Questions for Glenn Greenwald on Libya and the end of NATO

I have a set of questions for Glenn Greenwald. I ask them in the spirit of open and reasoned dialogue and am genuinely interested in his response. He is a hero of mine for his stances against torture and against government surveillance, and because he himself was suggested by security firms to the Bank of America as a surveillance target. We agree on almost everything except the Libyan intervention. So what? Even inside a family not everyone agrees on politics.

One week ago, the 28 nations of NATO agreed to take charge of the UN-authorized humanitarian intervention in Libya.

So my question is, does that decision not lay a moral obligation on the US to lend support to the effort of its allies? British, French, Canadian, Danish, and Norwegian fighter jets flying over Libya are coming under anti-aircraft fire from the minions of Col. Qaddafi. The United States had the most robust ability to take those anti-aircraft batteries out, which it largely did. Should the United States have said, well, too bad, we are not getting involved over there? Had Washington responded in that way, and had NATO allies lost jets to Qaddafi’s rockets, would not the allies have had a legitimate grounds for absolute fury?

Although NATO operations in Libya may not be an Article 5 matter, when NATO undertakes a major military mission it would be deadly to the alliance for the United States to sit it out. [It came to me later that Qaddafi has threatened to bomb European passenger jets, which may be an Article 5 issue.] (The NATO charter or Treaty of Washington (4 April 1949) contains an Article 5 which states that an attack on one is an attack on all, but limits those attacks to North America and Europe, though it also speaks of maintaining security in the ‘North Atlantic region’.)

I’d like to remind everyone that NATO did invoke article 5 with regard to the September 11 attacks, which led to a substantial NATO presence in Afghanistan in support of the US war on al-Qaeda and its Taliban backers. Coalition deaths in that struggle include 362 British troops, 155 Canadian troops, 55 French troops, and 40 Danish ones.

While these death tolls are smaller than the American ones, they are very large for the countries concerned, especially since their publics (with the exception of the UK) almost universally desperately did not want to be in Afghanistan. If, having made this supreme sacrifice so many times for the sake of their NATO alliance with the United States, these countries now met with a yawn from Washington and a disinterested wave saying ‘so long folks, you are on your own’ — surely it would mean the end of NATO and would likely send America’s stock in Europe into the toilet.

So my question is whether, given that NATO allies such as Britain and France were so insistent on meeting their UN obligations with regard to Libya and on bringing NATO allies into the effort, would it have been worth breaking up NATO and destroying America’s longstanding alliances in order to stay completely out of Libya? Note that even Turkey, which initially opposed NATO involvement, in the end acquiesced in it and even offered to patrol Libyan ports as part of its obligations to the organization.

It seems to me that there is certainly no question that NATO’s intervention in Libya is authorized by UN Security Council resolution 1973. If not, the Security Council, which has been petitioned by Libya several times, can say so. It is the arbiter of whether its resolution is being implemented.

It should also be remembered that under resolutions 1970 and 1973 the Libyan regime of Muammar Qaddafi is an outlaw regime.

The resolution

“Demands the immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians…”

In contrast, Qaddafi’s forces are actively shelling civilians and civilian facilities in Misrata, the country’s third largest city, as well as elsewhere in Zintan and elsewhere. Qaddafi has not complied with the UNSC demand for a cease-fire and end to all attacks against civilians. Note that the transitional government in Benghazi has in contrast offered Qaddafi a ceasefire if he will cease attacking his people.

Likewise, resolution 1973

‘ Demands that the Libyan authorities comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law and take all measures to protect civilians and meet their basic needs, and to ensure the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance; ‘

Qaddafi actually cut off water to Misrata. He isn’t complying with his human rights and humanitarian obligations.

So the NATO effort in Libya is what the UNSC called for. Given the legality and legitimacy of NATO actions, does not the US have a moral responsibility to support our allies, especially given what they have been doing for us?

72 Responses

  1. My answer would be that the United States is not obligated to follow its allies just because. And the allies should follow the United States just because either.

    Each operation should be viewed individually and periodically reviewed.

  2. It is easy to see how often the United States jumps into something and then, whatever the consequences, vows to stay the course. Professor Cole has put himself in such a position, and will spend a great deal of time justifying why he has let himself be co-opted in a “war creep” situation, which will happen. Like the Iraq fiasco, which has lasted since 1990, and Afghanistan, which started in the late 70’s, we can’t or don’t want to let go. To justify our action on the basis of our commitment to NATO, which is an organization in search of a mission, is poor justification, indeed. Glen would be wise simply to leave your comments alone because, frankly, it would be cherry picking. So Professor, look for the exit.
    It’s a no win situation. Your commentary is very valuable to America and the world, most of the time. The Friends Committee has a slogan “war is not the answer”. Pooh poohed by the in crowd, thoughtful people are intimidated not to take what they think will be viewed as a simplistic solution and point to “history”. An honest intellectual exercise will show a plausible case that war was not the answer in too many cases, and we went to war anyway. In every case, the cost in human lives and suffering was far greater because we went to war than if we had not.

  3. ”there is certainly no question that NATO’s intervention in Libya is authorized by UN Security Council resolution 1973”

    Really? UN resolution calls for a “ban on flights” and to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”. Just that.

    Thus, according to the UN you can shot down flying aircraft and you can attack troops directly attacking populated areas, i.e., Governement troops attacking Misrata or Rebel troops attacking Brega, but I do not think that the attacks against defending governement units are in accordance with UN resolution, or the attacks against governement convoys moving between governement-held cities, or giving air cover to rebel troops “attacking populated areas” defended by governement troops and pro-governement civilians.

    This is a civil war with civilian support for both sides. One side is headed by an excentric dictator. The other one is headed by a former CIA operative living in Virginia and a guy who 5 weeks ago was the head of Qaddafi’s repressive system (Interior Ministry). What a ‘revolution’!

  4. NATO should have been dissolved long ago. Its rationale was to deter or resist a Soviet attack on Western Europe. That’s no longer an issue.

    After promising Russia we wouldn’t, we expanded NATO to the Russian border. We should remove our troops from Europe. They are not needed either to prevent a new German expansion or to deter the Soviets. Then we should dissolve this obsolete bureaucracy.

    It would reduce the temptation to intervene where we have no vital interests.

  5. These on-line dialogues often remind me of pro wrestling matches. Entertaining if you don’t take them too seriously. I’m guessing this round ends with Professor Cole — the title holder — trying a flying head-butt and crashing into the ringpost when Mr. Greenwald steps aside. First fall to Greenwald who only needs to notice that, if what NATO — or any other organization — is doing is immoral, the US has no unqualified obligation to support it. As for going along to get along, one might argue that those who act out of conviction are more moral than those who act out of expediency. Following one’s conscience is probably never a bad idea. I wouldn’t count on Greenwald throwing round two, by the way.

  6. Dear Professor Cole

    With the publication of the Saudi US machinations against Syria, and Lebanon, and presumably Iran, the libyan intervention looks like a diversion to tie up forces that might maintain a ceasefire and no fly zone in these areas.

    link to

    If I were in Beruit or the Bekaa valley I would be checking my SAM batteries

    One hopes that the Russians can supply suffient balancing power to the region in time, before the whole situation spins out of control.

  7. Hi Prof. Cole,

    I don’t think it’s a question of obligations to international law/treatises, especially when those are only selectively followed. Gaddafi has been a brutal dictator for over two decades, he did not turn into one overnight. The sudden moral arguments in favor of intervention seem opportunistic and crass, especially when the PanAm flight is brought up. Your analysis overlooks the broader picture: the allies do not want an antiwestern force to replace Gaddafi, the NATO and UN arguments are a pretext to prevent such a succession from happening. There are several Gaddafi’s all over Africa and in Southeast Asia, yet no one speaks of intervention to prevent the atrocities happening daily in those regions. Your international law argument here raises questions on this sudden commitment on the part of the Allies to NATO and international law treatises when those same treatises have been flouted when it comes to settlements in Palestine, war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, perhaps even the very invasion of Iraq, and US covert operations in Pakistan, among others.

  8. To say that the US has a moral obligation to lend support to the effort of its allies is clever, but won’t win you any arguments. The answer is: not when its allies have undertaken an immoral or illegal invasion of a sovereign country without being under threat. My mother used to say: If everyone jumped off a bridge would you follow? Well, the Europeans wanted to jump off the bridge (they get more oil from Libya then we do), but that doesn’t mean the US should follow. We weren’t under attack. The Europeans weren’t under attack. No threat–no basis for war. Selectively intervening in the civil wars of sovereign countries is a dangerous precedent, especially when we see how US presidents are using every legal trick in the book to circumvent Congress and accrue more powers to their office. If there were a true basis for war, Congress should have called it.

    • The intervention is neither illegal nor immoral in international law but rather responds to a United Nations Security Council resolution. Given that NATO members are signatories to the UN Charter, it could be argued that they have obligations under Chapter 7 to enforce such a resolution. You may not like the post-WW II order, and it does not always work as its founders intended, but it is the only framework for something other than international anarchy that we have got.

      • “You may not like the post-WW II order, and it does not always work as its founders intended, but it is the only framework for something other than international anarchy that we have got.”

        Uh, what? Are you trying to say that if it weren’t for a US-dominated UN and NATO that there would be “international anarchy”???

        Me thinks that the imperial framework has infiltrated your ideas Mr. Cole.

    • Donna: The current legal world order is cearly formulated in the UN charter (revised 2005). Accordingly the action according to UNSCR 1973 (protect civilians & civilians are threatened by Gaddafi => remove Gaddafi) is legal and imperative to every member of the UN (including Libya). Things can be resolved by delivering G & family to the World Court in the Hague in Holland and stopping to violate civil rights (e.g. gang raping women with opposing views).

      Its a police action in Libya serving to guarantee the rule of law. Meanwhile I am pretty shocked that the rule of law apparently is not a basic value in the US!

  9. Juan —

    I have read your blog for years and respect your opinions, well-formulated that they are, and the vast knowledge reservoir that they are built on.

    However — I think the most important sentence fragment in your column is this one: “since their publics . . . almost universally desperately did not want to be in” . . . pick a country: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    It’s difficult to look at Libya as a separate data point, when we have been lied into Iraq (still there), stumbled into a permanent quagmire in Afghanistan (still there), and now Libya. Quite frankly, even though I voted for Obama, I don’t believe him on the war front anymore. And then there’s Guantanamo and individual rights in this country, which he has not restored.

    We are being hammered at home — jobs are scarce, the housing market is underwater, the Repugs are taking advantage of the situation by further skewing the economy in favor the of the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class . . . . and I don’t have to regurgitate all the problems we have at home.

    What happened to “government for the people and by the people”?

    The politicians seem, collectively, to be in the pockets of the corporations, and these wars are draining the national treasury while we are losing our technological, innovative and educational edge.

    Finally, there are wars and injustices all over the world — most of which we don’t hear about unless they are sensational enough to make the network news orgs some money. If you look at history, war on this planet seems to be the norm, not the exception. But, here in the 21st century, why must we perpetuate it?

    As for the UN imperative, that’s not all that solid a ground to built an argument on, given the dismissive attitude we have with the UN whenever we don’t agree with it.

    • DAN: Why dont you start being a little more critical to the old and illegal US unilateralism that has led you into Iraq (stupid mistake from the very outset), Afghanistan (too long stay for nation building). Now US acts (too weakly) in a legal and multilateral way and you confuse that with the earlier mistakes. Too bad that americans do know so little about other countries and histories.

      • PAUL:

        I see Juan has let you leave your skid marks all over these comments. Are you sure you’re European? And from Germany?

        Then maybe you ought to sit on your hands for another 60 years.

        As an “american” I’ve lived in Europe (germany to be specific), UK, Canada and US.

        Most Europeans I’ve met appear to be more thoughtful than you, and can easily differentiate one “american” from another. Not all of us know “so little about countries and histories.” I bet most “americans” know a few basic facts about your country’s activities during the 1940s.

        If you actually read my post, you’d see that I was critical of Iraq and Afghanistan (although not as critical as Iraq).

        As for the US now acting “too weakly” in Libya, perhaps the Europeans could pick the slack for once.

  10. Article 5 is Article 5;
    Its objective conditions do not exist and therefore its application should be avoided.
    Clearly the US is returning the favor it arm twisted out the EU NATO partners vis a vis Afghanistan; continuing the cycle of misplaced loyalties is simply a never ending foolish cycle of self referencing justification for highly questionable policies leading to ever expanding and unresolved quagmire’s.

    • And then of course if we are so concerned with the humanitarian situation why not the half-dozen other of anti-humanitarian travesties going on around the ME arena.
      As always the glaring inconsistencies conclusively demonstrate that our real goals lie elsewhere. Even your insistent claims on behalf of the Libyan rebels seems singular.

  11. I’m appreciative of this dialogue between Professor Cole and Glenn Greenwald, both men for whom I have tremendous admiration and whose blogs I read regularly. That being said, I really have a lot of problems with the argument that Professor Cole lays out here:

    “One week ago, the 28 nations of NATO agreed to take charge of the UN-authorized humanitarian intervention in Libya. So my question is, does that decision not lay a moral obligation on the US to lend support to the effort of its allies?”

    If our allies choose to go to war, regardless of the pretext, regardless of whether or not the justifications are reasonable, regardless of whether or not the U.S. can even afford to do so, and regardless of myriad other qualifications and concerns, we necessarily have not just a responsibility but a “moral obligation” to intervene militarily? I understand that the point of NATO is to ensure for the mutual defense of its member states, but it isn’t as though the forces of the aforementioned states are being attacked without provocation–quite the opposite. Quite frankly, I think the argument that the United States (or any country for that matter) should allow itself to be dragged into military conflicts because its allies have decided to march off to war is absurd. Professor Cole also writes that

    “British, French, Canadian, Danish, and Norwegian fighter jets flying over Libya are coming under anti-aircraft fire from the minions of Col. Qaddafi. The United States had the most robust ability to take those anti-aircraft batteries out, which it largely did. Should the United States have said, well, too bad, we are not getting involved over there?”

    If those countries so eager to drop bombs on Libya desire American military assisstance, do not they have a responsibility–or, more aptly, a moral obligation–to persuade and seek assurances from American policy makers prior to intervention?

    • Nobody here in Europe is eager to drop bombs on Libya, but rather cannot avoid to support the democratic uprising at the mediterranean coast.

  12. The Security Council resolutions and NATO positions were actively lobbied for by the United States.

    It was never the case that the United States waited for UN Security Council resolutions or NATO decisions and after they had been imposed on the US, the US was left with no choice but to act.

    So Greenwald’s question, of course, is should the US have lobbied for and gotten these UN resolutions and NATO decisions and then followed this lobbying by militarily intervening in Libya.

    The best answer to Greenwald’s actual question, I believe, is no. Non-violent demonstrations have been put down by force before, including by Gadaffi and there is no reason to think this column of tanks approaching Bengazi will cause more deaths than previous Libyan columns of than a column of tanks approaching Bahrain or a column of tanks approaching Tiananmen square. The idea that tens of thousands of deaths were prevented is just preposterous. There is no support for that anywhere.

    US intervention probably accelerated a civil war and therefore caused more loss of life than alternative options available to the US would have. On that basis alone, the US should not have orchestrated it.

    Beyond that, it imposed costs on the US, set a bad precedent, accentuated US hypocrisy in the region and after the chaos of civil war most likely will not produce a more representative Libyan government than Gadaffi could have reached by negotiation at the beginning of the conflict.

    • But Arnold,

      Hasn’t the number of deaths caused in Libya been very high from the beginning, compared to Bahrain, or say, Egypt?

      From the day the protests started, the numbers rapidly went into the hundreds.

      I’m thinking, if the Eqyptian military under Mubarak opened fire on protesters at Tahrir Square, killing hundreds, would all of be opposed to International (Western) intervention? Would you be applying the same argument?

  13. The reason that someone like Glenn Greenwald is against the Libyan intervention is because the USA/NATO uses a UN mandate as an excuse to go beyond it – not only stopping Qaddafi’s forces but actively aiding the rebels and serving as their air force. Rather than separate both sides the USA actively supports one side over the other. Like the regrettable example of Kosovo the USA/NATO helped the KLA who then went on an ethnic cleansing rampage of their own against Serbians and because the USA/NATO backed the KLA (and needed them to run the place for the post combat occupation to go smoothly)they West was constrained and looked the other way. What will happen when the Libyan rebels take Tripoli and carry out atrocities? Will NATO bomb them? Or claim its a regrettable but understandable act of a long repressed people yearning to breathe free taking revenge?

  14. I would have preferred that the no-fly zone be enforced by the Arab League, rather than by NATO. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan all have air forces.

    If the Arab League had requested US help in eliminating anti-aircraft installations, we could have responded in that limited scope.

  15. The NATO resolution, the UN resolution and the Arab League vote were all promoted and manipulated by the US, France and Britain. NATO members Germany and Turkey gave significant resistance; eight members of the Security Council abstained; and only 11 members of the Arab League were present and voting. None of these institutions would have passed resolutions for intervention without US pressure, so the best you can say is that we got permission from a very reluctant NATO, the UN and the Arab League to do something we were determined to do for our own interests.

    It is completely disingenuous now to make the argument that we have an obligation to support our allies in an effort that they (except for France) would never have undertaken unless we had bullied them into it. This is all on us, our decision to start and stop. And events are proving that unless we get out RIGHT NOW we are going to be policing a stalemate for years as we did in Iraqi Kurdistan. You may think that it is worth the sacrifice in life and treasure, but I don’t think it is worth a single penny, and certainly not a single life.

  16. This article is remarkably disingenuous: NATO is dominated by the United States. The notion that the other members are, or ever have been, equal partners is simply unsustainable.
    The fact of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan, despite, as you note, public opinion throughout the alliance, is only a graphic illustration of the overwhelmning weight of the US in the organisation.

    As to:
    “So my question is whether, given that NATO allies such as Britain and France were so insistent on meeting their UN obligations with regard to Libya and on bringing NATO allies into the effort, would it have been worth breaking up NATO and destroying America’s longstanding alliances in order to stay completely out of Libya? Note that even Turkey, which initially opposed NATO involvement, in the end acquiesced in it and even offered to patrol Libyan ports as part of its obligations to the organization.

    Two points
    1/ Turkey refused to be elbowed aside and deprived of influence over these operations. It is notable that Sarkozy, (who vies with Rumsfeld and Bush for the title of most arrogant and obnoxious personage), did not invite the Turks to discuss the form that NATO’s operations would take. Turkey will not stand for this. Nor will it stand by while islamophobic ‘allies’ massacre Libyans, as they pretend to save them, to win applause from domestic extremists.

    2/NATO has no obligations to intervene in Libya, Sarkozy and Cameron were pursuing agendas of their own (agendas which include ingratiating themselves with the Big Boss in Washington.)

    It is noteworthy that Bahrein opposition sources are reporting hundreds of disappearances and a full scale military occupation of the island, including
    house by house searches of dissidents. In point of fact the ‘nightmares’ predicted for Benghazi are taking place in Bahrein.
    With this difference: the Bahreini protestors, democratic and anti-sectarian, were unarmed. They made the fatal error of putting their trust in the integrity and decency of, largely western, public opinion. They will know better in future. In the meantime they can study the history of US relations with Latin American democrats.

    • Ever heard of the Sunni-Shia conflict? Ever thought why the Iraq war was a mistake from the very outset?

  17. Is UN security council resolution 1973 protecting civilians? How is NATO going to enforce this protection in a climate of genocide? When “Whoever wants to prevent crimes against humanity with the use of force…is always in danger of helping one side in the neutralization or extermination of the other side. link to

      • > What’s wrong with neutralizing Gaddafi? What was wrong with defeating the Nazis?

        Once your argument reduces to “What was wrong with defeating the Nazis?” you should probably stop making your argument. It isn’t worth listening to.

  18. Also from the UN security council resolution 1973 (2011) on Libya:
    “…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory,…”

    How does an exclusion of “foreign occupation force(s)” keep out JSOC & other ‘foreign non-occupation forces’ (or are they ‘foreign occupation non-forces’), & why should the locals bother to split such hairs while cursing the US.

  19. I’m a fan of both Juan and Glenn. My first comment here- looking forward to Glenn’s response. My thoughts:

    1. The British and French fighter jets would not have started flying missions without already knowing the US was backing them up, so the question of what the US was supposed to do after that is moot.

    2. Article 5 of NATO does not apply because no NATO ally was attacked by Libya. The conflict is a civil war. The logic that the US owed militarily involvement to it’s NATO allies because they have joined the fight in Afghanistan is simply flawed and not justified by the terms of Art. 5. Further, the idea that sticking strictly to the terms of Art. 5 would be tantamount to “breaking up” and “destroying” the NATO alliance is not logically supported.

    3. It’s peculiar that the Libyan refugee situation WRT Europe is not mentioned in this article. Libya’s civil war creates a problem for Europe. But this problem does not rise to the level of one of the US’ NATO allies being attacked.

    4. I think it’s extremely ironic to say it would be “deadly” for the US military to NOT get involved. Peace through bombs? Really? That’s a contradiction I find hard to swallow.

    5. I still hope I’m wrong, and this does not turn into a quagmire for the US. But at this point it looks like the choice is stalemate or escalate, and I don’t get a good feeling about it.

  20. If “never again” is to have any real meaning then there has to be some point where the international community is willing to act-Iraq was not such a case-but if Libya does not qualify then what case ever will?

    • In the “Never Again” category, I would say Ivory Coast vis a vis Rwanda has more credibility than the Libyan civil war. I do not, however, expect any action in Ivory Coast since they have no significant oil reserves.

      NB: I haven’t seen any cogent backup or even defensive dialog supporting Prof. Cole’s position here. Much as I have respected depended on and been grateful for Prof Cole’s analyses and reporting for the last ten years I would say he has this one wrong.

  21. Dear Juan,
    come on! Nato is out since September 11th. Military allicances have always to do with geographical borders and if they do NOT so, they’re quiete always a cause for war. Thus and therefore, the support for a not even existing rebellion in some parts of Libya is PER DEFINITIONEM a case for a breakdown. I was astonished that you DID NOT even mention the KEY ROLE of Germany in Europe. We are not willing to pay any more bills for imperial wars AT ALL. Gaddafi was always ok for us as for anyone outside this country. RESPECT is demanded, RESPECT. A true revolutionary has to look throug the glasse of truth. I don NOT agree with your line in Libya AT ALL.
    Manfred Hulverscheidt, Berlin, the video-artist

    • Dear Manfred,
      “Gaddafi was always ok for us as for anyone outside this country” you write – and forgot the bomb in the disco “La belle”, the Lockerbie bomb, etc. It is a shame that Guido&Angela abstained in the UNSC. Look at Misrata today and the hundreds of wounded citizens on the ferry to turkey and then stop talking about “imperial wars” when you are looking at a popular and democratic uprise (a socalled revolution). I know “revolutions” have come out of fashion. Also from Germany.

  22. Nato should have been dismantled after the end of the Cold War. It’s mainly an adjunct of American Empire anyway.

  23. Isn’t it relevant which countries supplied Qaddafi with his anti-aircraft artillery? European countries, with Italy in the lead. Why shouldn’t they be the ones to take the risks in knocking them out?

      • But not much to Libya Janine, just some air transport – 8 Chinooks, 10 Hercules and 2 Huey helicopters – the Chinooks & Huey’s were supplied by Italy.

        The Soviet Union & latterly the Russians have been the major supplier of weapons to Libya ever since Qaddafi came to power. Every ship in Libya’s Navy (of which I believe the rebels have three) was built in the USSR. The tanks that US/UK/FR planes have been bombing were made in the USSR. The anti-aircraft guns the rebels have in the back of their pickup trucks were made in the USSR.

        Libya’s Air Defence System is documented here, link to All the Surface to Air Missile (SAM) systems are from USSR/Russian , Italy is believed to supplied some radar systems to Libya in the early ’80’s, as did the USSR.

  24. I think I could agree with your position if the “leader of the free world” wasn’t such a double-talk artist, and had the character to honestly to state his goals and strategies. But given the fact that he put CIA boots (sandals, flip-flops?) on the ground well before he told us we were pursuing humanitarian obligations, and given that our military quickly switched from no-fly to no-walk to no-exist, it’s hard to grasp the “values” at work.

    Then there is this to contend with:

    “ ‘His military, at a certain point, is going to have to face the question of whether they are prepared over time to be destroyed by these air attacks or whether they decide it’s time for him to go,’ Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee.”

    Gates isn’t saying that aerial attacks will continue until Qaddafi stops hurting civilians. He is saying that NATO has declared war on his regime, and the war will end when the regime is gone. And, by the way, Libyan citizens, NATO and the West are diligently working on a replacement regime for you.

    It is a bit weird that having decided on regime change by force of arms, Obama has removed the US contribution to that force. Has non-US NATO agreed to the military objective of continuing air attacks on the Libyan military establishment until there is regime change (to a regime that meets our approval)? I’d like to see that in writing.

    Glenn has every right to be skeptical of any Obama rhetoric or claims. Obama has be so consistent in taking actions that contradict his rhetoric, that skepticism is the best approach.

  25. First of all your question assumes all too uncontroversially that NATO itself after the coldwar is somehow not just meaningless. Just want to press that foundational assumption upon you without going through the history which would be a waste of our time. NATO did not intercede for us in Vietnam, so the context in which we are invoking our NATO obligations here is just ludicrous.

    Second of all, when the US is in the midst of “crisis of wars”, also plagued by war spending and deficits, and burdened by no less than four other full time battles and wars, and threatening at a 5th with Iran… again let’s save ourselves the history lesson in regard to US-Arab relations. Suffice it to say, considering the mess of political climate at home, I think a reprieve would be granted by our NATO allies if one were asked. Therefore, for the US to enthusiastically invoke NATO as the sole reasoning behind our involvement in Libya now at time like this would be more than unwise. Remember, NATO is not a binding obligation for the United States, the United States is NATO. NATO if it is anything is a *purely optional self-obligation* for the United States to pursue its interests around the world. To everyone else in the world NATO, is simply propaganda which expired after the Coldwar. Thanks to an insufficient world crisis, or a lack of good PR in the age of “bottom-up” terrorism after 9-11, NATO today is universally understood as the next chapter of the crusades.

  26. Professor Cole’s position was always shaky at best. He now clings desperately to NATO and the UNSC vote although he fails to mention that a third of the members abstained under heavy U.S. pressure.

    He also fails to mention that much of the world is against our military actions in Libya.

    To be honest, he should admit this military action relies ultimately on the military might of the U.S. (thanks to roughly a trillion dollar defense budget all counted), to provide the logistics and technology necessary to be effective.

    Now he seems to be saying that NATO which is overwhelming funded and dominated by the U.S. would dare to dream of undertaking this military action on their own. A military action without an end in sight.

    Face it, much of the world views this latest military escapade as more of the same orchestrated by basically the same countries.

    I think Professor Cole’s only solid ground if he has any, is to take refuge in the idea that it was the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective and stop trying to convince his readers otherwise.

    I quickly became skeptical of Professor Cole’s arguments when he called the UNSC vote the “Gold Standard” for military action.It was a coffee-spewing moment.

    Professor Cole’s latest arguments are unusually desperate. In essence, NATO made us do it. And after the UNSC voted 10-0 with five countries abstaining, and much of the world against it, we are still on solid legal footing.

    Please, bring back the logical, insightful, and educational Professor Cole.

    • Mark: You write “I quickly became skeptical of Professor Cole’s arguments when he called the UNSC vote the “Gold Standard” for military action.”

      Yes, this is the point. Americans are so used to their unilateral (imperialistic) thinking that they despise international law. This is of course a key reason why the US never signed for the ICC (international criminal court) fearing that also americans could be prosecuted (I’d still would like to see Rumsfeld & Bush held accountable at the ICC for the Iraq war, … ). Therefore an argument concerning international law, which was rightfully raised by colleague Cole, does not count in the eyes of US “imperialists”.

      But be sure: For the rest of the world this issue is decisive and, therefore, you are dead wrong with your claim:
      “five countries abstaining, and much of the world against it”. No, much of the world “for it”.

      But this is only a view from europe.

  27. By the way, let’s debunk a few myths that are popular among the “Libya = Iraq” crowd:

    – the “it’s all about the oil” myth (then why doesn’t the US move into Ivory Coast, which has gobs of oil that’s been developed and is now arguing with Ghana over whose territorial waters hold a rather rich oil deposit? Or the Sudan and Darfur, where the Chinese have spent billions on extracting its oil?)
    – the “they’re all Al-Qaeda” myth (the one Gaddafi himself loves to spread, but which is just not so)

    – the “they’re all CIA” myth (again, it’s just not so).
    – the “Imperialist Obama’s bullying the world again” myth (some bully — he largely was dragged into this by France and the UK).

    So what’s behind this involvement in Libya? A big factor has to be the 400,000-plus refugees fleeing the country, most of them into already-overtaxed refugee camps in Tunisia that are still filled with displaced Tunisians and Egyptians. Many of those in the camps are sub-Saharan Africans, who have decided that rather than return to their homelands in the south of the continent, they’d prefer to go north to Europe — and this is causing lots of Europeans, whose countries are already dealing with intense friction over immigration issues, to start hitting the panic buttons:

    link to

    • Eni CEO contacted Libya rebels-Italy minister

      ROME, April 4 (Reuters) – The head of Italian oil group Eni Paolo Scaroni has discussed energy cooperation with the Libyan rebel movement in Benghazi in recent days, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Monday.

      link to

      Followed by:

      Italy recognizes rebels as Libya’s government

      link to

      All for pragmatic humanitarian reasons, of course.

      • Eli: No, ENI is not there because of humanitarian reasons but because of returing to business as usual. ENI just wants to have the same oil contracts with the revolutionaries, which they had all the years with the multiple billionaires Gaddafi & family.

    • I think the clearest answer as to why we’re involved in Libya but not elsewhere is very simple: air power.

      We can make a difference in Libya without American troops on the ground. There are clear targets to bomb.

      Anyone crying hypocrisy or evil-horrible-very-bad motives needs to point to another situation where a bombing campaign would be effective, with few civilian casualties. Libya is quite unique in that Western powers could intervene prevent further slaughter without committing to yet another disastrous quagmire. Who do we bomb in Cote d’Ivoire? Point out the targets.

  28. Many European NATO states don’t care for humanitarian obligations either. Just think about African refugees, who are turned away from Europe on a daily basis. In fact Italy and other countries partnered with the Gaddafi, who promised to send sub-Sahara Africans into the desert and keeping them away from Europe. They collaborated with that racist bastard.

  29. The problem I have with this is that it was those same NATO allies who crafted the words of, and arm-twisted the reluctant ‘rest of the world’ represented by China, India, Brazil, Russia to abstain, and bring Resolution 1973 into force. It wasn’t some objective third party that concluded that a humanitarian disaster was in the making, and that it would be appropriate for ‘the International Community’ to intervene. Having written the Resolution, the US could hardly sit it out. My problem still is, was it the right thing to do. I don’t believe it was.

    • If Russia or China would have wanted to veto this resolution they would have done that. But even the Chinese and the Russians were human enough to see that a criminal gangster and bloddy dictator like Gaddafi could not be allowed to shell a 2 million peple city with tanks and heavy artillery. There was no arm wrestling. The objective “third party” was the “common sense” of the UNSC members.

      Unfortunately our german secretary of state Westerwelle and our chancellor Merkel did abstain in the vote on UNSCR 1973, because they feared a local election. German voters were not amused, their parties lost these important elections.

  30. A quick reminder that the U.S. dominated UNSC and U.S. controlled NATO are not representative of the entire world, here in South America the U.S. involvement is viewed as more of the same U.S. imperialism.
    Cristina Kirchner took the British to task basically calling them out for their imperialistic tendencies: link to

    • Cristina Kirchner is hardly the one to exercise moral superiority over the British by accusing them of “imperialistic tendencies,” after the Argentines started the Falklands War in 1982 by landing troops on territory that has been British continuously since 1833. Her time would be better spent reigning in inflation, rather than following her populist tendencies and printing money. Her charge of Western “imperialism” has about as much validity as does that of Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega. Great company!

      • Mr Harkell,
        You may have inadvertently made my point that the British have a history of imperialism and backing that up with military might. Those tendencies die hard.
        You might want to read up a bit about the Falklands… a quick look at the map to see the proximity to Britain vs Argentina makes one consider who has a more rational claim. While the British claimed the Falklands in the 1830’s it was and continues to be, over the objections of Argentina. That early claim could not have been disputed by Argentina given British naval power… ring any bells?
        Might made right in this case.
        You might also not that Kirchner was not in power in 1982 nor has she taken a stand on whether or not troops should have been dispatched to claim their territory back from England in 1982.
        What is your specific issue with Chavez or Ortega?
        You seem to have a clear view of the good guys v bad guys and sticking to it irrespective of the facts.

        • I not only have read up on the facts regarding the Falklands, I actually followed the war closely when it occurred in 1982. Regarding your geography lesson Re Argentina’s proximity vs. that of the United Kingdom, proximity has never trumped sovereignty in international law. I appreciate your support of Argentina’s specious claim to the Falklands, Mark, but must emphasize that while you are entitled to your own opinion, you are not entitled to your own facts.

        • Perhaps you do see that the only reason Britain has a claim over the Falklands is that at the time and even today, they had/have the more powerful military. That was my point about imperialism.

          Argentina always disputed Britain’s claim.

          Is it you position that might makes right?

          By the way it is roughly 7900 miles from Britain to the Falklands. How is that for projecting power back in the 1830’s? Got to give them credit. We live in a world where all too often might does make right.

          Is that your “facts?”

          By the way, Spain has some issues with Gibraltar.

          And Kirchner was 29 and a student at the time of the Falkland war so your initial comment is a minimum lacking context.

          By the way, your shallow dismissal of Chavez and Ortega is troublesome.

          Other than those few points, thanks for the comment.

  31. I don’t understand the question. If the US had opposed intervention, then NATO wouldn’t have approved it; the US’ importance in the organization is such that it has an effective veto. Just because France and the UK want to intervene, does not mean that the US is obliged to agree with them, allies or not. (Did France have an obligation not to veto the Iraq resolution at the UN, in spite of being an ally of the US? Clearly not.) And if the only way that France and the UK can intervene is by going the NATO route, the US has no obligation to let them use NATO for their own ends.

    • that is simply not true. It is clear that Obama was lukewarm or opposed, and the US put no pressure on anyone about Libya. It was the Europeans and Arabs who wanted this, not Washington.

      • “It was the Europeans and Arabs who wanted this, not Washington.”

        That is partially the case. But according to many including Paul Pillar and General McCaffrey who were just on the Diane Rehm show…Susan Rice and Samantha Powers pushed hard for military action. Clinton came on board and Secretary of Defense Gates, Vice President Biden were never on board.

      • Obama may have been lukewarm or opposed, but clearly not enough to do anything about it. If the US had been really opposed, it would have vetoed the UN resolution, which was entirely in its rights to do. It didn’t; so clearly it wasn’t so opposed to intervention as that.

        Again, I don’t understand the question. It seems to be, the US wasn’t opposed enough to obstruct NATO getting involved, so, after NATO agreed to do something, shouldn’t the US do it? Well obviously yes, if you believe that the left and the right hands should have consistent policies. But that’s not the right question. The right question, should the US have tried to obstruct NATO’s intervention in the first place? It could have done so if it chose, because NATO’s intervention de facto implies American involvement. But the US didn’t care enough to block NATO involvement, and that’s the problem.

  32. The Arab League wanted a ‘no fly zone’ without any kinetic military activity. Perhaps they didn’t understand how that is accomplished. The African Union opposed the intervention. All in all it wasn’t a compelling case by the Arabs/Africans. Yes, the Europeans wanted to intervene, but Obama did not have to support them.

  33. “Note that the transitional government in Benghazi has in contrast offered Qaddafi a ceasefire if he will cease attacking his people.”

    My understanding is that the rebels offer had other conditionalities attached. These included the withdrawal of all security forces from all population centres and that Gaddafi & his sons leave Libya to go into exile. That was more like a demand for Gaddafi’s surrender. At the time it was offered the opposition forces were retreating from Sirte & Ras Lanuf in disarray and the government forces were regaining lost territory. To me their offer seemed somewhat disingenuous.

  34. Cole. “It was the Europeans and Arabs who wanted this, not Washington.”

    Open Letter To 44 to Take Action to Halt Violence in Libya

    The Honorable Barack Obama
    President of the United States
    The White House
    Washington, DC

    February 25, 2011

    Dear Mr. President:

    In your 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, you rightly declared that “Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later.” Today the United States and our allies in Europe must take action in response to the unfolding crisis in Libya. With violence spiraling to new heights, and with the apparent willingness of the Qaddafi regime to use all weapons at its disposal against the Libyan people, we may be on the threshold of a moral and humanitarian catastrophe.

    Inaction, or slow and inadequate measures, may not only fail to stop the slaughter in Libya but will cast doubt on the commitment of the United States and Europe to basic principles of human rights and freedoms. Therefore, we recommend the United States, in conjunction with NATO allies, take the following specific actions immediately:

    1) The United States should call upon NATO to develop operational plans to urgently:
    Establish a presence in Libyan airspace to prevent the continued use of fighter jets and helicopter gunships against civilians and carry out other missions as required.
    Move naval assets into Libyan waters to aid in evacuation efforts and prepare for possible contingencies. Establish the capability to disable Libyan naval vessels used to attack civilians.
    2) Freeze all Libyan government assets in the United States and Europe.

    3) Consider temporarily halting importation of Libyan oil to the United States and Europe.

    4) Make a clear statement that Col. Qaddafi and other officials who order and participate in massacres of civilians will be held accountable for their crimes under international law.

    5) Provide humanitarian aid to the Libyan people as quickly as possible.

    The United States and our European allies have a moral interest in both an end to the violence and an end to the murderous Libyan regime. There is no time for delay and indecisiveness. The people of Libya, the people of the Middle East, and the world require clear U.S. leadership in this time of opportunity and peril.

    Elliott Abrams
    Neil Hicks
    John Podhoretz
    Stephen E. Biegun
    William Inboden
    Randy Scheunemann
    Max Boot
    Bruce Pitcairn Jackson
    Dan Senor
    Ellen Bork
    Ash Jain
    John Shattuck
    Scott Carpenter
    Robert Kagan
    Mike Singh
    Eliot Cohen
    David Kramer
    Gare Smith
    Seth Cropsey
    Irina Krasovskaya
    William Taft
    Larry Diamond
    William Kristol
    Marc Thiessen
    Thomas Donnelly
    Tod Lindberg
    Daniel Twining
    Michelle Dunne
    Michael Makovsky
    Pete Wehner
    Eric Edelman
    Cliff May
    Ken Weinstein
    Peter Feaver
    Courtney Messerschmidt
    Leon Wieseltier
    Jamie Fly
    Joshua Muravchik
    Damon Wilson
    Reuel Marc Gerecht
    Martin Peretz
    Jennifer Windsor
    John Hannah
    Danielle Pletka
    Paul Wolfowitz

  35. It is quite profound to compare the response to UNSC resolution 1860 with its latest, 1970 & 1973, and of course the massive double-standard regarding the Saudi invasion of Bahrain and the exactly similar treatment being meted out to Yemeni and Bahrani civilians. I’m sure that if the UN had existed in 1918 and had issued a UNSC Resolution regarding the Russian Revolution and Civil War that Prof. Cole would support intervention on the White side too. Obviously, the Neoliberal Global Empire didn’t want the Arab Revolt’s quest for Freedomn to continue with the Libya intervention a part of its orchestrated Counter-Revolution. Real Democracy is to be thwarted wherever it arises, a fact proven by objective history. The Empire’s goal is to insure the great mass of people have no control over how they’re governed. As the Angry Arab has discovered, the Libyan “Rebels” will merely become another Western-backed tyranny that will need to be overthrown, which is to say the Intervention is about Power, not Humanitarianism.

  36. Karlofi: Really funny this historical comparison of Gaddafi with Lenin and of the “white” counterrevolution with the Libyan revolutionaries! What a deep and thoughtful analysis of world history! LOL

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