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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Resolution 1973 is nothing like Iraq: Libyan Live Blog

One of the oldest cliches of political life is that we always end up fight the last war.  When it comes to the rare moment of the UN utilising its chapter VII provision last night and enforcing a No Fly Zone, with additional ultimatums for Gaddafi to withdraw his forces from the several heavily bombarded towns in Libya, it cannot be emphasised too much: this is not a ground invasion or regime change from above

Unlike Iraq, President Obama has insisted the US is providing support to the UN, but not proposing an invasion:

“I also want to be clear about what we not be do – the US is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force beyond a defined goal, specifically: the protection of civilians in Libya.”

As I said in my previous diary today, this is NOT about declaring a unilateral pre-emptive war. Nor is this a punitive war for attacks on Western interests. It is a response to a looming humanitarian crisis, especially with the regime’s threat to invade Benghazi, a city of 1 million people, and show “no mercy”.

Despite all this, there are two responses (audible both from the Chomskyite left and Neo Realist right) that this is a return to Neocon values of regime change imposed from above. Andrew Sullivan, articulate as ever if (in my view) completely wrong, puts the case most succinctly:

But it seems clear enough: exactly the same alliance that gave us Iraq is giving us Libya: the neocons who want to see the US military deployed across the globe in the defense of freedom and the liberal interventionists who believe that the US should intervene whenever atrocities are occurring. What these two groups have in common is an unrelenting focus on the reason for intervention along with indifference to the vast array of unintended consequences their moralism could lead us into. I do not doubt their good intentions and motives. No human being can easily watch a massacre and stand by. Yet we did so with Iran; and we are doing so in Yemen and Bahrain as we speak, and have done so for decades because we rightly make judgments based on more than feeling.

I happen to believe the better analogies are with Kosovo and Bosnia, the No Fly Zone that successfully protected the Iraqi Kurds from Saddam Hussein for 12 years, because there you also saw the vast mass of the civilian population held at bay merely by one side having a preponderance of military power – especially heavy weapons, tanks, and airplanes.

I also believe the “What about Yemen and Bahrain” to be something of a canard. Those two countries are in a position of civil unrest, as Egypt was for many weeks. Many died under the terror of internal security forces in Egypt too – but the army did not take sides. The variety of other tools – diplomatic pressure, sanctions, withdrawal of trade deals and military co-operation – have not been exhausted there.

Yet in Libya, Muammar Gaddafi has unleashed his paramilitaries and foreign mercenaries against his own people for several weeks. Thousands have died. Cities have been turned to rubble. The rebels took over towns all across the country – west and east – this is no civil war. The only reason they have lost control of them is Gaddafi’s ruthless use of military power against civilian targets. He claims this is a tribal conflict. But he also claims the rebels have been led by a coalition of Al Qaeda and the West.  This is regime that only clings to power through the monopoly of violence. Anything that undermines that monopoly will soon see his power base disappear.

This is not regime change from above. This is allowing the Libyan people to take their own regime change.

And as always, whether its in Darfur or Rwanda, the hypocrisy of ‘not doing EVERYTHING’ is not answered by the defeatism of ‘so let’s do NOTHING’.

Obama’s was not an Imperial Speech: as one of Sully’s ‘a reader dissents’ put it (actually Jsfox of this blog and others)

Did we hear the same speech? What I heard is a President joining the international community in this effort not unilaterally going to war as Bush did. They were the ones beating the drum for this, not the administration, as Bush did in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I also heard that we would take a subservient role to Britain, France and the Arab League. I am not seeing the imperial presidency that you are seeing.

What is at stake here is the standing of the UN, and difficult, protracted and sometimes failing attempts to create international laws and institutions post World War II.

This is not just some moral handwringing. The consequences of brutal crushing of Benghazi would have long term effects on the stability of the whole region. Just as the West’s failure to act in Bosnia recruited many Jihadists, blocking Arab League calls for a No Fly Zone would open up the US and other security council allies further charges of supporting Arab dictators at the expense of their people.

Events in the Mashriq and Maghreb have been compared to 1848, and the year of revolutions that swept through Europe. To be on the wrong side of this, to not unequivocally support calls for more democracy and less repression in the Arab world, would put us on the wrong side of history, and lose us an historic change to make some kind of amends for all the colonial exploitation, meddling, unnecessary invasions and authoritarian figures we have imposed on the area for the last hundred years.  


  1. Watching the president speak today was like a breath of fresh air–the end of “cowboy diplomacy.” Smart, reasonable foreign policy that doesn’t necessitate us paying for and fighting the whole damned thing. He clearly defined what the terms of using military force were, and what such a military force’s intentions would be. Greatest CiC moment of his presidency, certainly far outpaced anything since the Cuban Missile Crisis response by JFK.

  2. IL JimP

    President has done an excellent job working with the international community in all the unrest in the ME this year.  This is just another example.  My friends and I have been talking about Libya a lot and we thought it would mainly be up to France and Italy to take care of it, and I’m happy to see that the President is offering help to the UN, not the UN offering help to us, which would mean we were running the show.

  3. Virtually every aspect of the two are inverted. The number of countries for or against, the international mood surrounding it, the entire order of the US position. The right rear tire of my car has more to do with Iraq than what is happening in Libya.

  4. While there are many reasons for caution in this endeavor, Sullivan doesn’t make them. He seems to be arguing from an emotional level, which is ironic since he calls this “Clinton’s war” and an emotional response from Clinton. I believe that’s a little of his misogyny showing through.

    As you so ably point out, the argument that we failed to act in some cases means we shouldn’t act in this one is extremely faulty. Using that reasoning then the Catholic church shouldn’t bother disciplining priests who sexually abuse children since they didn’t do it to others.

  5. Shaun Appleby

    Speaking clearly:

    “Muammar Qaddafi has a choice,” Obama said. “The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.”

    “Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action,” Obama said.

    Josh Rogin – Obama: Libya attack will have limited goals Foreign Policy 18 Mar 11

    For details on the recent decision making behind this policy check here.

  6. for the last few weeks months. It seems like every day is worse than the day before. Some days you just feel like crying. Then I came across this site –

    There are hundreds of photos here. If looking at these pictures doesn’t make you laugh then nothing will. Of course, I want to assure you that I didn’t laugh if you or a friend or family member is pictured on one of these pages.

  7. virginislandsguy

    Fighter jet ‘shot down’ over Benghazi (note their use of quotes enclosing shot down)

    A fighter jet has crashed in flames after apparently being shot down over the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, reports the BBC’s Ian Pannell in the city.

    He reports seeing the jet plummet to the ground around 0900 (0700 GMT), but said it was unclear exactly what brought the plane down.

    Bold for emphasis

    Mister F-22?

    It’s 10am in Paris where the military powers are meeting. If the loyalist are entering and shelling Benghazi, I give it 8 hours before their opening shots.  

  8. And is AJE is to be believed – it ain’t working

    (All times are local in Libya GMT+2)


    Opposition fighters in Misurata say they have beaten back an assault by pro-Gaddafi forces, destroying heavy armour but also suffering 27 casualties in the process, AFP reports.

  9. So a slight thread hijack. In an otherwise complimentary comment on my Dkos version of this diary, Meteor Blades says that the phrase Chomskyite Left is a slur.

    I’m a bit baffled by this, and wondering if anyone else has an alternative phrase – isolationist or pacifist left doesn’t really cut it. As I said to MB by way of reply:

    Well, Chomsky in my memory… (4+ / 0-)

    …defines a part of the left which – as far as I remember – considers any action taken by the US or the UK as a cover for imperial hegemonic interests.

    I’m not sure if that’s a slur, rather than a definition. If you can find a better phrase for me, I’d use it.

  10. 4:22pm

    AFP reports that French planes are Rafale fighter jets, flying reconnaissance missions across “all Libyan territory”, citing a military source


    French reconnaissance planes have entered Libyan airspace, several news agencies are now reporting, citing French military sources.


    French media group BFMTV’s website claims that French planes have flown over Benghazi to prevent pro-Gaddafi army movements.

  11. To Mohammed Nabbous’s wife a pro-democracy opposition activist who who provided footage from Benghazi. This is his website

    He has been shot by Gaddfi’s forces. His wife is urging us all do as much as we can for the cause he died for. They are still bombing and shooting she says, barely able to speak

    Don’t let what Mo started go for nothing people.

    Here is Mo before he died

    May he rest in peace and his cause for democracy triumph.  

  12. Al Jazeera just received the following email from a member of Libya AlHurra Television, which has been hosting a livestream that Mohammad Nabbous was providing from Benghazi.

    I am sorry to inform you that Mohammed Nabbous, the founder of Libya AlHurra TV, was killed this morning while reporting on the attacks from the pro-Gaddafi forces.  He touched the hearts of many with his bravery and indomnitable spirit.  He will be dearly missed and leaves behind his young wife and unborn child.


    Mo’s objective in founding Libya AlHurra was to help his countrymen by getting the word out about what is happening in Libya.  Please honor this courageous man and help him realize his dream by using his footage in your broadcasts.

    The audio from Nabbous’ last report from Benghazi is embedded below.

  13. virginislandsguy

    We need a new diary for this new phase, my reloads suck. I’ll leave with a modest prediction that one of Gaddafis sons will shuck his mortal coil by the time I return. I know, I know, my predictions are gold. /fools

  14. HappyinVT

    although I might just be a giant O-bot is that this president does not need to use the military to prove his manliness or some notion of American exceptionalism.  It seems clear to me that military intervention on any level was the last choice, not the first (see McCain/Lieberman).  This president has no qualms letting someone else take the lead because he recognizes that US interests can be served just as well, if not better, by taking a supporting role.

    The president had a “no new taxes” moment yesterday when he clearly stated there will be no troops on the ground.  He might have left other options on the table but that wasn’t one.  He, of course, reserves the right to change his mind but I’m quite sure he knows the cost of doing so.

    I have to say I was relieved that the UN approved the resolution because it was abundantly clear that Ghadaffi would have overrun Benghazi left unchecked.  Had Ghadaffi not clearly stated his intentions toward the rebel stronghold the rest of the world could have sat back but the potential for further unnecessary violence was real.  And who wants to look back again and know you did nothing to stop what was clearly articulated.

    Lastly, John King (or Wolf Blitzer) said this morning that his administration sources have told him that the president wants US involvement to last days not weeks because they fear mission creep.

    Will 1973 turn out to be the right move?  Will US involvement be as limited as it seems?  I have no idea.  But  so far, I’m onboard.

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