism, war-mongering, propaganda, censorship, and in general, power that cannot justify itself. But I can see that you revel in it so long as it’s those who you pledge allegiance to who are doing it.

        Have fun with that. I’m sick of arguing with you as there is nothing to gain here.

  43. Good commentary!

    I’m quite a fan of “alternative media” (e.g. “conspiracy theory”), but I’m quite saddened by the various reactions on the intervention in Libya.
    Everywhere people seem to be convinced that all this must be an imperialist motive to grab the oil of Libya. I strongly disagree (although things could still develop into a regretable scenario).
    Gaddaffi really was making a massacre and had to be stopped. It is important that the “coalition” doesn’t enter Libya with ground-forces… but so far, I think they are doing a good job.


    • The problem is, what would pacifists have had America do once Gadaffi finished off the rebels? They surely would not have supported going back to business as usual with him, right? And we all know how lousy economic embargoes have been. So we would have had to cut off all oil exports, and all food imports, and all contractors needed to repair the country. The price of oil would have gone way up, hurting people all over the world. Gadaffi would have held on to power long enough for many to starve.

      I’m not saying this to condemn pacifists, but to point out the lack of useful options in the international system as it now exists. The human-rights movement is the reason why we now embargo rulers who commit mass murder, but that movement has not given us a humanitarian way to rescue the victimized populations, leaving them in a hellish limbo. We keep saying that we won’t get involved the next time, but then the news video comes in of the refugee trails and the starving children, like in Kosovo, and the first-world public freaks out and demands that something, anything, be done to make the bad images go away, and the leaders comply with counterproductive or inept interventions.

      But of course said publics do not want to pick a fight with Saudi Arabia and end up standing in unemployment lines during another depression, any more than they wanted to attack the USSR over Hungary or attack China during the Cultural Revolution and risk nuclear war. So our leaders are safe. That’s how it is and I have not heard any useful alternatives to these arrangements from any part of the political spectrum.

  44. I think the real reason why people might be so upset is b/c of the similarity between Libya and places like Sudan, in terms of how leaders dealt with “civil unrest” or differences. The same things happen all over the world, many leaders have killed their own it seems as if the U.S. only cares if the “people” are sitting atop huge reserves of oil or other precious natural resources or, if they will be/ are the main benefactors of those resources. It is economical to pick and choose but, it is not right.

    • But Sudan did get strongarmed by the international community into in effect allowing itself to be partitioned. Since it has a right-wing Islamist regime, I haven’t heard any leftists complain about this.

  45. OH my thanks for educating many people with myopic lazy prototypical points of view..

  46. How about the tribal dimension to the Libyan conflict? This is an important element that may(or may not)be as strong an element as the Kurd-Shia-Sunni dimension to the morass of Iraq. As for the US not taking the lead, we are a crucial element… as usual. The arab component has not materialized. In fact, we saw some back-peddling by the arab league with Mr. Moussa as I’m sure you know.

    I agree Libya is not Iraq. But, I seem to recall the happy talk right after Iraq was invaded, but things didn’t turn out great. The UN mission in Libya has just started. There is potential for much to go wrong. War is never a tidy process with a quick endgame. But we could get lucky and force the Libyan nutcase to take a dirt nap or flee to join Mr. Mugabe.

  47. Well said, sir!
    I’ve been somewhat dismayed at the way the media, especially the more leftist elements, have turned against the intervention in Libya in recent days. As an ardent leftist, I’m fully supportive of Western intervention, and I’m glad we seem to be on the side of progress for once. All the comparisons to Iraq have been rather annoying me.

  48. Some pundit mentioned that a significant factor in the decision to help the Libyan rebels was the memory of society’s failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda. I suspect that the Libyan engagement will prove to be fraught with much more danger of unanticipated consequences. Future rule by radical Islamists might be one of them. It seems Professor Cole is somewhat of an expert on the Islamic world, so I hope he will comment on this possible development.

    However, Professor Cole’s analysis is the best that I have read so far.

    I am particularly interested in his observation that once the U.N. authorized the intervention, U.N. members were obligated to participate. There is quite a buzz going on that President Obama violated the War Powers Act when launching military action without Congressional approval. Perhaps Professor Cole offers an adequate explanation why no such violation is involved. Certainly, putting the question to Congress would have resulted in such a delay that the whole action might have been for naught.

  49. A million thanks for publishing this. Many in the Middle East (where I’ve lived and still have many family-in-law and friends) are rightly questioning and strongly condemning the Western nations’ and UNSC’s customary massive selectivity, severe memory lapses and hypocrisy over supporting freedom (or supporting dictators and repressive regimes, including Gadaffi, Saddam, the Sauds etc when expedient, not to mention its uncritical support of Israel) and over imposing no-fly zones, as well as the US, British and other governments’ obvious and again customary attempts to exploit the uprisings for its own advantage. BUT the public support across the region for the anti-government forces and the uprising in Libya, as for other uprisings against brutal dictators in the region, is pretty much absolute.

    Knowing this, I’ve been even more appalled, furious and ashamed to read the contemptuous (and contemptible) vitriol aimed at those Libyans who’ve risen up against Gadaffi from some on the far left in the Western media, not to mention apparently serious suggestions that they have nothing to complain about (Gadaffi is magically a good guy now – as indeed he has been considered by our governments for the past few years) and are CIA stooges and/or even – oh irony – radical Islamists (where did we hear that before?) trying to destabilise the legitimate government there.

    I am on the left myself, so find these attitudes even more shameful and an absolute betrayal of a people fighting and dying for freedom. Thank you again Mr Cole.

  50. 1. OK
    2. How can we really know that the vast majority of the Libyan people were supporting the revolution. Media can be decieving. Did you or anyone take a secret poll. When the vast majority of the people rise up against a dictator the countries army usually does not stand in the way. In Yemen I understand that much of the army is defecting from the government. In Libya at least part of the army also defected.
    That is certainly a sign of widspread support for the rebels.
    But enough of the army remianed loyal that it was able to launch a counter attack. To me that looks like a fair fight. Not the kind of fight ones needs to step in to to break up before both sides have had a chance to get some killing in. You yourself said that once the government forces had to fight in close in terrain they would suffer heavier losses. After that had happened the rebels could have retaken the strategic initiative.
    3. Is related to number two. Ok have Libyan government forces rounded up civilians and exectued them or are we calling the battle field deaths of rebles civilian executions? Both sides in this coflict have a motive to lie.
    5.No chance of mission creep.
    6.Maybe OK (see number 3)
    7.IMO probelly True
    10. Weak, very weak, You were really desperate to come up with a number 10.

  51. 1) Yes, but the attack on Libya has no Congressional backing, unlike the war in Iraq, making it of very questionable constitutionality.

    2) The Iraqi people had attempted to overthrow Saddam multiple times, and they were always brutally put down, essentially showing that, without outside help, they had very little chance.

    3) So there’s a statute of limitations on genocide?

    4) While getting the blessing of a council of dictators to overthrow one of there own is useful in some ways, it should hardly be sin que non for humanitarian regime change.

    5) Ground invasion is what make regime change possible. Let’s see if doing it purely from the air does any more than creating a long-term standoff. I hope this reinvigorates the oppostion so that they can now overthrow Qaddafi. I really do. Let’s see.

    6) As my backing of the Iraq war was based purely on humanitarian grounds, the revelations that there were no chemical weapons, while embarassing and shameful, wasn’t terribly relevant.

    7) I fail to see the relevancy of who drops the bombs. What gets hit and what effect it has on the outcome are what matter.

    8) In other words, the US invasion established majority rule, and some of the Sunni leaders turned to terrorism, to which the Shia eventually replied with terrorism of their own.

    9) Unfortunately it it true that the US paid brides. But this in no way effects the humanitarian argument.

    10) Once again, this just establishes a statute of limitations for starting wars of aggression. And if we want to speculate on possible future threats, what should we draw Saddam asking his nuclear engineers about how long it would take to reestablish the nuclear weapons program if sanctions were removed?

    • Upon further reflection, I take this back. The attack probably doesn’t require congressional authorization.

  52. By the way are we going to involve ourselves in every world conflcit in which civilians are being targeted? Such events are quite frequent. I would think that for such an arguement to be valid that there be a certian barbaric threashold that must be crossed before outsiders step in.
    On the other hand that threash hold would certainly be lower for other African countries than for European countries. In this case the interlopers could say that they are steping in on behalf of the African countries but were not able to do it effectively themselves.
    The Bottom line is though that the only reason the US got involved is because Ghaddafi has been their implicable enemy and now they have the opportunity to get rid of him.

  53. I sincerely hope this will be one more situation where the US finds itself bogged down wasting borrowed money. The more money wasted the closer the empire collapse gets. Read Chalmers Johnson! Watch John Pilger documentary on YouTube: “The War you don’t see”!

  54. Good analysis Prof. Cole. I read some idiot on another web site comparing Libya to Kosovo the other day and I laughed, geography, history and culture all different. But that never stopped bad analogies before.

  55. And I was wrong, as was pointed out to me. The Serbian war was basically an air war. Not very effectively waged, but it still was an air war without NATO boots on the ground.

  56. Just a quicky for those opposing intervention: In what alternative way could the Libyan population that -contrary to the situation in Iraq- showed a massive support for democratision, be saved from being slaugtered. Like the shi-ites were slaughtered in the 1st Gulf war after uprising and not being helped by the west. And remember: military intervention is never without risk, and although the outcome might be unsure, we can be rather sure what the outcome would have been or will be if Ghadaffi is not stoppped. The collective memory of the Libyan people will not forget by whom they were left alone. The fact that the West did not intervene in Darfur or Rwanda shouldnt be a reason to look the other way this time too. If we’re serious about supporting democratisation, let’s do something. And by the way: the countries opposing this intervention all have their own agenda’s for doing so, which agenda’s have very little to do with the interest of the Libyan population. One does not need to be a cynic to see that. It could well be that we end in up in a sort of Kosovo-like scenarion. Well, that would still be a million times better than another decade of Gadaffi rule, wouldn’t it ?

    • It is fair to point out that the people who have spent so many decades in Sudan / Darfur and who with peacekeeping and not quite too military intervention managed to secure functional negotiations with an absolutely dastardly, murderous Sudanese government, would not have been aided by the military intervention they opposed.

      There was of course tons and tons of intervention, much of it welcomed by locals; just not of the particularly military type under discussion here. No niceness, lots of death, and a bunch of people who will someday face some sort of trial and justice.

      Leaving the Libyan case aside, it’s not sensible to assume that any generic horrible humanitarian and oppressive catastrophe could be eased by military intervention. Agree or disagree, in the Sudan quite a lot has been achieved by combinations of lots of strategies and resources other than Western military intervention. No matter how appealing the urging was to make. There’s a Southern Sudan, now, for instance.

      Plenty of cases worldwide currently suggest support for the common generalization that yes, one can make horrible situations worse. It’s not the case that military attack o counter-attack always will make those suffering even worse off — but it certainly can happen. And not every situation, no matter how horrid, fits into that category in which people really are saved, and saved over a long term, by outside military intervention.

    • Release the billions of dollars in frozen Gaddafi assets to the rebels, and sell them arms.
      The USA is not serious about democratization – the list of countries I would have to cite to show this is too long for the comments space.

  57. point #2: The Iraqi people were not able to voice support for airstrikes on Iraq’s regime! One can safely assume a good number of them might have asked for foreign intervention if they had been able to free themselves like the people of Libya did.

  58. Prof. Cole:

    You neglected to add several other ways in which this mission differs from that of OIF.

    1. The Libyan war/peace issue was not presented to Congress. At least Bush went through the motions on Iraq.

    2. Bush/Rumsfeld might have played “footsie” with WMDs, but before Coalition forces stepped off from Kuwait, the mission was clear: regime change. In Libya, the leadership of the Coalition (beginning with Obama) is playing footsie with the objective, which has assumed an almost de jour quality: No Fly Zone to protect civilians? No Fly or Drive Zone? Topple Ghaddaffi? They’re all true, it only depends on whose talking!

    Here’s how Iraq and Libya are similar:

    1. Promises of a “quick war.”
    2. Ennobling an opposition about which we know almost nothing.
    3. Overselling air power.
    4. No realistic post-war plans. Nothing, except denial–no “boots on the ground, is it? Rumsfeld sold us on a “too few boots on the ground” in Iraq and the result was a disaster. The rebels don’t have sufficient forces to confront Gaddaffi, let alone provide stabilization–and as we learned in Iraq, that creates a vacuum that invites insurgency.

    • Actually, certain powerful Americans knew a great deal about the Iraqi opposition, because they had manufactured it from exiles and intended to install it in power. Dick Cheney and the AEI and others were running that operation throughout the ’90s. We underestimated the power of the actual opposition to both Saddam Hussein and our occupation from the Shi’a, and from Sunni tribes in Anbar.

      Everything that happened in Libya was far too fast for the US, which likes to obsess about an enemy for a decade or two before actually doing anything. The neocons have been touting Iranian exiles lately, not Libyans. It looks like Kosovo again, where we got caught flat-footed and looked embarassingly impotent in the face of an ongoing atrocity, so we made up a solution.

  59. “landing troops on the ground, nor does the UNSC authorize it.”

    INCORRECT. What is forbidden is occupation. I hope they do land troops to help Misurata and Ziwaye. (pardon my spelling)
    But let it be French or Brits.

    Take Care!

  60. The US convinced Qaddafi to abandon his quest for nuclear weapons in exchange for putting him on the nice-nice list, and now look what that got him. Big lesson learned here by the next Arab autocrat with similar designs. And don’t forget what Qadaffi did just 2 years after Reagan killed his daughter. This will not end well for the US.

  61. yes i totaly agree with all this points and would like point that Qaddafi is has commited crimes for 42 years not only in libya but all over the world ,by stopping him and bringing him to the international criminal court you are serving a very noble and good cause.

  62. Juan,

    With all due respect, this Top 10 is beneath you, and it fails to make the case for humanitarian intervention: You might at least allude to the sordid history of how we have gone to war before accepting the current administration’s claims at face value. Vietnam is instructive but I don’t have room or time to recite the lies you know so well; nor Central America. But Truman got UNSC resolution (because USSR failed to veto) to go to war in Korea, Ike in Lebanon (to prop up the Maronite minority), LBJ(through fakery of Tonkin incident) in Vietnam, Bush 1 in Kuwait, Clinton in Somalia (to protect civilians, aid workers, Bush 2 in Afghanistan, Iraq — then all got congressional joint resolution under War Powers Act. Note how many of these problems persist, despite the justifications. (Aside from sponsoring coups d’etat and proxy wars all over the map, we have the counter-illustrative cases of the Ike-JFK joint-venture at Bay of Pigs; Reagan’s violation of the Boland Amendment; Bush-1’s dress-rehersal in Panama; Clinton’s willful negligence of Rwanda, then bombing of Serbia over Kosovo — too late for Srebenica, but NATO gets to decide, not UN?) WPA report and resolution– even after the fact in the case of supposed emergency –is a constitutional fig-leaf, but essential because the naked power to make war is too awesome and the consequences too deadly to permit them to be made without some legal restrictions, both national and now international, even in emergency: Constitution grants to Congress alone the power to send its citizens to war, and to tax them to pay for it, while delegating authority to the President to command them pursuant to his oath to protect and defend the US. If the naked power to make war were not so clothed in congressional authorization, the Commander-in-Chief could — and therefore would — make war whenever he chose against whomever he chose for whatever reason or none at all. And the UN Charter prohibits aggressive war and interference in the internal affairs of member states for the same reason. But you knew all that — is it merely the blog that limits your word-count? Please don’t resort to Twitter!

  63. The prof’s use of “resurgent Khaddafi” parallels the neocons and their fellow traveler’s ex post wmd facto (nonfacto) “resurgent Saddam” hypotheticals. No go. Kucinich (and both Pauls) are right.

  64. I think each of your ten points is correct, with the possible exception of the last, but: I’m old enough to have lived through the “end” of the colonial era (b. 1944). The thought of the planet’s colonizers ganging up to attack a former colony makes me very nervous, especially given the oil reserves involved, conveniently placed right there on this side of Suez.
    Motive, means, and opportunity don’t always make a crime, but with recidivist criminals, it’s a definite worry. Time will tell.

  65. Dr. Cole: I consider you an intelligent and trustworthy source, and your 10 points are useful, though I harbor some of the same reservations as previous commentors. I have a question: What is your source for the claim: “this vast majority of the Libyan people that demanded the UN no-fly zone.” Yes, “80-90 percent of the country having gone out of his [Qaddafi’s] hands,” but that’s not the same as 80-90% of Libyans supporting a no-fly zone or further military intervention.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong; I’m just asking for your source(s).

    • Oh dear. When people are reduced to telling you you are intelligent, it normally means you messed up big time!

  66. Other major difference not mentioned: (i) the destruction of Iraq greatly strengthened Iran’s hand and thereby harmed the U.S.’ role in the region, while the imposition of a Libyan no-fly zone does nothing to strengthen U.S. adversaries, and (ii) the Iraq incursion strengthened reactionary forces throughout the Middle East, while the Libyan intervention helps foster democratic movements.

  67. I find the title of the essay itself to be misguided. Is the mission justified or not, regardless of how it holds up to Iraq? Ground forces or not, who cares? If all we could use were ground forces, we would think twice about starting wars. The typical casualty ratio of civilian to soldiers in modern conflict is 9 or 10 to 1. This was a disappointing essay that could well have appeared in a mainstream paper.

  68. The American public will support wars for the wrong reasons, and will oppose them for the wrong reasons also. Gaddafi is the only one to blame for this, the protests started peacefully and all of a sudden Gaddafi forces started using tanks and RPG’s against civilians.Two hundred people died the first day in BenGhazi, then people felt they were killed anyway so they attacked arms depots in the east of Libya to protect themselves and their families( I would do the same thing in this situation). Everyday since Gaddafi is escalating the situation, in denial, he refused to give any concessions. Now, a little more than a month later look at what he brought upon his country.

  69. Juan Cole is right, on all eight points The blog is justly named “Informed Comnent”: that’s what Cole provided: informed comment, plus logic and sound, humane judgement.

    Just what we need when there is so much ill-informed sounding off taking place.

    It is truly ridiculous to say, as some have, that the lawful and careful UN intervention now taking place in Libya is in any way akin to the reckless and immoral things that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld did in Iraq.

  70. Nice list. Makes sense. But none of these facts are going to matter to some narcissists on the Left because it doesn’t fit their narrative of the world. The only facts they will say are relevant are the top three ways that Libya 2011 is like Iraq 2003: US bombing runs, Arab country, and oil (there’s oil in Libya, so therefore there’s gotta be some connection somewhere; after all the US is the number one manufacturer of SUVs; QED). These, they will say, are the only facts you need to explain the situation. These are the only ones they want to be true.

    • Well, IMHO bombing and oil explains one whole bunch more of contemporary history than outrage and diplomancy. Those who believe it is a complete coincidence that Libya (where there is oil) gets bombed when a hundred dictatorships (where there isn’t) don’t, mau need a refresher course in maths 101.

    • This suggests that interventions are still possible, provided, to prove the intervenors’ bona fides, the intervention happens in a non-Arab country without oil that has been visited by Bono…

  71. 11. Fox news is giving plenty of airtime to war critics on the right(Paul and left(Kucinch).
    12. Fox news detailing the cost of each sortie right down to the fuel cost for Libya.

    Long ago are the days of “freedom fries”, “never question a president during wartime”. Fux news viewers if polled are under the impression this weekend in Libya cost more than 10 years each in Iraq and Afghanistan!

  72. Re #7: U. S. Military was “dragged in”? Imagine the Joint Staff looking at a war it didn’t like. Haven’t you noticed that each service had a role? Air Force B52’s to take out radar? From 40,000 feet? 150 cruise missiles and counting at $1m each. Marine helicopters. Navy Planes (and one lost to be a lasting symbol of the American role. A typical intervention involving each service so everybody gets a campaign medal. US Military officers (General Ham?) giving press briefings. Such reluctance! Look, this intervention will now forever be looked upon by Arabs and others who wish us ill, whatever their view of Colonel Qadafi and whatever the result. Diplomacy driven aside by Pentagon arrogance. More persuasive evidence of American hubris as a result of this huge mistake. It didn’t have to be this way. The Europeans have planes and ships and bombs and missiles. We could have insisted on taking a secondary role from the beginning. A huge error. It’s fun watching Obama and the rest of the “National Security Team” trying to back out of this . Good luck to themQ

  73. Fine, Professor Cole. It resembles Iraq ’91 more than Iraq ’03. And we will recall how marvelously that worked out.

  74. I think that President Obama has acted against the Constitution and War Powers Act of 1973 in taking America to war in Libya. I want the Libyan people to be free, but I oppose the illegal and un-Constitution action of President Obama. President Obama chose to order us to war rather than consult with Congress. This is a terrible abuse of Presidential power.

    I am completely opposed to President Obama’s action because Congress was not consulted. I will never support this President again as a result of this illegal action.

  75. link to

    March 22, 2011

    The Mustafa `Abd Al-Jalil council

    “The behavior of the fledgling rebel government in Benghazi so far offers few clues to the rebels’ true nature. Their governing council is composed of secular-minded professionals — lawyers, academics, businesspeople — who talk about democracy, transparency, human rights and the rule of law. But their commitment to those principles is just now being tested as they confront the specter of potential Qaddafi spies in their midst, either with rough tribal justice or a more measured legal process. Like the Qaddafi government, the operation around the rebel council is rife with family ties. And like the chiefs of the Libyan state news media, the rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda, claiming nonexistent battlefield victories, asserting they were still fighting in a key city days after it fell to Qaddafi forces, and making vastly inflated claims of his barbaric behavior.” * I should only add that the `Abd Al-Jalil marginalized the lawyers and professionals and secularists.

    * link to

    — As’ad AbuKhalil

    • US involvement is motivated in part at least by the fact that the French, Brits and Arabs were going to put the resolution forward anyway. The US could have sat on the fence and abstained like the BRIC countries and Germany.

      And what would that have said about the US. The US calls itself the “indispensable nation”, the core raison d’être of its foreign policy over the last 70 years has been to make that a reality.

  76. You know what, I am sick and tired of people who keep floating the oil issue with Libya- even people on the left who are so adamantly against another ‘American war’.

    YES ALRIGHT. America cares about the OIL. The WHOLE WORLD cares about the OIL prices potentially being driven up should Gaddafi unleash even more insanity.

    It’s only NATURAL, for goodness’ sake. Countries surely act in self-interest.

    But that doesn’t in any way DIMINISH the value and necessity of the military intervention. Furthermore, I think it is quite obvious the humanitarian issue was pressing- everybody saw Gaddafi on TV saying he was going to hunt the rebels down door by door.

    What else is that but a threat of a MASSACRE?

    Are we going to sit on our butts and ignore this? Are all oil-producing countries exempt from military intervention by America just because the USA definitely has some ‘ulterior motive’- who LOGISTICALLY speaking, is just about the only country who possesses the resources the coordinate such an operation at such speed?

    You know what, at the end of the day, the LIBYANS have said they WANT intervention. They were begging for it when Gaddafi’s forces surrounded Benghazi. I think that supersedes our opinions by far. So I am sick and tired of those who engage in such sanctimonious brandishing of principles {both on the left and right} with no consideration to those on the ground who are facing death.

    • totally agree. So many people are way too quick to point to OIL as the explanation for US actions.

      But usually it makes no sense at all. A few weeks ago we heard that the main reason the US was not doing the NFL was because of OIL. And now we hear that OIL is also the reason why the US does join the NFZ.

      But none of it adds up. The simplest OIL calculation for a US President is that you want there to be as much supply as possible so that the price of a gallon of gas goes down. This makes Americans feel happy and rich and they vote for you in elections.

      Would have been simple to accomplish: just do nothing and by now the rebels would have been massacred and Qaddafi would be back in charge of the whole country. And pumping oil as fast as he can.

      NFZ and the sanctions on Libya have accomplished the opposite by cutting off oil supply by Libya.

      So let’s be straight about OIL: it does not explain US actions. On the contrary, current US action is in spite of Libya’s OIL wealth.

    • @Laila I LOL when you say
      :”I think it is quite obvious the humanitarian issue was pressing- everybody saw Gaddafi on TV saying he was going to hunt the rebels down door by door.

      What else is that but a threat of a MASSACRE?”

      Now think about Palestine /Israel issue. Not only sitting on your BUTT but also fueling the situation by selling weapons and supporting Israel that too for 63 years!!!!!

  77. I only ask what you were doing in 2003. Why even make comparisons. Obviously they are different. I spent more than 2 years in Iraq. I saw what it’s leader did to those people.

  78. I’m disappointed with frequency with which I hear the Libyan situation described as a civil war both in the press and among those who oppose the imposition of the no-fly-zone. I’ve seen only one blog post on this: link to If there is other elucidating commentary on the difference between a civil war and what’s happening in Libya, please tell us where to find that! If not, please post such a comment! It needs to be available for discussion.

  79. A superb column, Professor.
    I shall post it on Facebook and recommend it to everyone (a surprising number of intelligent friends) who can’t seem to tell the difference between Bush-Saddam and Obama-Qaddafi.

    I was opposed to BOTH wars in Iraq, and I marched to try to stop the second one. But I’m in favor of this interference.

    • Intervention was morally and legally correct however the danger remains that if the Arab league (the african Union were against intervention by the way)get cold feet then we should withdraw as it is a arab problem

  80. One of the top ten ways that Libya is not Iraq, is that the United States is now engaged in two wars in the middle east, and Americans are deeply concerned about the loss of life and expense incurred in endless wars, endless lies, endless tribal conflicts, that incurred great cost on them, and for what result?
    The American people have reason now, to have attention turned inward to restore some vision and direction to their own country, as they continue to shed the blood of their own young soldiers and money that desperately needs to be redirected for the well-being of hardworking americans, who also deserve a break now, and have given of themselves, to foreign causes for decades, with boots on the ground, for many conflicts that they did not understand, and should not have fought for.
    American people are greatly sympathetic, and we have given a lot, even while being deceived by our own government and leaders.
    But we are struggling now, and weary also. and are still being engaged in TWO wars now, there is not going to be the stomach for another war, with more loss of our young and money that we now need at home.
    We cannot save the world.
    This is true for individuals, as well as countries.
    and Americans have already given much blood and money to help others, despite whatever the principles, motives or deceptions they have been persuaded by.
    there is only so much that can be asked of Americans. We have also made great sacrifices, and our attention needs to be turned inward, while we still are sending our young to fight each day in the middle east.
    Please consider this when you compose your top ten list.

  81. “The United States did not take the lead role in urging a no-fly zone, and was dragged into this action by its Arab and European allies”

    This is SIMPLY NOT TRUE:

    link to

    (scroll down for Phyllis Bennis’ remarks)

  82. I agree completely with what is written. Libya is nothing like Iraq. There were and still civilians being killed every day by this dictator and his gang.
    The coalition attacks saved lives, particularly the First one. The city of Bengazi was about to wittness a mascara on Gadaffi’s criminal forces.
    Viva Libya and to all freedom movements every where.
    Many thanks to Professor Juan Cole, he hit the nail on the head indeed.

  83. Informed? Hardly.

    Now there is no way in hell you could analyze this situation and not take into account the 20 Billion dollar Oil contract BP signed with Libya (exchange of the lockerbie bomber as a sweetener). Not only is the deal important, THEY JUST STARTED DRILLING when this broke out.

    Now if you would like to compare Iraq with Libya, don’t forget to include the fact that we “liberated” Iraq for? BP Oil! Yup they got the Oil contracts and China National Petroleum their best boy second tier. It doesn’t take a lot of scholarly work to discover the connection with the Trans Afghan Pipeline deal and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq .

    Back to Libya, here’s my take:

    I think there is a question of how this started, I believe it was started by a pro Arab rebel force that was backed by Muslim brotherhood, it took us by surprise and we were alarmed because it was hostile to us also. Yet it was a genuine self-determination uprising, it’s going on in Yemen and difficult to tell who’s who.

    Now in Libya the interests were clear, BP had just signed a deal with Gadaffi for 20 Billion and in fact they are just beginning to drill in the Gulf of Sidra, main port being Benghazi, there are also critical offshore oil gulf ports like Ras Lanuf that were bombed and protected right away too.

    So my take is, we (meaning us and England/BP) were fine with Gadaffi, made a deal to free the Lockerbie Bomber for the Oil 20 billion deal, then a genuine uprising, shock to us, we stumbled all over the place and finally decided if we had to throw Gadaffi under the “bus” we would (and the 20 Billion dollar deal), but we also got rid of the original rebels, in there place was put “the transitional group” described as prominent businessmen. Now it’s about oil, and the world knows it, knows exactly what we did.

    And just like very other calamity we got ourselves into, the world knew and we were the last to now.

  84. If we were to act, it should have been two weeks ago. By interjecting way late, the unintended consequences may just bite us in the ass and lead to even more bloodshed….We didn’t have a dog in this fight. Nothing good can come of this. (Retired Navy Captain)

  85. Just take the first “difference” stated on this article. It shows how liberals think. For them an approval of the UN is more important than the approval of the USA Congress. I thought the USA is sovereign country who has the right of self-determination and should not “obey” the mandates of the UN, since those mandates are quite distorted by the hundred of leftwing nations that belong to it.

  86. Sorry to be coming to this late — life moves so fast sometimes.

    This historical analogy seems wrong. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the setting up of a Libyan no fly zone seem to have nothing in common. Indeed, that seems exactly the thrust of your post, that they have nothing common.

    But FWIW there seems an obvious parallel case that has a lot in common, namely the original setting up of an Iraqi no fly zone in April 1991 to protect the Kurds from the counterattack by Saddam Hussein.

    In both cases, there was an uprising against a ruler that was perceived to be ready to topple over. In both cases, the counterattack from the regime was savage. In both cases, the US, France and the UK at first didn’t want to intervene but were essentially embarassed into it as not intervening made them look steadily worse and worse. In both cases, France took the lead (Bernard Kouchner — remember him?), then the UK, with the US bringing up the rear. And in both cases, the initial aims were very limited. In fact they were in fact much more limited in the case of the Kurds. There, the rhetoric was phrased in terms of refugees, not revolutionaries, and the goal was simply to stop the regime from slaughtering them using airpower.

    The result? The no-fly zone was never removed. It remained in place for the next dozen years. The country was de facto partitioned, a partition that even survived a three year civil war between Kurdish factions. So long as there was no regime change, the zone couldn’t be lifted. And yet the zone couldn’t produce regime change. The result was a growing tension with seemingly no possible satisfactory resolution.

    I’m not saying the same will happen here. Clearly there are hopes in this case that the support provided by a no-fly zone will be sufficient to provide to the space to allow a largely non-military “people power” revolution to overthrow the regime — hopes that no one had in 1991.

    But if you want a parallel, that seems clearly to be the one to look to. And I think it throws into serious doubt the idea that this is a no risk proposition.

    If this works out well, it will be unique in history.
    Here’s hoping that indeed turns out to be the case.

  87. Forgot to add one minor but key parallel: the original 1991 no fly zone was of course also set up by a UN Security Counsel resolution, and also had the US, UK and France voting for and China and Russia abstaining.

  88. Great points. None of them can excuse Obama’s hypocrisy, nor his willingness to let the UN dictate how sovereign nations behave.

  89. Libya 2011 may not be Iraq 2003 so much as it is Iran 1953.

    In 1953, Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, was overthrown in a CIA-led coup after he had nationalized the British-controlled oil industry in Iran.

    In early 2009, Gaddafi told students at Georgetown University via satellite that oil prices were “unbearable” and that Libyan oil “maybe should be owned by national companies or the public sector at this point, in order to control the oil prices, the oil production or maybe to stop it.”

    (link to

    First Gaddafi threatened to nationalize, which gave the incentive to remove him. Then he threatened to massacre, which gave the justification.


    • @Santo – Get your facts straight. You are wrong on both counts.

      1- Libyan oil was nationalized decades ago.

      2- Mossadegh was overthrown by Iranians as he was extremely unpopular bringing Stalinists into the army and government. CIA spent only $300K on a failed coup. The actual coup happened days later.

      3- Even under the Shah, the Iranian oil was nationalized. The objection was not to nationalization.

      • Here are some facts:

        Since 2009, Muammar Gaddafi has looked ready to launch a new round of energy-sector nationalism. ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Occidental, Hess, Shell, and BP all made $billions of new investments in Libya since Qaddafi renounced his nuclear weapons program. Libyan newspapers were actively discussing nationalization, ie, diluting western companies’ stakes in these new concessions, a la his buddy Hugo Chavez.
        link to

        As to 1953 Iran coup, according to CIA documents:

        Britain, fearful of Iran’s plans to nationalize its oil industry, came up with the idea for the coup in 1952 and pressed the United States to mount a joint operation to remove the prime minister.

        The C.I.A. and S.I.S., the British intelligence service, handpicked Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi to succeed Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and covertly funneled $5 million to General Zahedi’s regime two days after the coup prevailed.

        Iranians working for the C.I.A. and posing as Communists harassed religious leaders and staged the bombing of one cleric’s home in a campaign to turn the country’s Islamic religious community against Mossadegh’s government.

        link to

    • As Mazlum correctly states above, the Libyan oil industry was nationalized decades ago, which means the former privately owned Libyan oil companies were expropriated by the government, and 100% of their oil royalties now flow to the government.

      Foreign oil companies are a different matter. Foreign companies bid on concessions, eg, geographic areas within which they are granted rights for a certain length of time to explore, to develop at enormous cost the necessary infrastructure, to produce oil, and to sell it at a negotiated royalty rate that must be economically feasible to compensate for the huge investment costs and risks involved.

      The nationalization I speak of – what Mossadegh planned to do, what Hugo Chavez has already done, and what I believe the US, UK and others feared Qaddafi might do – can be anything from reducing foreign companies’ royalty rates to the point at which operating concessions is unprofitable, to wholesale expropriation.

  90. If Western intervention was meant to reinforce people’s power in Libya, how come Hillary Clinton is flying into London to discuss with other Westerners the future government of Libya? The key element necessary for the peoples who have suffered so long under dictatorships supported by the West is the spread of revolutionary determination. That is why Syria is so important this week;

    I don’t know if they are reading this blog, but those people who have been saying for many years that popular revolutions are impossible these days might have the decency to keep their mouths shut say for a decade and smell the coffee.

  91. John Mullen wrote:

    “If Western intervention was meant to reinforce people’s power in Libya, how come Hillary Clinton is flying into London to discuss with other Westerners the future government of Libya?”

    That’s a very good question, John. I have no idea what the answer is.

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