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Daily Archives: March 18, 2011

How the decision was made to press for a No Fly Zone

It was made without the apparent participation of the United States in the early decision making process. From Foreign Policy’s The Cable blog:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meetings in Paris with the G8 foreign ministers on Monday left her European interlocutors with more questions than answers about the Obama administration’s stance on intervention in Libya.

Inside the foreign ministers’ meeting, a loud and contentious debate erupted about whether to move forward with stronger action to halt Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s campaign against the Libyan rebels and the violence being perpetrated against civilians. Britain and France argued for immediate action while Germany and Russia opposed such a move, according to two European diplomats who were briefed on the meeting.

Clinton stayed out of the fray, repeating the administration’s position that all options are on the table but not specifically endorsing any particular step. She also did not voice support for stronger action in the near term, such as a no-fly zone or military aid to the rebels, both diplomats said.

"The way the U.S. acted was to let the Germans and the Russians block everything, which announced for us an alignment with the Germans as far as we are concerned," one of the diplomats told The Cable.

Clinton’s unwillingness to commit the United States to a specific position led many in the room to wonder exactly where the administration stood on the situation in Libya.

"Frankly we are just completely puzzled," the diplomat said. "We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States."

I’m beginning to understand the phrase "above the fray" or "stayed out of the fray" as essentially means refusing to involve or commit to anything much less make a decision. And that’s precisely what happened at the G8 meeting.

What worried diplomats even more was this:

On the same day, Clinton had a short meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in which Sarkozy pressed Clinton to come out more forcefully in favor of action in Libya. She declined Sarkozy’s request, according to a government source familiar with the meeting.

Sarkozy told Clinton that "we need action now" and she responded to him, "there are difficulties," the source said, explaining that Clinton was referring to China and Russia’s opposition to intervention at the United Nations. Sarkozy replied that the United States should at least try to overcome the difficulties by leading a strong push at the U.N., but Clinton simply repeated, "There are difficulties."

One diplomat, who supports stronger action in Libya, contended that the United States’ lack of clarity on this issue is only strengthening those who oppose action.

That “lack of clarity” can be translated as a lack of leadership on the issue.  Casting around in the G8 minister’s meeting for some sort of consensus toward action or inaction, both sides looked to the US to commit.  It simply refused to do so.  Whether you support or oppose a NFZ, you have to be concerned that we had no strategy or apparent game plan when we entered that meeting.

Hillary Clinton tries to spin it as it being a matter of venue:

In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday in Cairo, Clinton pointed to the U.N. Security Council as the proper venue for any decision to be made and she pushed back at the contention by the British and the French that the U.S. was dragging its feet.

"I don’t think that is fair.  I think, based on my conversations in Paris with the G-8 ministers, which, of course, included those two countries, I think we all agree that given the Arab League statement, it was time to move to the Security Council to see what was possible," Clinton said.  I don’t want to prejudge it because countries are still very concerned about it.  And I know how anxious the British and the French and the Lebanese are, and they have taken a big step in presenting something.  But we want to get something that will do what needs to be done and can be passed."

"It won’t do us any good to consult, negotiate, and then have something vetoed or not have enough votes to pass it," Clinton added.

But that is patent nonsense.  You had most of the movers and shakers there.  In fact, it was the prefect venue to get preliminary negotiations underway, make a case one way or the other and then use the UN as the final place to seal the deal.  Diplomacy 101.

Now, this is important – note the day the BBC interview was done: Wednesday.  Note the day the G8 meeting was: Monday. 

So what happened Tuesday?

Ah, glad you asked.

At the start of this week, the consensus around Washington was that military action against Libya was not in the cards. However, in the last several days, the White House completely altered its stance and successfully pushed for the authorization for military intervention against Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. What changed?

The key decision was made by President Barack Obama himself at a Tuesday evening senior-level meeting at the White House, which was described by two administration officials as "extremely contentious." Inside that meeting, officials presented arguments both for and against attacking Libya. Obama ultimately sided with the interventionists. His overall thinking was described to a group of experts who had been called to the White House to discuss the crisis in Libya only days earlier.

"This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values," a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.

You may be saying, “wohoo, he finally made a freakin’ decision”.  Well yeah, he could see how it was going and he could see where it would probably end up, so you have to wonder, was it a decision or was it more of a rationalization?

My guess it was the latter.  And it is the third “strategy” for the region that the US has displayed in as many months.

But Obama’s stance in Libya differs significantly from his strategy regarding the other Arab revolutions. In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course. In Yemen and Bahrain, where the uprisings have turned violent, Obama has not even uttered a word in support of armed intervention – instead pressing those regimes to embrace reform on their own. But in deciding to attack Libya, Obama has charted an entirely new strategy, relying on U.S. hard power and the use of force to influence the outcome of Arab events.

"In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook," said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. "The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one."

Bingo – Clemons is dead on the money.  There is no well thought out strategy for the Middle East – this is just someone winging it, figuring out where world (or regional opinion lies) and giving himself enough space for deniability should something go wrong.  The cool kids in the world want to bomb Libya, so hey, we should probably do it too now that they’re committed – but we shouldn’t be seen as leading it in case it turns out badly”.

The rationalization for backing the action comes from the realization that it is probably going to happen, and unlike the US, France and the UK aren’t going to let Russia and Germany decide it for them without ever engaging in a fight. 

So we now trot out our 3rd “realignment” of “our interests and values”?  Really? Pray what are they?  And what were they?

Clemons point about the fact that this points to a reactive presidency shouldn’t come as a surprise.  It’s part of leadership, or lack thereof.  Leaders have a strategy and a plan.  You may not like it, but they have one.   And since it has to do with foreign affairs, it should address the best interests of the US.  Three different strategies driven by who knows what in a three month period does not argue for a comprehensive or coherent strategy, much less a plan.

This is the ultimate in finger in the wind diplomacy and another in a long line of indicators highlighting the dangerous lack of leadership under which this country is now suffering.

~McQ

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Ending NPR’s subsidy – a thousand mile trip begins with a first step

Joyce Slocum, writing in the Hill, is upset about the vote to defund NPR.

These days, I’m frequently asked, “Can public broadcasting survive without federal funding?” I understand the reason for the question — we all understand the terrible burden of our national debt — but the real question is, “What’s the cost to the nation of defunding public broadcasting?”

Eliminating federal funding would seriously damage public broadcasting and harm millions of Americans who rely on us. Period.

I’m calling BS.  By the way, Slocum is the interim CEO of NPR.

What it would mean is instead of banking on a hand out, NPR would actually have to get off it’s collective duff and find a way to raise more money.  And that’s the real problem, it doesn’t want to have to do that.  It prefers the handout.

And Slocum is also  implying that the programing NPR does isn’t sufficient enough to earn its own way. 

It will mean fewer stations, fewer programs, and less news produced — especially locally. If stations go dark, that hurts us at NPR, but it hurts local listeners more. At NPR, our mission is to reach and inform as many people as well as possible about what’s going on in the world and in their communities. A weakened, smaller public broadcasting economy will deeply damage our ability to deliver on that mission.

But if that mission is as essential as Slocum believes and it is a good as she implies, then NPR should have little difficulty raising the money to offset the subsidy it now gets from taxpayers, shouldn’t it?

First we need to get something straight – NPR receives no direct subsidy from the government.  It receives its subsidy through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  This is how NPR’s funding breaks down according to Wikipedia:

In 2009, NPR revenues totaled $164 million, with the bulk of revenues coming from programming fees, grants, contributions and sponsorships.[14] According to the 2009 financial statement, about 40% of NPR revenues come from the fees it charges member stations to receive programming. Typically, NPR member stations raise funds through on-air pledge drives, corporate underwriting, and grants from state governments, universities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In 2009, member stations derived 6% of their revenue from direct government funding, 10% of their revenue from federal funding in the form of CPB grants, and 14% of their revenue from universities.[14][15] NPR receives no direct funding from the federal government.[16] About 1.5% of NPR’s revenues come from Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants.

So what Slocum is talking about is the funding that is paid directly to member stations who receive 6% of their funding from government.  Secondly, NPR receives about 1.5% from CPB grants (about $246,000).

The entire point, of course, is defunding NPR’s client stations (where it NPR corporate gets its hands on government subsidy money) and the CPB isn’t going to kill NPR. Or shouldn’t.  It is going to mean more work for NPR.  Perhaps a few more beg-a-thons, corporate outreach and even, horror of horrors, considering taking on commercial advertising.

There are solutions for heave sake – but this constant whining “we can’t make it” or “programming will suffer” or “jobs will be lost” seems completely contrary to reality.  They can make it, programming doesn’t have to suffer, and, if they’d put together a decent marketing plan and hit the streets, there’s no reason jobs must be lost.  And that goes for local NPR stations as well.

Time to earn your keep.  The taxpayers are simply tired of subsidizing you (and many, many, many other entities out there).  And while CPB and NPR aren’t “big fish” programs, you have to remember, it’s a cumulative thing.  A billion here, 400 million there and pretty soon you’re talking big money.

~McQ

UN Security Council votes to impose No Fly Zone over Libya – too little, too late? (update)

The UN Security Council finally got its act together long enough to pass a resolution blessing the establishment of a No Fly Zone over Libya. Of course on the ground in that country, Gadhafi’s military forces are moving toward the last rebel stronghold in the city of Benghazi.

Benghazi erupted in celebration at news of the resolution’s passage. “We are embracing each other,” said Imam Bugaighis, spokeswoman for the rebel council in Benghazi. “The people are euphoric. Although a bit late, the international society did not let us down.”

Well, we’ll see about that, however, one has to wonder if the UN’s call for an NFZ leads to more civilian deaths rather than less.

What am I talking about?

Gadhafi has offered civilians who don’t want to be caught in the final push to take Benghazi the promise of safe passage if they’ll simply leave the city.

Yes, I know, we’re talking about a ruthless madman here – how can anyone believe him?  The fact is even Gadhafi realizes he needs at least token popular support to retain power.  It isn’t in his best interest to massacre or otherwise mess with any civilians seeking a way to avoid the fighting that will take place in and around Benghazi.  Plus, given the outcry from the rest of the world, this is a means of placating world opinion somewhat.  It also gives Gadhafi room to claim that anyone left in the city who was killed was either a rebel or a rebel supporter.  Gadhafi has promised:

“We will come house by house, room by room. It’s over. The issue has been decided,” he said, offering amnesty to those who laid down their arms. To those who continued to resist, he vowed: “We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.”

You have to wonder now if many civilians who might have fled the city will now believe that they and their city can be saved by the imposition of a No Fly Zone and refuse to leave. That would be a huge mistake.

Another thing to consider is that when and if Gadhafi’s forces enter Benghazi, the effectiveness of an NFZ will be marginal at best.  Unless you have Special Operations Forces from the participating countries working with the rebels in that city and calling in precision strikes, the mixing of the population with fighters from both sides will all but nullify the ability of air power to effect the battle.

The United Nations Security Council voted Thursday to authorize military action, including airstrikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery and a no-fly zone, a risky foreign intervention aimed at averting a bloody rout of rebels by forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The inclusion of tanks and artillery as targets makes it more of a No Drive Zone than a No Fly Zone.  Face it, Gadhafi’s air assets have been marginal at best in the fight against the rebels.    So what the UN’s resolution does is expand the mandate to hitting armored vehicles and artillery as well.

Also included in this, before any such strikes can occur are taking down Libyan air defenses.  That means first and foremost, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions will have to be run.  That can be done in a fairly local area, i.e. the immediate operational area around Benghazi, a broader area, perhaps Tripoli which is Ghadifi’s headquarters and the coastal road that runs to Benghazi, or country-wide.

Obviously local or regional would more quickly allow attack missions on Gadhafi’s forces approaching Benghazi, and including Tripoli would give the dictator something more to think about than attacking the last rebel city.   Recall that the last time a bombing raid hit Tripoli it scared the stuffing out of Gadhafi. 

But, then there’s the threat Gadhafi promises to carry out if there is foreign intervention.  Sure it’s a coward’s threat (think Pan Am 103) but still a threat that can be carried out none the less.  As far as Gadhafi is concerned, he has nothing to lose.

On the brighter side, France and the UK are taking the lead in this and there are Arab countries also interested in participating:

The resolution stresses the necessity of notifying the Arab League of military action and specifically notes an “important role” for Arab nations in enforcing the no-fly zone. Diplomats said Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were considering taking a leading role, with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt also considering participating.

The participation of Arab countries in enforcing a no-fly zone has been seen as a prerequisite for the United States, keen not to spur a regional backlash.

All good.  But two things to remember – Saddam Hussein managed to crush a rebellion aimed at toppling him after he was defeated in Desert Storm and an NFZ was imposed there.   And:

Yet some critics also noted that a no-fly zone authorized in the early 1990s in Bosnia had failed to prevent some of the worst massacres there, including the Srebrenica massacre.

So – the establishment of an NFZ is not a panacea guaranteed to stop the slaughter of civilians or the defeat of the rebels.  In fact, about all it guarantees, unless Gadhafi is willing to stop his advance and negotiate a settlement with the rebels, is that the government side will change tactics as it pushes toward Benghazi.   As James Lindsey says:

“It’s going to be tougher to stop Qaddafi today than it was a week ago. The issue is not going to be settled in the skies above Benghazi, but by taking out tanks, artillery positions and multiple-launch rocket systems on the ground.”

Mr. Lindsay said that would require helicopter gunships and other close-in support aircraft rather than advanced fighter planes. Other analysts said repelling Colonel Qaddafi’s forces might require ground troops, an option that has been ruled out by senior American officials.

But don’t expect Gadhafi to throw his hands up and say “I quit” just because the UN has authorized action against his regime.  He’s first going to see if the rest of the world actually means to carry it out and, if they do, how effective it is at stopping him from doing what he wants to do.  My guess is that he’ll find he still has the means to finish what he as started, even though it may be a little more painful and prolonged.  Then, once he’s crushed the rebellion, we might see him attempt to negotiate an end to foreign intervention.  But if he’s still in charge when the rebellion is crushed, there’s little the world can do about it other than overt military intervention to topple him. 

Sanctions, as they always do, will only end up hurting the poorest among the Libyans.  And, remember, Libya has oil – so it has a means of persuasion that Saddam used to his benefit to hold on to power in Iraq.

We’ll see how this all works out, but suffice it to say, there’s a definite down side to an NFZ and we may see that down side in Libya.

UPDATE: Libya’s Foreign Minister has unilaterally declared a “cease fire”:

Libya, after having seen the resolution, would like to explain the following.

As the country will try to deal with this resolution. Libya now has knowledge of this resolution, and according to article 25 of the UN charter, and taking into consideration that Libya is a full member of the UN, we accept that it is obliged to accept the security council resolution.

Therefore, Libya has decided an immediate ceasefire, and the stoppage of all military operations.

Libya takes great interest in protecting all civilians, and offering them all necessary humanitarian aid, and respecting all human rights, and obliging to the international and humanitarian laws and it is also obliged to protect all of the foreigners in Libya and protecting their assets.

In doing so, Libya is in accordance with the resolutions of the security council and the articles of the charter of the United Nations.

However, Al Jazeera is reporting that government forces continue to shell the rebel city of Misurata, a doctor there reporting that 25 people have been killed. 

So how much of this is designed to cause confusion among the possible participants in a NFZ and to build support for non-intervention?  Probably most of it. 

~McQ

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