No Fly Zone
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 (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.
In this podcast, Bruce and Dale discuss the Libyan situation.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson had this to say on one of the Sunday shows today:
Richardson made recommendations for that policy. "What I think the U.S. Needs to do is, one, covertly arm the rebels. We should take that step. Develop a no-fly zone."
"Some kind of no-fly zone is going to be necessary mainly to send a message to Libya’s military and Gadhafi that the U.S. and international community is not with them," he continued.
Does anyone know what all of that entails? Establishing a No Fly Zone I mean. We need a reality check.
Here’s a guess based on what I know has to happen to establish air superiority/air dominance (and this is being written quickly without any real attempt to research it) in an area.
First, intelligence has to be developed pinpointing both air defenses and where hostile aircraft are located. That takes a little time. Most likely that’s an on-going effort right now.
Secondly, a time and date have to be established and communicated to the Libyan government of when the NFZ will be established. The obvious message is “if anything is in the air and identified as a Libyan military attack asset, it dies.”
Third, someone gets to go test it out to see what the state of Libya is willing or unwilling to do. I.e. some intrepid pilots get to sortie into the airspace and see what the reaction will be.
If they are fired upon by enemy air defense, then step four is a country wide (perhaps, depending where the NFZ is located) SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions must be run. Step four may be run with or without a check to see the Libyan reaction to foreign aircraft introduced into their air space.
SEAD missions are usually a combination of cruise missiles and what used to be called Wild Weasel missions (they may still be, I’m just not up on the parlance). The WW missions are usually the job of multi-role fighters toting HARM missiles. Once a site lights up their sector with radar trying to lock on the WW, this missile is fired, locks on to the radiated signature of the search radar and follows the beam right back to the source. Meanwhile the source is feeding missile sites the WW’s data and trying to knock it out of the sky.
Once the air defenses are suppressed (which can take some time with a proficient enemy and mobile air defenses), then you can introduce air superiority platforms into the conflicted skies to keep other aircraft from flying. Their job is to keep the Libyan attack air assets from flying in the areas designated NFZ.
And they can only engage hostile aircraft according to whatever Rules of Engagement (ROE) have been agreed upon and issued. And then there’s the SAR piece to be put together.
That’s just the tactical portion of it (or at least the portion that comes to mind as I write this).
On the planning side of things, you have to determine, given the size of the NFZ, how many aircraft are going to be necessary to patrol that 24/7 until the mission is called off.
Now you back off of that and try to figure out A) where they’ll be based, B) how they’re be supported logistically and C) where that logistical support will come from. Then you have to get it all together at the proper places.
Since you’re going to have to base out of the country, you’re talking increased flying time to get in an out of Libya which decreases the time on station/target. You want to maximize their time on station, which means tanker support.
If it is a multi-nation effort, like NATO, now add in all the coordination over an above the usual coordination problems that such an effort brings to the table. Things such as what the share of the mission will go to each country, what logistics assets they’re going to have to share, who’ll be in command, etc.
Said succinctly, doing this isn’t something you just snap your fingers and boom, NFZ established. I’m sure there are things I’ve left out. But you get the idea. Establishing an NFZ is a huge undertaking (and, as I understand it the first site for land based aircraft near Libya is 350 miles away). And it brings me to something White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said today about the same subject – something I agree with completely:
"They talk about it like it’s a game or a video game or something."
"When people comment on military action, most of them have no idea what they’re talking about," he said.
Precisely. Most people and politicians are clueless about what it takes to mount this sort of an operation.
And factored in on top of all of this, are the politics of the situation. We have to ask, do we really want American planes flying over Libya? In fact, you have to ask, given the colonial past, do we want any Western aircraft flying over it?
Of course that leaves few choices as to countries that could capably handle it, but my druthers are that if the West decides a NFZ must be established, countries other than the US do it.
This is as much a European problem as anyone’s. My guess is (and unfortunately I have a feeling this administration will play right along and eventually get sucked into it) they’ll try to lay it off on the UN with an eye on the US being the major participant in a UN backed effort to enforce an NFZ.
Of course that won’t stop the importation of civilian mercenaries into Libya unless those enforcing the NFZ are prepared to shoot down chartered civilian aircraft or unarmed military cargo aircraft. And if the air route is cut off, I have no doubt that Gahdaffi’s minions will establish an overland route as an alternative to the air routes.
Anyway, I understand the desire for an NFZ and the hoped for outcome – keep Gahdaffi’s fighters and attack heli’s on the ground so they’re not bombing and rocketing innocent civilians. Got it. The question is, is that our job?
I’m feeling a big “no” as the answer. Time for others to step up. Time for others to take the bulk of the action if there’s to be any (we could lend some tanker and other log support). It would actually be good for the world for that to happen … to see the Western powers who’ve depended mostly on the US to be their military arm having to pick up the mission and conduct it.
I’m wondering if they could (I know the Brits understand how it is done since they flew Desert Fox missions with us). Oh, and as a side note, every day spent dithering about whether or not to do it means another day’s delay in actually doing it (and it could take a few weeks to a month or so to get everything in place, depending on who is doing it).
But I’ve got to say, I’d like to see someone else do it for a change.