Thursday, March 17, 2011

No fly zone over Libya; end or beginning?

Over at DailyKos, the excellent Meteor Blades, who knows something about Libya since he has family there, responds to UN approval for a no-fly zone and maybe much more with the words:

The endgame begins.

I hope he's right and that we are not seeing the beginning of something unexpectedly long and mistaken.

I am not trusting; the US security establishment is involved. How could I be trusting? I can't offhand think of any military engagement these people got right in my lifetime and the more recent ones have been getting stupider, not smarter. The other day, Tom Ricks, an experienced journalist chronicling military matters who has supported imposition of a no fly zone, admitted that the list of proponents who were urging one gave him pause. It included:

Stephen E. Biegun, William Inboden, Danielle Pletka, Bruce Pitcairn Jackson, John Podhoretz, Ellen Bork, Ash Jain, Randy Scheunemann, Paul Bremer, Robert Kagan, Gary J. Schmitt, Scott Carpenter, David Kramer, Dan Senor, Elizabeth Cheney, Irina Krasovskaya, William Taft, Eliot Cohen, William Kristol, Marc Thiessen, Seth Cropsey, Tod Lindberg, Daniel Twining, Thomas Donnelly, Ann Marlowe, Ken Weinstein, Michele Dunne, Cliff May, Leon Wieseltier, Eric Edelman, Joshua Muravchik, Rich Williamson, Jamie Fly, Michael O'Hanlon, Damon Wilson, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Martin Peretz

No -- I don't know who they all are either. But every name I do recognize was a fan of the discredited Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld adventure in Iraq. With friends like these, it becomes close to impossible to believe this no fly zone we've just bought into will end well.

Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark) spent the last week at an al-Jazeera forum in Qatar talking with journalists from all over the Arab world. He had previously supported a no fly zone. But he came away with a new perspective.

While Arab public opinion should not be the sole consideration in shaping American decisions on this difficult question, Americans also should not fool themselves into thinking that an American military intervention will command long-term popular Arab support. Every Arab opinion leader and Libyan representative I spoke with at the conference told me that "American military intervention is absolutely unacceptable." Their support for a No Fly Zone rapidly evaporates when discussion turns to American bombing campaigns. This tracks with what I see in the Arab media and the public conversation. As urgently as they want the international community to come to the aid of the Libyan people, The U.S. would be better served focusing on rapid moves toward non-military means of supporting the Libyan opposition.

The deep concern for Libya is real, intense, and passionate. Arab activists and opinion leaders repeatedly warned that if Qaddafi survives it could mean the death of the Arab revolutionary moment. This is part of the wider identification across the unified Arab political space which has palpably emerged among young activists and mass publics. This includes Bahrain, by the way, where the intervention by GCC security forces against the protestors has had a comparable chilling effect even if it has received less coverage on al-Jazeera than has Libya. There is no question that most Arabs desperately want something to be done to save Libya from Qaddafi, and that this is seen as having broad and deep regional implications.

When it comes to military intervention, however, this deep identification with the Libyan protestors intersects uncomfortably with the enduring legacy of Iraq. The prospect of an American military intervention, no matter how just the cause, triggers deep suspicion. There is a vanishingly small number of Arab takers for the bizarre American conceit that the invasion of Iraq has somehow been vindicated. The invasion and occupation of Iraq remains a gaping wound in the Arab political consciousness which has barely scabbed over. Any direct American military presence in Libya would be politically catastrophic, even if requested by the Libyan opposition and given Arab League cover.

My emphasis. He came away slightly more sanguine about a UN- and Arab League-endorsed intervention by someone else's air power (who?).

If outsiders are going to get in, help the Libyan opposition, and get out, it is going to take some fancy footwork. I'd be a lot more comfortable with all this if I thought we had a President who dared resist pressure from the screamers on the right who just love projecting US military power. But we have not seen any sign we have such a President.

Whose endgame?

Photo from a demonstration in support of the Libyan opposition in San Francisco, February 26.


Rain said...

You said it all!

Belisariusorb said...

Hi there,

If you want an example of an engagement that the US & NATO did get right in our time, I would point you toward the air action against Serbia aimed to stop the massacre of Alabian-kosovars in Kosovo, conducted in 1999.

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, later to become notorious as Bush's leading vehicle of untruth, were the political leaders that time around.
Sorry that I don't have time to get into the details of that successful action to stop genocide and ultimately to force the overthrow of Serbian despot Milosevic, but in summary:
There were some mistakes, 500 innocent civilians were killed, and a few NATO airmen were shot down and recovered by their own special forces. Hard as all that sounds, the end result was a stable situation and an end to the genocide, with UN-KFOR holding the line today.
Read more from the various links at
Wikipedia (as always, not necessarily a good source in itself but a good start to look into documents linked to it)

I'm surprised more people don't remember this action - I'm sure Hillary Clinton does because her husband was its leader.

Belisariusorb said...

That link again

janinsanfran said...

Roger Cohen has laid out the case for and against intervention in Libya in a oped in the NYT. It's a good piece of work.

If you trust the US to do it right (per Cohen) -- one might believe in intervention. If you don't -- and nothing in what I've seen in my life does convince me -- it's hard to be happy about the UN decision.

But we do have to hope Libyans come out of this as well as possible.

Belisariusorb said...

With due respect, it's not a US thing, there's no sign that they're going to do anything at all except cheer from the sidelines.

France, the UK, Canada, Denmark, and Belgium are already engaged. Military command is Franco-British.

Whether you trust the US or not to it right is a moot point. The US is not world leader any more.

The scenario is pretty simple - destroy Gaddafi's military infrastructure and heavy weapons, then let the rebels carry out the ground campaign.

Hoping for a positive outcome is not enough. Hope doesn't shoot down fighter jets or helicopter gunships.

Will check the NYT piece, while I can still access NYT for free, thanks.

Belisariusorb said...

Having checked the Cohen piece I find it's deeply flawed. He uses the Bosnia 1992-93 failure to protect Bosnian civilians as his only precedent, but fails to mention the 1999 Kosovo air campaign, which despite terrible errors, DID achieve the goal of protecting civilians from genocide.

janinsanfran said...

Dear Belisariusorb -- I guess we differ. Let me say clearly: I hope very much that you are right and I am excessively pessimistic!

Belisariusorb said...

That we differ in no way lessens my respect for your good work and this excellent blog.
Hasta luego!

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