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UN

You knew it was coming–Arab League wants UN enforced No Fly Zone over Gaza

It was only a matter of time for the real reason behind the “right to protect” (R2P) principle the UN has adopted to become apparent.

The Arab League provides it in its appeal to the UN:

The Arab League (AL) said on Sunday it would ask the United Nations to consider imposing a no-fly zone over the Gaza Strip to protect the civilians against Israeli air strikes.

In a statement issued after an emergency meeting of the pan- Arab organization at the permanent delegates’ level in its Cairo headquarter, the AL said it would ask the United Nation Security Council to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the Israeli aggression over Gaza to lift the siege and impose a no-fly zone against the Israeli military to protect civilians.

The statement rejected the double standard policies towards the Palestinian case, urging the UN Security Council and the Quartet committee to bear all responsibilities for halting the subsequent massacres and provide an international protection for the unarmed citizens.

Now, this shouldn’t have a chance since it takes a vote of the Security Council to pass something like this and the US, with a permanent seat, has the right to veto any resolution calling for such a measure.

And a few years ago I’d have had no worries about there even being a ghost of a chance of such a measure being agreed too by the US.  I have no such assurance now with this administration.  And don’t forget, they got the cooperation of the Security Council recently for the imposition of the Libyan NFZ, so they’ll be asked for cooperation on this – it’s the trap that may have been set from the outset.

Of course, unaddressed by the AL is the provocation for the latest round of air attacks from Israel by the terrorist group Hamas:

Violence in Gaza started when Hamas, which holds sway there, fired a rocket at an Israeli school bus, critically wounding a 16- year-old student. Hamas later said it did not know the bus was carrying students.

Hamas more than “holds sway there” – Hamas “governs” there.   What it continues to do is execute acts of war against Israel and then whines when Israel reacts.  What the AL is doing is attempting to get the US to level the playing field and create better opportunities for Hamas to continue firing rockets into Israel.  And, of course, brave Hamas always ensures it does its provocations from areas with high densities of civilians.  And Hamas could give a rip whether there were students on the bus.  Read the description again – it was a freakin’ school bus.  What else did they expect to be on it?

Note too that the AL uses precisely the argument that I and others who wrote about the application of R2P said would happen.  The citing of a “double-standard” (you’ll do Libya but not Gaza?).  It’s nonsense on a stick, of course, because supposedly R2P is there to protect civilians from their own government, not another government retaliating against deadly attacks by their own government.

This again illustrates the danger of such “principles” as the UN’s R2P.  It is now being considered a tool by the weak but tyrannical in an effort to downgrade the defensive abilities of Israel to protect itself. 

I say give them the go-ahead and let the AL enforce the NFZ.  It will be good for fighter jet sales as the IAF will scatter pieces and parts of the various AL air forces over the Gaza strip as a result.

~McQ

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Mission creep or lack of a mission?

You can this coming from a mile off:

As rebel forces backed by allied warplanes pushed toward one of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s most crucial bastions of support, the American military warned on Monday that the insurgents’ rapid advances could quickly be reversed without continued coalition air support.

“The regime still vastly overmatches opposition forces militarily,” Gen. Carter F. Ham, the ranking American in the coalition operation, warned in an email message on Monday. “The regime possesses the capability to roll them back very quickly. Coalition air power is the major reason that has not happened.”

Uh, okay, I accept the fact that without the coalition attacking Gadhafi ground units, the “rebels” wouldn’t be able to “advance” or enjoy any gains whatsoever.

But wasn’t the ostensible reason for establishing the no-fly zone and the reason for the UN mission to protect civilians from being killed by their government?  Hasn’t that been accomplished?

So why do we care if “rebel advances” might be “quickly…reversed”?

Unless, of course, the real purpose of the mission, under the flag of “protecting civilians” is to run Gadhafi out of power?  And, one then assumes, install a different government (the “rebels” one supposes, of whom we know very little except they come from an area that was one of the major provider of jihadists to Iraq and Afghanistan and one of their leaders admits to having served there in that capacity).

Then and only then does a concern for the state of the “rebel” advance make any sense or have any meaning at all.

General Ham’s warning, however, offered a somber counterpoint and underscored the essential role of Western airstrikes, now focused mainly on Colonel Qaddafi’s ground troops, in reversing the rebels’ fortunes. It also framed anew the question of how the poorly equipped and disorganized rebel forces might fare against Colonel Qaddafi’s garrison in Surt, where air cover may be less useful.

Wait, wait … again, if the mission is the protection of civilians who cares how the “poorly equipped and disorganized rebel forces” might fare anywhere?

That only matters if there’s a mission in addition to the stated one, i.e. protecting civilians.

Oh, and what happens if the “rebels”, in their push into territory mostly deemed to be that of Gadhafi supporters, begin killing civilians?  Do we hit the “rebels” then?  Or are civilians only a concern when Gadhafi’s military kills them?

Some will argue that the UN resolution authorized “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya.  I assume the follow on argument is that the best way to “protect civilians” is to take sides and topple Gadhafi?

That’s certainly not how this war was described in the beginning – you know a “limited time, limited scope military action”?  We were assured that it wouldn’t take long and it would only seek to keep the Libyan government from killing civilians.

Now we seem to be hinting around about the need for our airpower to support the cause of a rebellion that has the possibility – because they are so poorly equipped, untrained and disorganized – of lasting for months, if not years.

As you can tell, there are far more questions than apparent answers.  I’m looking forward to Obama’s speech tonight.  It should be an interesting affair.  He’s got to communicate why he went to war, why UN sanctioning was sufficient for committing us to war, why he didn’t consult or seek Congressional approval, what the mission in Libya is and what the end state of that mission should be as well as an exit strategy.

Anyone want to bet how many of those questions will still remain unanswered after the speech?

~McQ

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Why Libya’s precedent is dangerous

I talked about it yesterday, but to reiterate, this is an action blessed by the UN and Arab League – and no one else.  But there are those among our leadership who see it as a precedent to pretty much do whatever we want under the principle espoused by the UN – “Right to Protect” or R2P.  This new “principle”, according to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the UN, gives the UN the “right” to go after governments that are killing their own citizens.    And not just with aircraft (something Sec. of State Clinton used to differentiate what was happening in Libya and Syria as an excuse not to move on Syria).

To illustrate my point, one only has to go to the Sunday shows for an example:

Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said the events transpiring in Libya should send a strong message to the Syrian dictator.

“If he turns his weapons on his own people, he runs the risk,” Mr. Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“There is a precedent now. … We’re not going to allow Assad to slaughter his own people.”

Of course my first question is “who is ‘we’, Mr. Lieberman?”

In the case of Libya, certainly not the American people.  They were never consulted (though their representatives).  If ever there was a unilateral decision to go to war, this provides the example.

Secondly, this is precisely what the Neo-cons were accused of championing – and it now seems it has evolved as a policy of the Obama administration.  The irony is incredible.  Especially after we saw the same administration pretend like the slaughter of protesters in Iran by the government was something to essentially ignore.

And I can’t help but observe that this smacks of more than anything is international bullying.   Pick on a weak country that displeases others for whatever reason, come up with a high sounding reason to intervene and go to war.  Who you are backing and what they are or stand for isn’t as much of a priority as establishing the precedent of the “right” to act internationally without worrying about those pesky legal impediments such as Constitutions and such.   But if the country is strong militarily or has supporters in the region (Syria and the Arab League), make excuses for not applying the same standard to them. That’s precisely what we’re seeing with Syria.

One of the laugh out loud reasons for not applying the same standard to Syria was Clinton’s contention that the Syrian dictator Assad is a “reformer”.

That had the Syrian protesters shaking their head in wonder.

Ammar Abdulhamid, who has emerged as an unofficial spokesman in the West for the activists organizing the Syrian protests, said, however, that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was wrong to refer to Syrian President Bashar Assad as a reformer on CBS News on Sunday.

“It was ridiculous to call Bashar Assad a reformer. She should not have done that,” he said.

I’m reminded of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recent speech at West Point where he said that any president who committed us to another war in the Middle East should have his head examined.  

Frankly, I agree.  The unfortunate thing is this “precedent” as Joe Lieberman correctly identifies it, sets us up to commit to an unlimited number of wars in the Middle East and elsewhere – just so we manage to get a sanction of some sort of NGO or another in the process.   We’re officially in the “others volunteering our military” business, the “world policeman’s league” with this action  – and as I understood it that was something Democrats and left objected too strenuously.

What happened to that?

~McQ

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Thoughts on Libya

I took a day off from blogging yesterday, just to hang out with my 4 grandsons.  It was well worth it.  But I wasn’t with them the entire time and during that other time it gave me a bet of an opportunity to reflect on the decision to go to war with Libya.  And, yes, I said war – no “kinetic military action” or “limited time, limited scope military action” nonsense from me.  When you fire missiles into a sovereign country, regardless of how you feel about what that country’s government is doing, you commit an act of war.

I obviously don’t come from the “war never settles anything” crowd.  I’ve made a study of war, spent 28 years serving in the military and understand the reality of and reasons for wars.  And, yes, I believe – and history supports my belief – that sometimes war does settle some things, although not necessarily the way we’d prefer they be settled.

But to focus on Libya in particular, what I see here is probably one of the most dangerous precedents yet for committing our military and country too an action.  It is dangerous for any number of reasons.  But I’ll lay out the first by quoting Secretary of Defense Gates today:

Asked on NBC whether the mission in Libya was vital to U.S. interests, Gates said: “No, I don’t think it’s a vital interest for the United States, but we clearly have interests there and it’s a part of the region, which is a vital interest for the United States.”

Whatever our “clear” interests there are, and Gates didn’t elaborate, they’re not “vital interests” for this nation.  Or said another way, there is nothing going on in Libya that would threaten anything we’d consider to vital to our national interests, survival, etc.  Nothing.  So what follows is a bit of Gate’s word salad that attempts to rationalize the intervention there.

Gates on ABC:

TAPPER: " Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?"

GATES: "No, no. It was not — it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest: … the engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake … [Y]ou had a potentially significantly destabilizing event taking place in Libya that put at risk potentially the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt."

“Not a vital national interest”, “potentially significant”?  Posed no “actual or imminent threat to the United States”.

The first and only reason for going to war should be a threat to our vital national interests.  Otherwise we should have no interest in going to war.

One of the things that particularly peeved the left about the Iraq invasion was their claim that it did not serve our vital national interests.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard them say “Iraq was never a threat to us”.  And that was more true than not when we discovered the lack of WMDs eventually.  Prior to that, and with the rise of terrorism, not to mention his overt and covert support of terrorism, most who supported the invasion felt that those elements (WMD, rise of terrorism, support of terrorism) and his grudge against the US did indeed make him a threat to our nation.

Obviously, he turned out to be more blow than go, but it doesn’t change the fact that there were indeed, at least initially, rational national security  reasons that could be argued for taking him out.

There are none for Libya.  None.

And don’t forget we had evidence that Saddam’s government was systematically killing people on a pretty large scale at the time as well.  Reports of mass arrests, mass graves, rape rooms and feeding people through wood chippers were pretty commons.  But that, in and of itself, was not enough of a reason, as far as the left was concerned, to intervene (remember, at the time we were enforcing a no-fly zone while these things were going on).

Given the pretext for going into Libya (for exactly that reason – i.e. the government is killing civilians), the invasion of Iraq stood on much firmer national security grounding.

And that’s really my point here – any action/war to which our military is committed should first meet the requirement of “compelling national interest” as in an immediate threat to the US either militarily or in other ways which will severely effect the country and its citizens.

Libya does not rise to that level.

Which brings me to my second point.   The role of the UN in this and the lack of a Congressional role.  Again, say what you like about Iraq, but anyone who calls it an “illegal war” does so out of pure spite because it simply isn’t true.  The war was literally authorized by Congress when it told the Commander in Chief he had the power and authorization to use military force there.  Now that may not satisfy some who demand that a declaration of war be issued, but for the rest of us who can reason, we understand that’s precisely what the AUMF was.

In the case of Libya, the authorization this administration used was that of an external body unanswerable to the Congress of the US or its people.  I don’t recall the Constitution allowing that.   While I understand the war powers act gives a president some discretion in committing the US military without immediate Congressional approval, I’m not sure this measures up (but that is an argument for another day) to even that.  What I do know, though, is on the 61st day of this war, if Congress doesn’t authorize its continuance and the president refuses to end our involvement, it will become an illegal war.

More importantly though, I object strenuously to the use of the UN as a reason to commit our men and women to conflict.  That is a decision for Congress and the President to work out first.  If the UN goes along, or even if it doesn’t, is really irrelevant if Congress and the President decide – for compelling national interest – to commit us to a war.  That is our process and it was not used this time by any stretch of the imagination.  Telling Congress what is happening when it is happening isn’t at all the definition of “in consultation with Congress”.

Finally there’s the rationalization that’s going on about Libya and our reason for participating in attacking it.  And it is simply amazing.  It speaks to a completely arbitrary standard for such intervention.

Hillary Clinton today:

“No,” Clinton said, when asked on the CBS “Face the Nation” program if the U.S. would intervene in Syria’s unrest. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s security forces clashed with protesters in several cities yesterday after his promises of freedoms and pay increases failed to prevent dissent from spreading across the country.

Clinton said the elements that led to intervention in Libya — international condemnation, an Arab League call for action, a United Nations Security Council resolution — are “not going to happen” with Syria, in part because members of the U.S. Congress from both parties say they believe Assad is “a reformer.”

“What’s been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning, but there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities,” Clinton said, referring to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s attacks on the Libyan people, “than police actions which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.”

Is there a difference to the dead citizens in Syria, Ms. Clinton?  Does it mean that as long as Assad – the “reformer” (good grief) – keeps his air power grounded, indiscriminate killing of civilians will be tolerated? Because that certainly is what that sound bite suggests.  Oh, and a few lawmakers calling a murderous tyrant a “reformer” apparently carries a lot of weight.

So, what have we as a result?

We have the US military fighting at the behest of the UN.  We have no vital national interest in the war.  It appears to be the result of the application of an arbitrary standard.  It was committed too without consulting Congress and on the 61st day without Congressional approval, it becomes an illegal war.

Does that all sound like something we should support and encourage?

~McQ

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Is a “humanitarian crisis” developing in Libya?

One of the stated goals of this war on Libya has been to “avert a humanitarian crisis”.  But the Washington Post seems to believe such a crisis is now being precipitated there:

Aid organizations scrambled Wednesday to prepare for large-scale relief operations in Libya, as fears grew of a potential humanitarian crisis in a key city besieged by government forces.

International military forces on Wednesday stepped up attacks on government troops in Misurata, 131 miles east of Tripoli. The airstrikes seemed to bring a temporary respite from the fighting that had raged for six days between forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi and rebels, as government tanks retreated from the city center.

But after nightfall, the tanks returned and resumed their attacks, according to a doctor at the city’s main hospital. “They are shelling everywhere,” he said by telephone.

Patients were being treated on the floor, medical supplies were falling short, fuel for the generator was running low, and water had been cut off, said the doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation by Libyan forces.

What I’d guess the coalition will learn eventually is you can’t stop what is going on in Libya from 30,000 feet, no matter how many coalition members and aircraft you use.  He who is on the ground, and controls it, determines who can be on the ground with him. 

Trying to sort “white from red” as one of the DoD briefers termed it (civilians = white/Gadhafi troops = red) is exceedingly hard, especially in an urban area.  While it may be clear that the red guys are shooting up the place, they’re mixed in with the white meaning any strike against them has a very great possibility of killing a whole bunch of civilians.

U.S. and allied warplanes on Wednesday aimed their attacks on Gaddafi’s ground forces in Misurata and other key cities but were constrained by fears that strikes in heavily built-up areas could cause civilian deaths.

“It’s an extremely complex and difficult environment,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, the chief of staff for the coalition.

So that speaks to the limits of what the present plan (pure “no-fly zone”) can accomplish, especially considering the “no boots on the ground” promise by most of the coalition members, to include the US.  Or so we’ve been told numerous times. 

International aid organizations have been unable to deliver relief goods to Misurata and other contested towns. Asked whether the U.S. military might play a role in distributing emergency relief, one American official said, “All options are on the table.” He declined to comment further.

Oh. Wait.  I thought that option was definitely off the table.  Mission creep?  Or maybe not, since no one has yet to be able to define the mission in any clear and understandable way.  Not the goals of the UN resolution – the mission of the US military committed to the war in Libya. 

~McQ

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Quote of the Day–liberal war ideal edition

Ross Douthat, who I rarely quote, manages to nail it in terms of Libya and the left:

In its opening phase, at least, our war in Libya looks like the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention. It was blessed by the United Nations Security Council. It was endorsed by the Arab League. It was pushed by the diplomats at Hillary Clinton’s State Department, rather than the military men at Robert Gates’s Pentagon. Its humanitarian purpose is much clearer than its connection to American national security. And it was initiated not by the U.S. Marines or the Air Force, but by the fighter jets of the French Republic.

One minor correction, there is no – none, zip, nada – connection, not even a tenuous one, to American national security and the war on Libya.  There may be afterward, if Gadhafi survives and decides he needs to find a way to strike back at the US in the “long war” he’s promised to wage.  But going in?  Nope – none.

The quote above fought with this other Douthat quote for top QotD honors:

But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.

And keep in mind that once the first Tomahawk flew, whether we call our participation limited and of short duration, we’re into it up to our hips as far as the Arab world is concerned.  So whatever happens there which might turn the “Arab street” against the US yet again, any argument made by the administration that most of the mission has been conducted by others isn’t going to change a single mind.

Also keep in mind, as Douthat implies, that this “consensus war” depends on the committee who are conducting it staying together.  Can’t have them deserting and then renouncing the Western powers committed to seeing this through – can we?  Already the Arab League is a bity antsy.

Finally – watch for mission creep.  The ostensible reason for this little foray is humanitarian.  But then, so was Somalia, Kosovo and Yugoslavia. 

I predict there will be boots on the ground, whether ours or others.  It will become necessary if I have any read on Gadhafi at all.  Why?  Because he will precipitate a humanitarian crisis of some sort – on purpose.

Then what?  What if he forces a “put up or shut up” moment?

Well the fair weather supporters will go home, that’s a given.  And those who see a downside risk politically will go home.  And I promise you the Arab members will say bye bye.

And who will that leave to deal with it?

The two quotes from Douthat are very instructive in understanding the liberal philosophy of war and why it is dangerously utopian, likely to fail and not at all in the best interests of this country, or any country, to pursue.

If you haven’t met your irony quotient for the day, here’s our present Secretary of State while a former Senator talking about the “civil war” in Iraq and how we should not take part in what is going on no matter the level of the violence:

“No one wants to sit by and see mass killing,” she added. “It’s going on every day! Thousands of people are dying every month in Iraq. Our presence there is not stopping it. And there is no potential opportunity I can imagine where it could. This is an Iraqi problem — we cannot save the Iraqis from themselves."

Of course that was then … apparently Libya is an international problem, not a Libyan problem, and we can save the Libyans from themselves, unlike the Iraqis.

Of course …

~McQ

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Meanwhile in Yemen …

Is this our next humanitarian intervention?

52 people were killed and hundreds wounded  – civilians that is – by their own government.

Isn’t that our and the UN’s new standard for intervention?

Three generals have come out in support of the protesters, many diplomatic personnel have resigned in various Yemeni embassies around the world.

Sound like the scenario we witnessed in Libya?

But Saleh is not showing any signs of resigning, the source said.

"I’m bracing myself for military clashes," the official said.

That too sounds very familiar.

Is the Security Council scheduling a meeting?  Is a new R2P resolution being readied?

Just wonderin’ …

~McQ

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Is a new UN “principle” now guiding US foreign policy and intervention?

I’ve told you about the timeline of the decision to intervene in Libya.  But I’m not sure I was clear on the supposed reason.  So take a moment and read this:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), "a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."

"Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community’s determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government," he said.

Inside the NSC, Power, Smith, and McFaul have been trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward. Donilon and McDonough are charged with keeping America’s core national interests more in mind. Obama ultimately sided with Clinton and those pushing R2P — over the objections of Donilon and Gates.

Remember that until Tuesday, the consensus around Washington DC was the US would not intervene in Libya.  Obviously UN SecGen Moon’s communication of this new “principle”  (R2P) isn’t something that he thought up that morning.  Apparently it was communicated (and one assumes, agreed upon) well before then and, it would seem, may have played an important part in the decision to participate in a place in which which we have no real national interest at stake.

Read that last paragraph very carefully.  Well, read the whole thing carefully, but you have to ask, what does agreeing with this “principle” mean in the future?

Do we intervene in Sudan or the Congo?  Ivory Coast?  And if not, why not?  None of them, like Libya, put our core national interests at stake.  But all certainly fit the new R2P principle.  How about Bahrain and Yemen?  Nepal?

Instead, what we see here is precisely what the left has decried for years – the US along with others who can afford it and are willing to do it –agreeing to police the world.  However, in this case, it would be at the behest of the UN.  We are agreeing that the UN can determine when and where we commit our military forces simply by invoking this principle.  Invoke R2P and, by our precedent in Libya, we agree to respond.

This is far and away different than case by case agreements among member nations to intervene with peace keeping troops in troubled areas around the world.  This is a “principle” that Moon says is a “new international security and human rights norm” apparently is interpreted as a “right” to intervene with military force.

Funny – I don’t remember us agreeing to this “new norm”, do you?  Did we negotiate and sign a treaty saying all of this?  Or did we just hand over our power to make sovereign decisions concerning the use of our military to a world body?

Think about it – the new principle, this new “norm”, essentially gives the UN the ability to decide when we should deploy military force in support of this new “norm”.

Fascinating – and not in a good way.  Remember Hillary Clinton’s words about “venue”.  It wasn’t proper to talk about action against Libya at the G8 conference.  That was a topic for the UN only.  Now we have an inkling of why.

I’m not much on conspiracy theories or other grand schemes, but if what Moon is saying is true and given the action by the Obama administration that reversed its presumed course on the subject of Libya, I am indeed concerned about the “why” of the decision and if it was in support of the principle Moon outlined above.

If it is, we need to renounce it immediately.  I don’t want any world body making decisions about where our military should be used, especially when we have no abiding national interest in the area of concern.

~McQ

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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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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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