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.
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It sort of works out like this – if you’re Libya, look out but if you’re Iran or China, don’t worry about it. Allahpundit explains:
Via Greg Hengler, it’s simple as can be. If (1) there’s a preventable humanitarian crisis looming and (2) the benefits of intervention outweigh the costs and (3) there’s international support for intervening, then “go for it.” Question: What if (1) and (2) are satisfied but not (3)? Just … let ‘em die, then?
For instance, how about Syria?
At least 10 people have been killed and dozens wounded after Syrian police opened fire on people protesting against the deaths of anti-government demonstrators in Deraa, witnesses say.
Hundreds of youths from nearby villages were shot at when they tried to march into the centre of the southern city.
A Syrian human rights activist told the BBC that at least 37 had died.
Troops also reportedly shot at people attending the funerals of six people killed in a raid on a mosque overnight.
Why that sounds almost exactly like things that happened in Libya prior to the international coalition finally taking action. Again, just as in Libya, we have “civilians” being killed by their government.
Time to apply the Obama Doctrine? Is that crickets I hear?
If you think that I’m making this up – about the Obama Doctrine that is – here’s Andrea Mitchell to explain it to you:
So who gets the full Monty and what popular uprising gets ignored by the doctrine? We know Iran gets a free pass. And apparently so does Syria. Who else?
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The supposed mission is to “protect civilians from their own government”. And we’ve been told that the mission is not “regime change”. Except, maybe it is:
“As long as Gadhafi remains in power — unless he changes his approach provides the Libyan people the opportunity to express themselves freely and there are significant reforms by the Libyan government, and he steps down — there’s still going to be a potential threat to the Libyan people,” Obama told reporters at a news conference here, his final stop on a five-day tour of Latin America. “We will continue to support the efforts to protect the Libyan people, but we will not be in the lead.”
So … we’ll fly until and “unless he changes his approach provides the Libyan people the opportunity to express themselves freely and there are significant reforms by the Libyan government, and he steps down”?
Uh, hate to break it to everyone but that sounds like “regime change” to me. It also sounds like a pretty open ended commitment. The Hill is also confused about the rhetoric it is hearing. It too thinks it sounds like "regime change”.
Then there’s this:
“When this transition takes place, it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone,” Obama said. “It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily involved in enforcing the arms embargo. That’s precisely what the other coalition partners are going to do.”
Great and wonderful I guess. But if the president thinks this is akin to Pilate washing his hands of Jesus and walking away, that’s not going to happen. While it is nice to see Europe step up, this is and always will be considered an action by the US on the “Arab street”.
And about mission creep? Well, consider this:
As the coalition military effort has unfolded in recent days, it has been unclear how closely it would coordinate with opposition or armed rebel forces in Libya. Obama did not rule out the possibility of arming the rebels.
“Obviously, we’re discussing with the coalition what steps can be taken. I think that our hope is that the first thing that happens once we have cleared this space is that the rebels are able to start discussing how they organize themselves, how they articulate their aspirations for the Libyan people and create a legitimate government,” the president told CNN.
Arming the rebels (which the administration admits they know almost nothing) would be picking sides. In a rebellion/civil war. Given the description of how the country breaks down tribally, we’d immediately alienate half the Libyans. And we’d then have manufactured a vested interest in seeing the future Libya shaped in our imagined image.
Any idea of how the “optics” of such a mission creep would be viewed by the rest of the ME? And it would apparently be creep since the commander on the scene does not think it is part of his mission:
Gen. Carter F. Ham, who is leading the U.S. effort in Libya, said today that the mission is "not to support opposition forces," but later added that the coalition will not support rebels if they take offensive action against Gadhafi’s regime, only if they are attacked.
Or perhaps they will per Obama not ruling out the possibility of arming the rebels, a very short step from supporting “opposition forces”. In fact it would be “supporting opposition forces” for anyone objectively viewing the situation.
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes says:
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to stop the assaults on those population centers and get the Gadhafi forces to stop their offensives there, their shellings of those civilian areas and their potential attacks on civilians in those areas; and then have a no-fly zone in place that can ensure that Qadhafi is not using any of his air assets or substantial military assets to launch offensives against his own people,” Rhodes said.
But their air assets really never were used very much or very effectively. Admiral Sam Locklear yesterday at a DoD briefing:
Qadhafi’s air force was never the epitome of potency, Locklear said Tuesday; before the alliance attacked last weekend, Libya had some old broken-down jets and a few dozen helicopters it used in its campaign against the rebel alliance. Almost all of those aircraft are now destroyed or weren’t operational in the first place, Locklear said, meaning they’re now a non-issue: "I am completely confident that the air force of Colonel Gadhafi will not have a negative impact on the coalition, and that … if there were anything that we didn’t see or that we [weren't] able to influence by our initial campaign, that we’d be able to manage that."
There are also reports coming in that the attacks in civilian areas have not been halted, but instead continue.
Last night, there was no sign the heavy Western bombardment had shifted the balance decisively in favour of the poorly armed anti-Gaddafi forces. Libyan government forces were fighting back last night on the eastern front line near the key city of Ajdabiya. The counter-attack followed the failure of rebel forces to take the city on Sunday despite air attacks having destroyed regime tanks and artillery. By yesterday evening, there were reports that the regime’s troops were moving south once again to threaten the route to Tobruk and the Egyptian border.
So now what? And a question that comes to mind – what if we arm the rebels and they begin to drive on Tripoli and in so doing, begin killing civilians? Show stopper? Do we intervene then too?
Finally the new coalition command structure appears to be one of compromise which may or not function well. NATO appears it will have a role because of its supposed superior “command and control capability”. But the French also want a lead roll and certainly the Arabs want a say so.
The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, told the French parliament yesterday that a compromise deal would see a "political steering group" of coalition foreign ministers plus the Arab League take over political direction of the air campaign.
And anyone who has made a study of war knows that such a structure (I hesitate to call it a command structure) is fraught with many downside possibilities, one of which is an inability to quickly make decisions, especially with the necessity to consult with a “political steering group” first. It will be more like war by committee. Yeah, nothing could go wrong with that, could it?
UPDATE: The UK’s Daily Mail provides a Libya update bullet list:
- Tensions with Britain as Gates rebukes UK government over suggestion Gaddafi could be assassinated
- French propose a new political ‘committee’ to oversee operations
- Germany pulls equipment out of NATO coalition over disagreement over campaign’s direction
- Italians accuse French of backing NATO in exchange for oil contracts
- No-fly zone called into question after first wave of strikes ‘neutralises’ Libyan military machine
- U.K. ministers say war could last ’30 years’
- Italy to ‘take back control’ of bases used by allies unless NATO leadership put in charge of the mission
- Russians tell U.S. to stop bombing in order to protect civilians – calls bombing a ‘crusade’
Looking good, no? You can read all about it at the link.
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For instance, did you know that Libya has about as much of a tribal problem as does Afghanistan? Or perhaps “problem” isn’t the best choice of words. Are you aware of the tribal politics involved in Libya?
Yeah, neither are most folks – in fact, I dare say that lack of knowledge may even extend to, ahem, our government experts.
First, let’s look at the military operations side of this potential debacle. What and where are the coalition members striking? Well here’s a graphic from the Washington Post that provides a fairly extensive overview of how Libyan government forces are arrayed.
That gives you a pretty good representation of the lay of the land. Note the “opposition held” cities and their location. Almost all of them are in the east. That will come into the discussion a bit further on. As it stands, those air fields noted on the map and the air defense system of Libya have been the primary target of the coalition attacks. There have also been some attacks on armored columns, the one specifically reported was headed into Benghazi.
How effective has all of this been? Well again, reports out of Libya before the “intervention” were sparse about the effectiveness of Libyan air power. But what had been reported didn’t seem to paint Libyan air support as very decisive.
Meanwhile in the coalition, some dissention. ABC’s “The Note” notes:
"The biggest obstacle to the Libyan intervention right now isn’t the Arab world but rather differences among France, the U.K. and the U.S. about who’s in charge," Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels and a former NATO defense analyst, said in an interview with Bloomberg News.
The Obama administration continues to emphasize the operation will be short in duration and scope, and that the U.S. will hand over authority to its coalition partners soon. The transition will happen in a "matter of days, not a matter of weeks," President Obama said on Monday. "How quickly this transfer takes places will be determined by the recommendations of our commanding officers."
That and how well the coalition holds together. For instance, according to Jake Tapper:
Members of the Arab League have also expressed skepticism. There were several calls from some members of the Arab League this weekend to stop the strikes, given reports of civilian deaths being broadcast by Libyan state TV. The United Arab Emirates, which was to be a key participant, has decided not to send military aircraft.
France is pushing hard to have command handed over to them. But Italy’s Foreign Minister Frattini has said Italy will rethink the use of its bases if NATO isn’t given command. Norway has suspended its participation until the command issue is resolved. Meanwhile, we have the football.
Obama responds to the criticism:
Obama today sought to temper some of the concerns about the mission, saying the United States’ advanced military capabilities and initial leadership "shapes the environment in which a no-fly zone would be effective."
"After the initial thrust that has disabled Gadhafi’s air defenses, limits his ability to threaten large population centers like Benghazi, that there is going to be a transition taking place in which we have a range of coalition partners… who will then be participating in establishing a no-fly zone," Obama said in Chile. "So there will be a transition taking place of which we are one of the partners."
And someone else will be in charge, supposedly, deciding how to “shape the environment in which the no-fly zone would be effective” according to their interpretation of the effective UN resolution 1973. It could, of course, be a much more aggressive interpretation than the US has committed too. Then what?
So, what is the proposed end-state to all of this? When does this coalition stop flying. Well that’s the most important unanswered question there is. And there’s a reason it is unanswered – there is no “exit strategy” as we speak.
Which brings us to a little of the background of the Libyan situation. Ted Galen Carpenter, of CATO lays a little history on us:
[T]he United States and its allies are wandering into a murky political and demographic minefield in Libya. Western media and policy types have a fuzzy image of the rebels as brave, democratic insurgents determined to liberate the country from a brutal tyrant. But there are other, perhaps far more important, elements involved. Libya itself is yet another fragile, artificial political entity that the European colonial powers created. Italy cobbled together three disparate provinces to establish its Libyan colony. Those areas consisted of Cyrenaica in the east (centered around on the cities of Benghazi and Tobruk), Tripolitania in the west (centered around Tripoli, which became the colonial capital), and less populous and less important Fezzan in the south-southwest.
The key point is that the various tribes inhabiting Cyrenaica and Tripolitania had almost nothing in common. Indeed, they sometimes had an adversarial relationship. Yet, when the victorious Allied powers took control of Libya from Italy during and after World War II, they maintained this unstable amalgam instead of separating it into its more cohesive constituent parts.
That is not merely a matter of historical interest. The sharp divide between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania persisted after Libya became independent, and it persists to this day. It is no coincidence that the current uprising against the Qaddafi regime began in the east, with rebel forces quickly seizing Benghazi and other cities in Cyrenaica. Virtually all previous (unsuccessful) anti-regime movements began in the same region. Qaddafi is from Tripolitania and has long depended on western tribes and his western-dominated security forces as his power base. And as easily as rebel demonstrators and troops seized major targets in the east, they predictably faltered as they pressed deeper into Tripolitania.
So what’s the message here? This is mostly tribal warfare that has historical precedence and is unlikely to – in and of itself – see Gadhafi ousted from power. He is the titular head of the tribe which populates the area in which he lives. Again, note those “opposition controlled” cities and where they’re located. What we’re messing in is a civil war with one side/tribe warring against the other. The question is, with the change of command among the coalition, will the new command eventually pick a side. Right now the mission is ostensibly to protect civilian lives. But what if the new coalition commander decides air strikes in support of a rebel offensive is the best way to “protect civilians”? What then?
Carpenter also asks what we know about the rebels:
The agenda of the rebels remains uncertain, but the two leading possibilities both pose major problems for the United States and its allies as they launch their intervention. One possibility is that insurgent leaders want to keep Libya intact and simply reverse the power relationship with their Tripolitanian adversaries. In other words, a victory over the Qaddafi regime would be time for payback. The other possibility is that they wish to split the country and secure independence for Cyrenaica. There is historical precedent for such an objective. Libya’s monarch, King Idris, told the United States and the other Allied powers after World War II that he wished to rule only Cyrenaica, because he thought that trying to control the larger amalgam would be too difficult and lead to dangerous instability.
So should the mission creep to the extent that the coalition is aiding the rebels in their quest to overthrow the Gadhafi regime, what’s the possible outcome?
Assisting the Cyrenaica-based rebels to oust Qaddafi will almost certainly provoke resentment from the people of Tripolitania. If the rebels split the country, that will become a focal point of resentment for those defeated tribes — and a new grievance against the West throughout much of the Muslim world. Even if the rebels attempt to keep Libya intact, the Tripolitanians are bound to resent Washington for their new, subordinate status. Either way, the United States and its allies are in danger of stumbling into a situation in which they are almost certain to acquire new enemies. That is the last thing that America needs.
And there are other questions about the rebel forces as well:
According to a cache of al Qaeda documents captured in 2007 by U.S. special operations commandos in Sinjar, Iraq, hundreds of foreign fighters, many of them untrained young Islamic volunteers, poured into Iraq in 2006 and 2007. The documents, called the Sinjar documents, were collected, translated and analyzed at the West Point Counter Terrorism Center. Almost one in five foreign fighters arriving in Iraq came from eastern Libya, many from the city of Darnah. Others came from Surt and Misurata to the west.
On a per capita basis, that’s more than twice as many than came from any other Arabic-speaking country, amounting to what the counter terrorism center called a Libyan “surge" of young men eager to kill Americans.
During 2006 and 2007, a total of 1,468 Americans were killed in combat and 12,524 were badly wounded, according to Pentagon records.
Today, there is little doubt that eastern Libya, like other parts of the Arab world, is experiencing a genuine burst of anti-totalitarian fervor, expressed in demands for political freedom and economic reforms. But there also is a dark history to eastern Libya, which is the home of the Islamic Libyan Fighting Group, an anti-Gaddafi organization officially designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization.
Yes, so far this is shaping up to be quite a little mess. Obama may think he can hurl a few Tomahawks at the “bad guys”, hand it all over to someone else and walk away, but that’s not a reality I see in the cards for this one. And it is certainly a reality we have little national interest in or should have involved ourselves in.
But here we are …
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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 …
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Like much of what this particular president has said over the past 3 years, both as a candidate and President, we have another example of a promise or statement that turned out to be “just words”. Actions have not matched the rhetoric so many times. And the attack on Libya is no different. From candidate Obama:
That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.
Now let me be clear: I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power…. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors…and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.
One assumes we’ll soon be hearing from Barack Obama as he explains to the nation what “imminent and direct threat to the United States or its neighbors” Libya posed. And I further assume he’ll tell us why he believed Saddam could be “contained” regardless of what he did to his citizens, but Gadhafi couldn’t.
And one more point to make – given the Obama paradigm (based on the UN’s “new” principle of the “right to protect” (R2P)), he can no longer call Iraq a “dumb war” or a “rash war”, can he, since one of the reasons in the AUMF was to stop him from perpetrating violence on the citizens of Iraq.
Of course adherence to this new doctrine (It is no longer necessary to base military action on a imminent and direct threat to the US), means we should be gearing up for humanitarian interventions all over the globe … no?
This is an excuse to be selectively applied for whatever benefit politically those in power can see it garners them. Pressed to intervene on humanitarian grounds, our so-called leaders folded, backing away from his own standard for committing our armed forces to war and doing precisely what he had formerly denounced.
But then, that’s really nothing new with this guy.
I assume we can expect the anti-war left to denounce this as another “war of choice”, just as they denounced Iraq – right?
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In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Japanese Libyan no-fly zone and the strange case of a man convicted of creating “Liberty Dollars”.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
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Lots to talk about, both domestically and internationally in terms of reaction to the No Fly Zone imposition.
First and foremost is the effect thus far. Seemingly not much if some reports are to be believed. Apparently 112 tomahawk missiles were launched against around 20 targets. If you’re wondering why so many against so few targets, the answer is the type of targets they were used against. My understanding is they were fired against air defense missile batteries. Those type targets are spread out with command and control in one place, acquisition radars in another and the actual launchers in even another area. So “servicing” such a target with 5 t-hawks is not excessive.
But, that said, there are reports that Gadhafi’s forces are still advancing into Benghazi and other areas.
Secondly, and this was almost predictable, the Arab League has criticized the US and allies for the initial campaign. Yes, the same Arab League that has been calling for the establishment of an NFZ for a couple of weeks. Reason for the criticism? The strikes are reported to have killed … civilians. Of course the primary reason for the NFZ was to prevent further killing of civilians by troops loyal to Gadhafi.
Arab League head Amr Moussa told reporters Sunday that the Arab league thought the use of force was excessive following an overnight bombing campaign that Libya claims killed at least 48 people.
"What we want is civilians’ protection, not shelling more civilians," he said.
Hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but tomahawks are an area type weapon that really aren’t at all discerning about the target. They’re told to go to a particular place and do their thing. Whatever is in that area is not going to like the result. The problem, of course, is if your intel isn’t good and it goes to a place full of civilians, well, the result will be dead civilians.
That apparently has happened in the case of some of the t-hawk missiles launched yesterday.
We all understand "collateral damage", but when the entire purpose of the mission is to prevent such "collateral damage", it doesn’t do well for that mission to then cause it. Should it continue, we’ll see a dwindling coalition, especially among the Arab faction. And you can count on Gadhafi to propagandize the results to the max. Think Saddam’s "Baby Milk Factory".
Here at home, well, it has been an interesting set of reactions. Most Congressional Democrats, to include Nancy Pelosi, have held their nose and backed the President’s decision. But not all of them. The anti-war Congressional liberal caucus has condemned the decision.
A hard-core group of liberal House Democrats is questioning the constitutionality of U.S. missile strikes against Libya, with one lawmaker raising the prospect of impeachment during a Democratic Caucus conference call on Saturday.
Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Mike Capuano (Mass.), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Rob Andrews (N.J.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions” during that call, said two Democratic lawmakers who took part.
That’s quite a coterie of liberals. Of course I’m pretty sure the war powers act covers the Constitutionality angle, however, Obama can certainly expect to hear from these people in the coming days and weeks. Kucinich thinks that firing the missiles are an impeachable offense.
And liberals fumed that Congress hadn’t been formally consulted before the attack and expressed concern that it would lead to a third U.S. war in the Muslim world.
I especially enjoyed Charles Rangel’s point about all of this:
"Our presidents seem to believe that all we have to do is go to the U.N. and we go to war," Rangel said
I expect those who didn’t agree the Congressional Authorization to Use Military Force for Iraq constituted a declaration of war to be much more upset by this. Firing missiles into Libya at the behest of whatever global body “authorized” it is still an act of war. In the case of both Iraq (in violation of the cease fire) and Afghanistan (harboring the NGO that attacked the US) there was a much firmer basis for going to war in each place than in Libya. We’ll see how far those who prosecuted this line of argument against the Bush administration do the same with the Obama administration.
Full disclosure – I’m not anti-war, I’m anti-this war. I see absolutely no compelling national interest that should involve us in Libya. I say that so I’m not lumped in with the next two goofs.
Michael Moore and Louis Farrakhan. Now there’s a pair to draw too. Moore took to Twitter to vent his displeasure:
It’s only cause we’re defending the Libyan people from a tyrant! That’s why we bombed the Saudis last wk! Hahaha. Pentagon=comedy
And we always follow the French’s lead! Next thing you know, we’ll have free health care & free college! Yay war!
We’ve had a "no-fly zone" over Afghanistan for over 9 yrs. How’s that going? #WINNING !
Khadaffy must’ve planned 9/11! #excuses
Khadaffy must’ve had WMD! #excusesthatwork
Khadaffy must’ve threatened to kill somebody’s daddy! #daddywantedjeb
Moore comes from the terminally naïve “war is never the answer” club. I certainly agree in this case – it’s not the answer for us. That said, funny how, as usual, Bush became a source for Moore’s displeasure at the Obama decision. Although this next Moore tweet did at least make me laugh:
May I suggest a 50-mile evacuation zone around Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize? #returnspolicy
By the way, the article about Moore’s pique mentions the irony of the fact that the strikes in Libya come on the 8th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war.
Meanwhile in Farrakhan land, a question was asked of Obama:
FARRAKHAN: "I warn my brother do you let these wicked demons move you in a direction that will absolutely ruin your future with your people in Africa and throughout the world…Why don’t you organize a group of respected Americans and ask for a meeting with Qaddafi, you can’t order him to step down and get out, who the hell do you think you are?
Well, George Bush, of course. /s
Andrew Sullivan points out that this is an action that breaks yet another of Obama’s campaign promises:
My point is that Obama made a specific distinction on this in the campaign. And I quote again:
"The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
My only point on this is that the decision to commit military forces in North Africa – made on a dime in one Tuesday meeting – is a direct breaking of that campaign promise.
And, in this case, Sullivan is actually right – there is no “actual or imminent threat to the nation” from or concerning Libya. None.
Times Square in NYC saw a sprinkling of anti-war protesters outside a military recruiting station:
An anti-war demonstration in Times Square that was meant to mark the eighth anniversary of the Iraq invasion quickly became a protest against the military strikes on Libya Saturday.
About 80 protesters gathered near the U.S. military recruiting center in Times Square, chanting "No to war!" and carrying banners that read, "I am not paying for war" and "Butter not guns." A quartet of women in flowered hats who called themselves the Raging Grannies sang: "No more war, we really mean it!"
Of course they should have been staging their protest outside of Hillary Clinton’s home since she apparently was the moving force in taking us to war while the SecDef Gates opposed it.
Finally, and this is just another example of poor leadership – you don’t commit your nation to war, and make no mistake that’s precisely what this is- and put young American men and women in harm’s way and then gallivant off to Rio.
As they like to say nowadays, it’s the “optics” of the thing. And in this case, the optics are poor. He’s decided that the priority for our nation is to attack Libya, but his priority is, instead of postponing a trip that could be conducted another time, to continue on to Brazil even while his nation goes to war.
Yeah, about that, not good. Not good at all.
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I’d love to tell you I’m surprised (well I am somewhat surprised that the French are already trying to enforce the NFZ), but finding out that Gadhafi’s forces are still attacking despite declaring a “cease fire” seemed pretty predictable at the time.
According to Nicholas Sarkozy, the French have the situation well in hand:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said allied air forces had gone into action on Saturday over Libya and were preventing Muammar Gaddafi’s forces attacking opposition fighters and civilians.
"Our planes are already preventing air attacks on the city (Benghazi)," he said adding that military action supported by France, Britain, the United States and Canada and backed by Arab nations could be halted if Gaddafi stopped his forces attacking.
Well, that’s nice. Seeing as how air attacks don’t really seem to have been very decisive one way or the other to this point, and based on everything I’ve read, I’d suggest the benefit is marginal at best.
Gaddafi’s forces also battled insurgents on the outskirts of the opposition-held city of Benghazi on Saturday, defying world demands for an immediate ceasefire and forcing opposition fighters to retreat.
The advance by Gaddafi’s troops into Libya’s second city of 670,000 people appeared to be an attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention which diplomats say will come after an international meeting currently underway in Paris.
A Libyan opposition spokesman said Gaddafi’s forces had entered Benghazi while a Reuters witness saw a jet circling over the city shot down and at least one separate explosion near the opposition movement’s headquarters in the city.
"They have entered Benghazi from the west. Where are the Western powers? They said they could strike within hours," opposition military spokesman Khalid al-Sayeh told Reuters.
See what I mean about “marginal”? Apparently they have struck “within hours” but taking out a single plane that apparently wasn’t doing much more than recon isn’t going to swing the balance of power to the rebel side. And, as mentioned yesterday, once Gadhafi’s forces enter the city, it will become much too dangerous to strike within the city for fear of collateral damage killing civilians (unless you put SOF folks in with the rebels to handle that sort of job – but remember, we’re not committing any ground troops).
Benghazi isn’t the only place Gadhafi’s troops are on the move:
A witness told Al Arabiya television on Saturday that Zintan in western Libya was being bombarded and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s tanks were approaching the town. "Now we are being bombed in Zintan from more than one direction: from the north and the south," said the witness, who was not identified.
"There are tanks heading towards the southern entrance of Zintan, around 20 to 30 tanks, which are hitting the city and residential areas in the south," he said.
Obviously, “preventing air attacks” isn’t going to change much is it? The tanks are still rolling on.
The words are over, the threats have been made – now it is put up or shut up time.
I think involvement in this is a mistake. We’ll see how it goes.
UPDATE: From the Washington Post:
Forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi entered the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi early in the day after shelling and fierce fighting, a fresh act of defiance of U.N. calls for a cease-fire. Government troops in tanks and trucks entered Benghazi from the west, in the university area, and began to shell the city, including civilian areas. Intense fighting broke out in some enclaves. The city of 1 million quickly became a ghost town, with residents fleeing or seeking cover in barricaded neighborhoods.
So they’re in Benghazi. Apparently there is a huge civilian exodus to the East (Egypt).
Oh, and about that airplane that was shot down circling Benghazi:
A warplane was shot down over Benghazi, and rebel leaders later claimed it as one of their own. While they said mechanical problems caused the crash, calls from mosques across the city suggested that friendly fire brought down the plane. “Don’t attack the airplanes, because these are our planes,” a mosque preacher urged over loudspeakers.
Apparently the rebels shot down their own plane.
But the besieged town of Misurata, 130 miles east of Tripoli, was still coming under heavy artillery fire, residents said, and there were also reports of continued fighting around Ajdabiya, even farther to the east. The assaults on rebel-held towns took place despite government promises of a cease-fire.
On the rather daffy side (yeah, couldn’t help it):
In what appeared to be a desperate attempt to avert military action, Gaddafi sent two letters to international leaders, according to deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim, who read the letters to journalists. One was a warm, conciliatory note to Obama, and the other was a sharply worded, menacing message to the United Nations, France and Britain.
To Obama, he wrote: “If Libya and the US enter into a war you will always remain my son, and I have love for you.” Libya is battling al-Qaeda, he said, seeking Obama’s advice. “How would you behave so that I can follow your example?” he asked.
In the other letter, addressed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the leaders of France and Britain, he warned that the entire region would be destabilized if they pursued strikes against Libya. “You will regret it if you take a step to intervene in our internal affairs,” he wrote.
Why does Gadhafi consider Obama his “son”?
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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?
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.
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