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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. 



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

  • yeah, but Obama’s brackets survive yesterday’s games?

  • Wonder what Chavez will have to say – everbodies pickin on his good buddy and all.

  • Tsk, tsk, tsk, dense righties confused again. From my perch in the backwoods of Maine, I see the entire situation, lit up as a stage. My advanced degree, degree, degree, degree [automatic buffer reset: logged error] enables me to analyze and predict in detail what will happen.

    I will do that. Soon. All of the talking points perspectives from other wise pragmatic moderate leftists are not in yet.

    However, I am prepared to make the following predictions. First – Obama will or will not authorize military force. If he doesn’t, it will be showing wise restraint and penance for past imperialism. If he does, he will be showing leadership and wise guidance that will usher in a new era in the Middle East north Africa.

    Second – Quadcoffee, or whatever his name is, will either be deposed or he won’t. If he’s deposed, it will because young people joined Twitter and ushered in a new era of wonderment in Islamic societies, which are not at all extremist. Certainly not like those tea parties.

    If he’s not deposed, it will mean…. uh, that Obama has ensured stability and gradual evolution towards that same era of wonderment. Yeah. That’s it. Gradual evolution.

    Anyway, I’m busy today with my sixty hour work week, so just insert the usual boilerplate here to get the thick righties in the comment section lathered up and make this whole thread all about me and how wonderful I am, which of course, I’ve never claimed, and my frequent references to my advanced degree,degree, degree, degree [automatic buffer reset: logged error] have absolutely nothing to do with. You know what kind of boilerplate I mean: anti-tea-party, markets don’t adjust themselves, stagnant societies with two many young people automatically become leftist paradises, I’m libertarian even though I support every big government initiative proposed in the last twenty years, Iraq is the biggest foreign policy disaster ever no matter how peaceful and stable it is, the Bush regime is over (finally!), Obama will almost certainly be re-elected, and the Democrats will only lose maybe twenty seats in 2010. [Error – automatic deletion based on expired timestamp]

    • Check line 238 of “boilerplate.c”: a syntax error caused about 50 lines to be skipped, which include standard quips about “faith”, “ideologies”, “simplistic”, “sweat shops”, “powerful actors”, “enlightenment”, “democracy”, “American slavery”, etc..

  • The southern Iraq no-fly zone had a flaw. General Schwarzkopf admitted that he made a mistake in the ceasefire negotiations in 1991. The Iraqis asked him if they could continue to fly their helicopters and he agreed that they could. Saddam put down the Shiia uprising by slaughtering the resistance with helicopter gunships.
    When you look back at the Northern no-fly zone, it was a huge success. It protected the Kurds in the North.
    Done correctly, a no-fly zone can protect innocent civilians.

    • I don’t disagree, but am not sure it would have had that much of an effect in the eventual outcome in the south.

      The key, as you point out, is doing it correctly. That includes execution. With the mish-mash of countries that may become involved in the Libyan NFZ, and the inherent command-and-control problems (not to mention execution problems) that brings with it makes me a bit cynical about whether or not it will end up being
      “done correctly” when all is said and done.

  • This looks like a multiple win for Obama, though not necessarily for Libyans. It reinforces the Obama Doctrine of the US as just one nation among many following the UN’s lead. It provides cover for Obama’s lack of leadership and protects his political capital.

    I think Obama is intent on playing rope-a-dope for the remainder of his term. He will avoid taking stands or providing leadership. He will hang back and wait for openings to attack his conservative opponents. He will let the MSM shield the public from noticing. (David Brooks is already on the case with his talk that “Obama is coming across as a cautious and safe pair of hands.”)

    Given Obama’s proclivity for unforced errors and his indecisiveness, it’s not a bad strategy for being re-elected. It’s not so good if one believes that the President’s real job is to lead the US and the free world.

    • “It reinforces the Obama Doctrine of the US as just one nation among many following the UN’s lead.

      I agree with that statement. What it does not reflect is the loss of life that didn’t have to happen.

  • Now we’re playing poker. Expect Qaddafi to push as hard as he thinks he can without drawing a decisive smack. It seems our leaders have switched gears so quickly they have exceeded the stall speed of the military planning and coordinating process. Not to mention the quaint idea that governments need to consult and build a consensus internally. I think Sun Tzu would have a lot to criticize here. It may be the highest level of command to win without fighting, but you kind of have to have a plan in your back pocket.
    This is an odd situation. There’s no doubt that the West has the military might to crush Qaddafi. The open question is (in the words of Officer Jimmy Malone) “What are you prepared to do?”
    On a related note, I don’t have too much concern about what comes after Qaddafi. It might be worse, but I can’t think how that’s possible. I also think this is one case where we can depose Qaddafi and wash our hands. Let the Europeans and the Arabs worry about it!

  • I must introduce Lockerbie at this point.. Mr Megarhi nor the colonel had anything to do wit it whatsoever!
    It was the work of the CIA and Iran’s Pasdarn to give Iran its much desired revenge for the deliberate shooting down of IR655 by the USS Vincennes.

  • McQHowever, 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. 

    Yep.  Saddam strung the UN along for years (and, absent 9-11, would likely still be doing it).  What the dictators realize is that the UN really DOESN’T want to do anything.  Announcing a cease fire, even if it’s totally bogus, is a way of letting the UN off the hook until they HAVE to notice that the cease fire was a charade.  If the dictator can do this long enough (it isn’t hard, really), then eventually he WILL stop committing atrocities because he’s killed off all his opponents.  PEACE AT LAST!  He’s happy, the UN is happy… What’s not to like about this plan?

    Unless you and your loved ones have ended up in a mass grave, that is…

  • GaDaffy, I think, has won already.  It is just a matter of mopping up, and he does not need anything fancy for that.
    He has cheap African mercs, and they have shown themselves without restraint.  All GaDaffy needs, he has already, including vast sums of money.
    He will simply tighten the noose, as Teh One was saying…without any meaning in that case.