Obama’s (and Sarkozy’s) nonexistent ‘casus belli’ in Libya

Obama’s (and Sarkozy’s) nonexistent ‘casus belli’ in Libya

from ‘Just World News’ with Helena Cobban by Helena

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Hat-tip to Harvard’s Steve Walt for this fine article, in which he identified and linked to two other fine articles that took apart the ‘rationale’ adduced by Presidents Sarkozy and Obama for their decision to undertake acts of war against Libya on March 19.

In this one, the Chicago Tribune‘s Steve Chapman writes,

    In his March 26 radio address, Obama said the United States acted because Gadhafi threatened “a bloodbath.” Two days later, he asserted, “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi — a city nearly the size of Charlotte (N.C.) — could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”


Really? Obama implied that, absent our intervention, Gadhafi might have killed nearly 700,000 people, putting it in a class with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. White House adviser Dennis Ross was only slightly less alarmist when he reportedly cited “the real or imminent possibility that up to a 100,000 people could be massacred.”

But these are outlandish scenarios that go beyond any reasonable interpretation of Gadhafi’s words. He said, “We will have no mercy on them” — but by “them,” he plainly was referring to armed rebels (“traitors”) who stand and fight, not all the city’s inhabitants.

“We have left the way open to them,” he said. “Escape. Let those who escape go forever.” He pledged that “whoever hands over his weapons, stays at home without any weapons, whatever he did previously, he will be pardoned, protected.”
He also quotes Alan Kuperman, an associate professor at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, as having said,

    Qadhafi did not massacre civilians in any of the other big cities he captured — Zawiya, Misrata, Ajdabiya — which together have a population equal to Benghazi. Yes, civilians were killed in a typical, ham-handed, Third World counterinsurgency. But civilians were not targeted for massacre as in Rwanda, Darfur, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia, or even Kosovo after NATO intervention.

Chapman also wrote,

    I emailed the White House press office several times asking for concrete evidence of the danger, based on any information the administration may have. But a spokesman declined to comment.


That’s a surprising omission, given that a looming holocaust was the centerpiece of the president’s case for war. Absent specific, reliable evidence, we have to wonder if the president succumbed to unwarranted panic over fictitious dangers.
The second article that Walt linked to in that section was this March 22 piece by Alan Kuperman himself. Kuperman is a very thoughtful analyst of the uses and many known abuses for the concept of humanitarian “intervention”, whose work I think I have cited here on JWN before.

He argues,

    Proponents of such intervention claim it is the only way to protect Libya’s populace. But intervening actually magnifies the threat to civilians in Libya, and beyond. That is because armed uprisings, such as Libya’s, typically provoke massive state retaliation that harms innocents. By contrast, non-violent movements, as in Egypt and Tunisia, rarely trigger so brutal a response.


By helping rebels, we thus increase the risk of retaliatory massacres or even genocide. Indeed, The New York Times reported that violence threatening Libya’s civilians was ” provoked by rebels.” Aiding the Libyan rebels also encourages copycat uprisings in other countries, proliferating the risk of atrocities.
Kuperman makes these very poignant points:

    But did Gadhafi massacre civilians or plan to commit genocide?


His forces certainly harmed innocents while defeating rebels in urban areas, as U.S. forces have done in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he did threaten “no mercy” in Benghazi, but Gadhafi directed this threat only at rebels to persuade them to flee. Despite ubiquitous cellphone cameras, there are no images of genocidal violence, a claim that smacks of rebel propaganda.
No-win situation

Indeed, Libya’s rebels started the war knowing that they could not win on their own, and that their attacks would provoke harm against civilians, aiming to draw in outside support — and it worked. Tragically, this same dynamic has cost thousands of lives in other wars.

In Bosnia’s conflict of the early 1990s, for example, the most influential Muslim politician, Omer Behmen, later told me that his whole strategy was to ” put up a fight for long enough to bring in the international community.” The result? Three years of war and 100,000 dead.

In Kosovo, a senior ethnic Albanian official, Dugi Gorani, confessed on BBC: “The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) of course realized that.” NATO’s intervention backfired by escalating the conflict, leaving 10,000 dead and a million expelled from their homes.

In Darfur, Sudan, the top rebel leader fought for three years and then rejected a peace offer in 2006, despite retaliation that killed more than 100,000. Abdul Wahid al Nur later explained that he was waiting for greater U.S. and British intervention “like in Bosnia.”
His piece ends with a really helpful, five-point plan to try to ensure that “humanitarian” support does not end up getting used/abused to fuel cycles of violence that increase the suffering of noncombatants.

The three key ones are:

    •Deliver purely humanitarian aid — food, water, sanitation, shelter, medical care — in ways that minimize the benefit to rebels. The United States admirably is delivering supplies to Libyan refugees across the border in Tunisia and Egypt. But we should ensure that relief sites do not become rear bases for Libya’s rebels. If local governments are unwilling to patrol the refugee encampments, we should organize multilateral policing.


•Expend substantial resources to persuade states to address the legitimate grievances of non-violent domestic groups. Ironically, Obama has applied little pressure on Yemen and Bahrain, which slaughtered peaceful protesters, but he bombed Libya for responding to armed rebels. This sends precisely the wrong message to the Arab street: If you want U.S. support, resort to violence.

•Do not coerce regime change or surrender of sovereignty unless also taking precautions against violent backlash — such as golden parachutes, power-sharing, or preventive military intervention. If the White House insists on Gadhafi’s departure, it should guarantee asylum for him and a continuing share of power for his senior officials and allied tribes. Simply demanding regime change could drive him to genocidal violence as a last resort, while the international community lacks the will for a preventive deployment of ground troops.
I have to confess I have been in a near-depressive state since March 19, the day Pres. Obama launched the current, extremely irresponsible and damaging (bordering on criminal) NATO-GCC attack on Libya. Okay, I admit that maybe I was naive, believing a good amount of “that hope-changey thing” that Obama promised us when he was a candidate. A good part of why I supported his presidential bid with such energy was precisely because, back in 2003, he’d opposed the decision to attack Iraq… Then he launched the escalation of the war in Afghanistan… And now, he’s launched this other, completely avoidable war.

I’ve been quite depressed, too, to see how many of my friends and close allies have supported this latest war, on allegedly “liberal” or “pro-liberation” grounds that, while I understand what they’re talking about, I find absolutely unconvincing.

As Chapman and Kuperman persistently asked: where was the evidence for the imminence of any act of mass atrocity in Benghazi??

Back on March 27, I blogged about the report the on-the-ground ICRC delegation published about the humanitarian situation in and around Benghazi on March 18. No mention there of any impending humanitarian disaster. Indeed, from the actually humanitarian (as opposed to faux-humanitarian) point of view, the situation in Benghazi was apparently getting a little better on March 18, with aid shipments getting through, etc.

… Oh yes, plenty to get depressed about. But I have two exciting books my publishing company is working on and some pretty exciting (fingers crossed!) developments in the family, as well… And getting depressed certainly doesn’t help anyone build the kind of awareness and the kind of movement that is needed to bring an end to all these insane wars.

Also, lest I forget, the whole of Steve Walt’s piece there, “Is America Addicted to War?”, is definitely worth reading.


This entry was posted in Background & Analysis, Imperialism, Imperialist Interference & Views, Libya, US Foreign Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

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