It is extremely unclear what the political outcome inside Libya of the tripartite (western) assault against the country will be. It is unclear, too, what political outcome the leaders of the three countries are aiming at in Libya.
In my experience, all wars are anti-humane and anti-humanitarian. But according to “Just War” theory, Clausewitz, Gen. Sherman and other definers of the western pro-war canon, wars can only ever be justified if they are fought to bring about political outcomes that are clearly defined, compellingly desirable, and highly probable. If you can’t even define the desired political endgame, then launching a war is ipso facto immoral. Launching a war just to “prove some kind of a point” is doubly immoral.
The only things that are clear as of today are that the politics not just of terminating this war but also of fighting it are extremely muddled; that this degree of muddle can be expected to grow; and– given the passions that the war has already ignited– that the escalation of violence that it represented will be very hard indeed to tame, de-escalate, and finally bring under control.
French Pres. Nicholas Sarkozy was facing local elections in his country yesterday. I can’t escape the feeling that his bellicosity against Qadhdhafi last week might have been connected with that. He has seemed eager to make this a fiight “to the very end”– the end of Qadhdhafi’s rule in Libya, that is.
Two weeks ago, Obama called for end to Qadhdhafi’s rule, too. But when the war-permitting UNSCR 1973 was passed on Thursday (March 17), Obama spelled out that “regime change” in Libya. was not part of the war plan. And today, the American general who has been leading the war effort for the Pentagon, “Africom” head Gen. Carter Ham, reiterated that position:
- “I have no mission to attack that person, and we are not doing so. We are not seeking his whereabouts or anything like that,” Ham said.
… “I have a very discreet [discrete] military mission, so I could see accomplishing the military mission and the current leader would remain the current leader,” Ham said. “I don’t think anyone would say that is ideal.”
In that article, FP’s Josh Rogin also wrote that Ham spelled out that the tactical goals that U.S. missile and drone strikes are planned to achieve have to do only with “the protection of civilians” rather than with aiding the military campaign of the Libyan insurrectionaries.
Here is Ham’s very complex explanation of what his forces are trying to achieve, as reported by Rogin:
- “Many in the opposition truly are civilians…trying to protect their civilian business, lives, and families,” said Ham. “There are also those in the opposition that have armored vehicles and heavy weapons. Those parts of the opposition are no longer covered under that ‘protect civilians’ clause” of the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized military intervention.
“It’s a very problematic situation,” Ham admitted. “Sometimes these are situations that brief better at the headquarters than in the cockpit of an aircraft.”
So how are pilots in the air supposed to tell the difference? If the opposition groups seem to be organized and fighting, the airplanes imposing the no-fly zone are instructed not to help them.
“Where they see a clear situation where civilians are threatened, they have… intervened,” said Ham. “When it’s unclear that it’s civilians that are being attacked, the air crews are instructed to be very cautious.”
“We have no authority and no mission to support the opposition forces in what they might do,” he added.
What’s more, the coalition forces won’t attack Qaddafi’s forces if they are battling rebel groups, only if they are attacking “civilians,” Ham explained. If the Qaddafi forces seem to be preparing to attack civilians, they can be attacked; but if they seem to be backing away, they won’t be targeted.
“What we look for, to the degree that we can, is to discern intent,” said Ham. “There’s no simple answer.”
A team of NYT reporters has described the upshot inside Libya, as of earlier today, in the following terms:
- Rebel fighters trying to retake the eastern town of Ajdabiya said they were driven back on Monday by rocket and tank fire from government loyalists still controlling entrances to the city. Dozens of fighters retreated to a checkpoint around 12 miles north of Ajdabiya…
For his part, Rogin had reported that Gen. Ham “said the United States was looking to transfer leadership of the mission to an international organization or structure within a few days.”
Well, good luck with that.
The alacrity with which the Obama administration launched the military strikes against Libya– and the fact that it used the Stuttgart-based “Africom” to do so– means that Africom itself is now probably a broken instrument, inasmuch as its long-described mission had been to try to build tight military-cooperation and basing relationships between the U.S. and as many African nations as possible.
Many members of the African Union have been gobsmacked by the belligerence the U.S. has shown toward Libya. The Daily Monitor of Kampala, Uganda, reported today that,
- The United Nations Security Council has rejected requests by the African Union (AU) High Level Ad-hoc Committee on Libya (AHCL) to fly to Tripoli to mediate between President Muammar Gaddafi and pro-democracy protesters fighting to end his 42-year rule.
A communiqué of the committee issued yesterday after its meeting in Mauritania said, “The committee, in conformity with resolution 1973 (2011) of the United Nations Security Council, requested for the required permission for the flight carrying its members to Libya in order to fulfill their mandate. The committee was denied permission.”
Uganda’s President Youweri Museveni had been the author of the proposal. Lest we forget, Museveni is a longtime close ally of the U.S. in Africa.
The situation at the Arab League is scarcely any better, from Washington’s point of view. Yesterday, League head Amr Moussa expressed his consternation that the three-power attack against Libya had been so broad and so harsh. (Though honestly, what on earth had the Arab League leaders expected when they had earlier called for western action against Qadhdhafi???)
Also, no-one should be terribly impressed with the news that Qatar and the UAE might send a few of their very expensive jets over to help the French with their air operations over Libya. That realy won’t affect the military equation very much.
… But if Gen. Ham was hoping to pass off leadership of this military action to any body, it was probably not the African Union or the Arab League… but NATO.
And here’s where matters have become very interesting indeed… Because NATO is deeply divided over the war. In particular, there has been a huge spat between NATO members France and Turkey over the issue, which apparently threatens to block NATO from being able to take over command and control of the military effort.
That report, from Hurriyet Daily News in Anqara, included this:
- The Turkish and French permanent representatives to NATO, Haydar Berk and Philippe Errera, quarreled seriously during Sunday’s meeting over the role of the alliance in implementing the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution No. 1973, the Daily News has learned.
… A key contributing factor to Sunday’s rift was the French decision not to invite Turkey to a meeting on Libya where the details of the implementation of the Security Council resolution were discussed. Turkey’s anger was little soothed when French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s foreign policy advisor Jean-David Levitte called Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu to explain why Ankara was not invited to the meeting.
“It is not possible for us to understand that France is taking the lead in this operation. We’re having difficulty understanding [it acting like] it is the only executor of the U.N. resolution,” said Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül.
Diplomatic sources who spoke to the Daily News expressed concern about the way Paris is trying to take control of the situation on its own. “France is acting as if it were the gendarmerie of the region. This approach could lead to instability,” one Turkish diplomat said.
Before the tripartite assault, Turkish PM Rejep Tayyip Erdogan was working hard to try to mediate a political resolution to the contest between Qadhdhafi and the rebels– one that would have involved Qadhdhafi stepping aside and a peaceful resolution of all outstanding differences.
The news out of the ongoing NATO summit in Brussels is all over the place. (Reuters 1, Reuters 2, Reuters 3.) Bottom line: No-one in NATO seems really able to figure out what it is they want to achieve or who it is they want to achieve it.
Oh boy, it looks as if the world is in for a nasty, ill-planned, very damaging, and quite possibly long-drawn-out war in Libya.
How come no-one told Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and their bellophilic friends from Washington’s large aviaries of liberal hawks that this is, indeed, the nature of war? I guess the U.S. military– and SecDef Gates– had tried to.
But launching this war was not, in the end, a decision that was taken by Clinton, Powers, or Rice. It was taken by Barrack Obama. Shame on him.