Posts Tagged ‘rebels’
The military intervention (or war) in Libya was initially argued for and supported (including by yours truly) in terms of its circumscribed goals – implementing a no-fly zone and preventing humanitarian disaster, no regime change - its legitimization by UN mandate, and its international character.
Judging from an April 14 joint op-ed in the Telegraph by President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy, entitled ‘The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes’, however, one or more of these features is now about to change. Instead of the NATO under a UN flag keeping Ghadafi’s air force and tanks immobilized and letting the rebels fend for themselves, the goal of the mission is now apparently regime change.
Regime change! Iraq, anyone?
This is not what this mission was intended for. And not only that, the question is now also to what extent this is still in terms with UN Resolution 1973, which does not provide for regime change at all.
In my opinion, the legitimacy of this mission is now being severely challenged (which is not to say, by the way, that the picture above of Libyan rebels firing what look like Hind-24 helicopter missiles from a truck is not extremely cool).
Barack Obama, March 28, 2011, explaining America’s involvement in the war in Libya:
Of course, there is no question that Libya -– and the world –- would be better off with Qaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake
Barack Obama, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, joint Op-Ed, yesterday:
The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes
Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. . . . However, so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.
Whatever one thinks about this war limited humanitarian intervention on the merits, this is not the mission that Obama cited when justifying America’s involvement. It’s the opposite: ”broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake” v. “so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations.” To claim that “regime change” is subsumbed under the goal of ”protecting civilians” is to define that objective so broadly as to render it meaningless and, independently, is to violate Obama’s explicit decree at the start that regime change would not be the military goal. Finally, note the blithe dismissal of the very limited U.N. Resolution that initially justified all this: it does not provide for regime change in Libya by force, acknowledged the three leaders, but that, in essence, is what we’re going to do anyway (continue “operations” until he’s gone).
Meanwhile, the NYT is reporting that Colonel Ghadafi is firing cluster bombs into residential areas – which, if true, is of course a flagrant war crime. But I’m beginning to doubt whether a newspaper like the NYT can still fully be trusted on such matters. When all is said and done, after all, a paper like the NYT is a perennially establishment-supporting news outlet (up till now, they’re still refusing to call the Bush administration’s interrogation techniques ‘torture’, even though they employ that term when the same techniques are employed in other countries), and reports like this broaden the case for war (compare it to reporting about the atrocities of Saddam Hussein, for example). Embedded journalists on the ground get their information via military forces, moreover, such as the rebels.
Articles are now also being written about the possible exaggeration by Obama of the humanitarian disaster in for instance Benghazi had the coalition not intervened. I don’t know about that – to me, the prevention of an atrocity is still a legit ground for international, UN-mandated intervention – but it’s good to remain watchful.
Although I support the Libyan military intervention on the grounds that it averted humanitarian disaster, is limited, is international, and was UN-instigated, there are two huge elephants in the room. The first is the unclear goal of the mission (for more on that, see here). The second is that we don’t even know who the Libyan rebels are exactly, and what they want…
That’s actually a pretty big problem. In the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, it was clear to everyone with eyes to see that the protesters consisted of modern, peaceful, secular people from all sections of the population, who wanted to exercise their political rights (even though conservatives immediately painted them as fundamentalists). In Libya, though, demonstrations have turned into something that’s more like a civil war between two parties, of one of which relatively little is known. Who are the people taking over when Ghadafi’s gone?
The NYT addresses this problem. Although the article doesn’t really answer the question, a picture of a society that is way different from its neighbours emerges. While the rebel council makes rhetorical commitments to democracy and the rule of law, tribal strife also seems to play a big role in their struggle against Ghadafi. And they don’t always necessarily behave nicely either.
The question has hovered over the Libyan uprising from the moment the first tank commander defected to join his cousins protesting in the streets of Benghazi: Is the battle for Libya the clash of a brutal dictator against a democratic opposition, or is it fundamentally a tribal civil war?
The answer could determine the course of both the Libyan uprising and the results of the Western intervention. In the West’s preferred chain of events, airstrikes enable the rebels to unite with the currently passive residents of the western region around Tripoli, under the banner of an essentially democratic revolution that topples Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
He, however, has predicted the opposite: that the revolt is a tribal war of eastern Libya against the west that ends in either his triumph or a prolonged period of chaos.
“It is a very important question that is terribly near impossible to answer,” said Paul Sullivan, a political scientist at Georgetown University who has studied Libya. “It could be a very big surprise when Qaddafi leaves and we find out who we are really dealing with.”
The behavior of the fledgling rebel government in Benghazi so far offers few clues to the rebels’ true nature. Their governing council is composed of secular-minded professionals — lawyers, academics, businesspeople — who talk about democracy, transparency, human rights and the rule of law. But their commitment to those principles is just now being tested as they confront the specter of potential Qaddafi spies in their midst, either with rough tribal justice or a more measured legal process.
Like the Qaddafi government, the operation around the rebel council is rife with family ties. And like the chiefs of the Libyan state news media, the rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda, claiming nonexistent battlefield victories, asserting they were still fighting in a key city days after it fell to Qaddafi forces, and making vastly inflated claims of his barbaric behavior.
Read more (the second part of the article kinda nuances the importance of tribal culture to contemporary Libyan society, which today is predominantly urban and also educated).
Matthew Yglesias comments:
Completely leaving the question of US military intervention aside, back when the Libyan Revolution first turned violent I turned pessimistic about its prospects. You can understand why people take up arms against violent repressive regimes. But the fact of the matter is that armed conflict is generally a poor basis on which to establish a liberal democratic political order. Successful political transitions to democracy generally take place through exercises of non-violent “people power” as in the American South, the Philippines, Chile, Central Europe in 1989, and the general template followed in Tunisia and Egypt. Once a conflict is settled by violence and you’re in a dynamic where political power grows from the barrel of a gun, then you’ve either laid the groundwork for further civil conflict or a new authoritarianism under new bosses.
Now that the military intervention in Libya is entering its third day, some doubts about the whole action are beginning to arise in the mainstream media and online. Well, actually, on the blogosphere, notably in the US, the enthusiasm doesn’t seem to have been great to begin with. Also, here, the legitimacy and even domestic legality of the military actions are being called into question. The NYT, though, now also has a good piece about what is the fundamental problem with this intervention: what conclusion do we want it to have? What is the purpose of this intervention?
Basically, two answers to that are possible. One is the removal of Colonel Ghadafi by coalition military might. The other is the implementation of the no-fly zone (and, by now, it seems, also the destruction of the Libyan military), thus either allowing the rebels to topple Ghadafi, or pushing for negotiations between them and Ghadafi. I have the impression that the second option is what the coalition is pretty explicitly pushing for - although some (French) officials have also hinted at the first option, and Obama has indicated that to him the only outcome of negotiations can also be the removal of Ghadafi. The problem is, though: what if the second option doesn’t work out, and either the rebels are defeated, unable to conquer the entire country, or Ghadafi remains in (partial) power? Then we have an open-ended military commitment; and that is something we do not want to have.
The first option, though, is evidently outside of the scope of UNSCR 1973.
So this military intervention is predicated on a huge gamble, namely that the rebels will be able to swiftly re-conquer the country. If not, then we have a problem – the West is then embroiled in a third war in a Muslim country, and public support for this undertaking, both in the West and in the Arab world, will quickly ebb away. The model seems to be Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance doing the ground work (and then letting them install a government), rather than Iraq 2003. The comparison with the Iraq War, though, is already now increasingly being heard online. I would like the main point of this blog post to be that while the pitfalls of this mission (as stipulated above) must be recognized, any comparison with the Iraq War falls flat and is completely unfair. Let’s compare the two.
The Iraq War was a US-led war of aggression, against a state that posed no direct threat to the US. It was based on a fraudulent case about so-called weapons of mass destruction, that was embarassingly argued for by Colin Powell in the UN – a top aide later admitted this to be the lowest point in his career. There was a doctrine called ‘pre-emptive war’, which was up till then unheard of in international relations, and was accepted only in US neocon circles. There was no substantial international coalition backing this invasion, and what’s more, it was illegal: the UN resolution that was in place at the time did not provide for a full-scale war and toppling of the government.
The Libyan intervention, on the other hand, is a UN-instigated, UN-backed mission primarily meant to prevent the massacre of thousands of people. The pretty strong-worded Resolution 1973 fully, legally provides for everything that is happening right now. As co-blogger blsd has also argued here, this is what the Security Council was set up for! Only because of the Cold War did it never come around to do so. The international coalition supporting this mission is much broader than in the case of Iraq (ranging from Europe to the Arab League), and while Russia, China and India may be bitching now, they could’ve prevented this intervention in the Security Council if they’d wanted to, yet they didn’t. The Arab League is also still on board. The military action up till now may have been bold, but it effectuated what was stipulated in the Resolution: implement a no-fly zone.
I’m not saying this is without enormous risks, or even that it’s the best thing to do; but to compare it with Iraq is to demonstrate an Americentric worldview that supposes that once again this is an American mission with the rest of the world merely looking on. The US may bear the brunt, true; but the rhetorical lipservice being paid to this being an international coalition, and most importantly the fact that this is a circumscribed, UN-mandated mission, makes this an essentially different thing. It’s the reason that I, for one, can back this thing for now, as I suspect a far larger percentage of the European populace does than in the case of Iraq.
Of course this thing may be running out of hand, and then I’ll hate it was ever started and pound my head and ask, ‘Have we learned nothing?’ But for now, to me it seems that if there ever was a reason for an intervention, and a process to give it legitimacy and an international coalition, it’s this one and now. Let’s hope that it essentially stays limited, that there’s a quick way out, and that it doesn’t blow up in everybody’s faces.
This is pretty significant news I think. In the great tradition of revolutionary France (not to mention that of the Free French), France is the first country to recognise Libya’s oppositional National Council as the legitimate representative of the nation. An ambassador will be sent to the rebel-held town of Benghazi, and a Libyan oppositional representative will set up shop in the Libyan embassy in Paris. Chapeau Sarkozy! Who follows?
- Update: the United Kingdom joins the fray.
France has become the first major European power to recognise Libya’s opposition National Council as the country’s legitimate representative.
The move, which will see an ambassador sent to the rebel-held town of Benghazi, was announced during a meeting between envoys from the council and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, in Paris on Thursday.
Sarkozy plans to re-open the Libyan embassy in Paris and implement a reciprocal arrangement where France will open an embassy in Benghazi, Tim Friend, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the French capital, said.
“This is a very significant statement of intent which reinforces France’s recognition that the Libyan transitional National Council is the legitimate body now representing Libya, they’re the people they want to talk to,” he said.
“I think France has gone further than anyone else so far in doing that.”
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, has also urged partners in the European Union to follow suit and engage with Libyan opposition leaders.