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—especially in the usual media corners—seem 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—General 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’s air defenses on March 19th, 2011. Named by the U.S. as “Operation Odyssey Dawn,” the multi-phased no-fly-zone/airstrikes operation was just beginning—and 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—despite the carefully crafted image of “limited military action” from the Obama administration—it 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’s 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 “strafing runs” 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—aside from asking for a ceasefire—have also rejected an overture from the African Union to broker talks, and for good reason, given that 15% of the AU’s expenses were paid by the Qaddafi regime. Furthermore, the Transitional National Council in Benghazi has agreed to a temporary “trust fund” to help channel assets from “international donations,” 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—like many feared—be 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 “long war”. Indeed, according to a report by Reuters, Obama has already signed off on a presidential “finding” (although no admission has been made), that authorizes “covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government…”

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—or 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’s 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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middle east, politics

Pakistan Drowning, Canada Offers Little

Published on:
http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=540

The flooding in Pakistan, the worst in 80 years, has eclipsed the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the Pakistani earthquake of 2005, and the Haitian earthquake earlier this year, says the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Around 1,600 Pakistanis have died, and an estimated 13.8 million have been affected, but even after the waters subside, the suffering will continue for some time.

The World Food Program reports that 80% of Pakistan’s food reserves have been wiped out, and 558,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed. This season’s rice crop in Sindh Province, part of the country’s “food belt,” has been destroyed, and the Punjab Province, which holds 70% of the country’s cotton reserves, has been devastated. It is now estimated that 1/3 of Pakistan is submerged, about the size of the United Kingdom.

A number of villages and towns along the Indus River have simply been washed away or submerged. The Swat Valley is completely closed off, and Mohenjo-daro, widely known as the world’s first planned city (2400 BC), may very well be destroyed.

All this destruction and Pakistan is only halfway through the monsoon season.

The United Nations has announced an appeal for hundreds of millions of dollars to assist in the aid effort, which is being complicated by continuing rain and landslides.

On Aug. 4, Canada announced that it was contributing $2 million in emergency aid. “[This] will help meet the immediate humanitarian needs of over 150,000 families who have been severely affected by the monsoon floods,” said Minister of International Cooperation Beverley Oda.

However, given the magnitude of destruction and the rising numbers of refugees, $2 million is nowhere near enough.

[Addendum: Canada has now pledges another $33 million.]

Despite the dispatching of 300,000 soldiers to help with the relief effort, people in severely affected areas have complained about the government’s lack of response.

For example, President Asif Ali Zardari has refused to cancel a prolonged trip to Europe to tend to the crisis. Facing protestors in Birmingham, U.K., Zardari made the excuse that he was not needed since he empowered other elected officials in Pakistan to deal with the crisis. This “excuse,” along with images of him lounging at his chateau in France, has infuriated Pakistanis.

“President Zardari has a history of leaving the country when the going gets tough,” said Fatima Bhutto, a vocal critic of the current regime and Zardari’s niece by marriage. “A local pundit anecdotally once estimated that Richard Holbrooke has spent more time in Pakistan than the president.”

Like Haiti, Pakistan is both prone to natural disasters and ill equipped to deal with humanitarian crises.

According to Bhutto, ignorance and corruption play a big role in ensuring such incompetence, but world powers like the United States are also culpable. The Obama administration has ordered dozens of drone air strikes in northern Pakistan to “wipe out al-Qa‘ida operatives,” and this complicates Pakistan’s status as a U.S. ally in the global “War on Terror.”  Thus, controversy erupts when Pakistanis see American ground troops trying to help with the relief effort.

The government has also done little to build up a disaster readiness program. “Everyone here has been complaining the government actually does not have the capacity to respond, because when there isn’t a disaster, they do nothing,” notes Qalandar Memon, a member of the Labour Party of Pakistan.

The bottom line is that the disaster has devastated five provinces and displaced upwards of 6 million people.

Relief efforts are only being conducted when circumstances are suitable, and the full scope of the damage is not yet known. Sadly, neither the Pakistani government nor the international community has responded effectively.

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