obama, politics

The future of Libya

Published on: The Canadian Charger, April 14th, 2011
[http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=868]

The airstrikes on Libya, as authorized by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, has a veneer of “internationalism” about that that needs to be addressed.

Compounded by the calls for a no-fly-zone from the Arab League, the African Union, and the provisional council set up by the Libyan rebels themselves, the air strikes‚ÄĒespecially in the usual media corners‚ÄĒseem to be much, much more than an effort anchored by the United States.

This is a myth. The coalition forces of France, the United Kingdom, etc. was led by a U.S. commander‚ÄĒGeneral Carter Ham.

The helm has since then been passed on to a Canadian official, who is supposedly heading up a joint NATO venture. ¬†The U.S. has contributed substantially to a barrage of 110 Tomahawk missiles on Libya‚Äôs air defenses on March 19th, 2011. Named by the U.S. as ‚ÄúOperation Odyssey Dawn,‚ÄĚ the multi-phased no-fly-zone/airstrikes operation was just beginning‚ÄĒand right off the bat, the Associated Press reported that the United States deployed a slew of B2s, F-15s, F-16s, Navy EA-18G electronic warfare planes and Marine attack jets. In other words‚ÄĒdespite the carefully crafted image of ‚Äúlimited military action‚ÄĚ from the Obama administration‚ÄĒit is clear that the United States is calling the shots and doing the heavy lifting.

The rebels have since then called for a ceasefire after losing one of their key oil ports, Ras Lanuf, while also being stopped at Brega.

Whether international intervention helped or not is a tough question to answer, given mixed results. Qaddafi‚Äôs forces have not been able to fight where they wanted to, but rebel leaders have also come out to criticize the foreign airstrikes. “NATO is not doing their job, the airstrikes are late and never on time. NATO is not helping us. Gadhafi still gets ammunition and supplies to his forces–that’s why he is pushing us back,” says Mohammed Abdullah, a rebel who defected from loyalist ranks. The UK Daily Telegraph has also reported that ‚Äústrafing runs‚ÄĚ have been carried out by NATO helicopters trying to rescue fallen allied pilots. This practise has put civilian lives at risk.

The purpose for Resolution 1973 was, basically, to obtain a ceasefire. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has made it clear that Operation Odyssey Dawn seeks to implement genuine regime change. This lack of overlap in terms of end goals gives some indication of what each party has at stake in Libya. Despite its rhetoric of massacre prevention and international cooperation, the Obama administration’s geopolitical vision extends beyond the conditions of war, and into the conditions of peace. Suffice it to say that if Libya was a land known for carrots, Qaddafi’s troops would not be facing constant airstrikes.

By now, the most likely scenario is a partitioned Libya, and thus a divided Libya. The rebels in Benghazi‚ÄĒaside from asking for a ceasefire‚ÄĒhave also rejected an overture from the African Union to broker talks, and for good reason, given that 15% of the AU‚Äôs expenses were paid by the Qaddafi regime. Furthermore, the Transitional National Council in Benghazi has agreed to a temporary ‚Äútrust fund‚ÄĚ to help channel assets from ‚Äúinternational donations,‚ÄĚ according to Al Jazeera English. All this indicates that the situation in Libya is perhaps entering a stage of stalemate. Subsequent planning is not clear, and long-term peace may indeed‚ÄĒlike many feared‚ÄĒbe subject to the interests of the NATO powers who have so much at stake in Libya.

If the endgame involves the removal of Qaddafi and the dissolution of his regime (it is hard to imagine the coalition forces allowing Qaddafi to stay in power), then an imposition of a no-fly-zone will most likely be protracted into a ‚Äúlong war‚ÄĚ. Indeed, according to a report by Reuters, Obama has already signed off on a presidential ‚Äúfinding‚ÄĚ (although no admission has been made), that authorizes ‚Äúcovert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government‚Ķ‚ÄĚ

The best case scenario of course is for Qaddafi to be eliminated permanently, or to have him remove himself from power. This may be a possibility if the no-fly-zone is kept in place and works fluidly in order to protect places like Benghazi and Tobrouk from reprisals. If this happens, it may be possible to negotiate a political settlement. The talks can be brokered by international coalition forces and will most likely include the removal of Qaddafi‚ÄĒor at least an agreement from him to submit to parliamentary elections (or a trip to the International Criminal Court?). This, however, may be wishful thinking. For now, Libya‚Äôs war of liberation is looking more and more like a civil war. Support for Qaddafi is tough to quantify, and estimates have ranged from 10% all the way up to 30%. ¬†Obama may do well to let the pro-Qaddafi towns alone, and focus strictly on protecting civilians. This will prove to be more and more difficult as airstrikes take on new configurations.

One can only hope that Resolution 1973 (1) does more good than harm when it comes to civilian protection, (2) works to facilitate more civilian involvement instead of restricting it, and (3) does not lead to foreign troops on Libyan soil.

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