The resolution, which was drafted by France, Britain, and Lebanon, goes beyond a no-fly zone. It authorizes states to take ‘all necessary measures’ to enforce a ban on flights and protect civilians from harm. That could include targeted air strikes on Libyan military forces, but excludes a ground invasion or occupation force. The resolution passed by a vote of 10 to 0, with five nations abstaining: Russia, China, Germany, India, and Brazil.
— UN Security Council allows ‘all necessary measures’ to protect Libyan civilians, Christian Science Monitor 3/17/11
On the eve of the UN Security Council vote for a resolution authorizing the no-fly zone over Libya, I was overwhelmed by colorful visions of rebel flag wavers and warnings of catastrophic consequences that have taken over the media and bombarded the minds of many Americans for the past four weeks. In anticipation of an even more intense campaign to win the hearts and wipe out the memories of US citizens, I am recording here some recent memorable efforts, by the corporate and “alternative” news programs, of both waving and warnings:
Anjali Kamat, reporter for Democracy Now (3/10/11), had just finished an interview with a handsome and amiable field member of the 17th Coalition in Benghazi. Against a lovely backdrop of waves rolling in from the Mediterranean Sea onto the beach, and scenes of energetic, uniformed “rebels” demonstrating and drilling in parts of this Libyan port city, Field Member Essam Gheirani, gently assured the Democracy Now correspondent that there was no chance of civil war in Libya; and expressed repeatedly his hope that the international community would meet its moral obligation, and respond to his Coalition’s pleas for (1) a no-fly zone over Libya, (2) bombardment of the certain locations including government troop barracks, (3) bombardment of Gaddafi’s Bab al-Azizza compound, (4) bombardment around Tripoli and Sabha of government security forces barracks, and (5) no intervention by foreign land troops.
Next up: Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara who has authored over 50 books on war and human rights, and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades, including the volume International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice .1 He is currently serving his third year of a six year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. Dr. Falk has made his position regarding the illegality of imposing a no-fly zone in Libya clear to all. In an article that appeared in Al Jazeera (3/10/11), entitled “Kicking the Intervention Habit: Should Talks of Intervention Turn Into Action, It Would Be Illegal, Immoral and Hypocritical,” the professor begins his article with the following statement:
What is immediately striking about the bipartisan call in Washington for a no-fly zone and air strikes designed to help rebel forces in Libya is the absence of any concern with the relevance of international law or the authority of the United Nations.
And, I might add, the absence of any concern for the lives of the thousands of Libyans who live in crowded residential areas adjacent to the Libyan government’s anti-aircraft installations. During an interview with the BBC (3/9/11), Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, explained that due to the US bombing raids on Libyan cities in the 1980’s, Gaddafi has built extensive anti-aircraft installations everywhere, especially near crowded urban areas.
Democracy Now apparently felt that the lengthy testimony of the attractive and articulate Libyan Coalition member would not hold up to skillful examination by the distinguished Dr. Falk. For whatever reason, the producers had planned to use the remaining few minutes of the program for a debate between Richard Falk and another Libyan, a novelist, who supports the imposition of a no-fly zone, but whom producers had not been able to reach. Ms Goodman was very disappointed that the pro-interventionist had not been able to be on the show, but moved ahead with an interview with Richard Falk by himself. She first asked him how he would respond to the rebel leader just interviewed who had said “We are going through a massacre. We need international help. We need a no-fly zone imposed.” Some of Professor Falk’s relatively brief comments are well worth quoting here:
I think is a very tragic and difficult case. But I feel that the record of intervention has been so bad, and the motivations to undertake it in a particular case and to ignore similarly tragic situations in other cases makes me very suspicious of any push for military intervention under Western auspices with no consideration of whether this kind of use of force violates international law and the U.N. Charter. None whatsoever. The only call for U.N. participation is based on the idea that it would be perceived as less Western, but it would basically be an American operation, because only the U.S., under NATO auspices, would have the logistical capabilities to do it in an effective way.
…I think, on balance and given the flow of history, it’s better to trust in the dynamics of self-determination than to rely on great-power intervention in order to alleviate the situation. So, in that sense, I would affirm the notion that Libya is a sovereign state at this stage and that the only exceptions to the non-intervention rule should be by way of the U.N. Security Council, where the prospect of a Russian and Chinese veto make that not politically viable.
No backdrop of white-capped surf rolling in beneath a deep blue sky and puffy white clouds for Dr. Falk’s interview. As he talked, Democracy Now rolled video of a bloodied and wounded rebel agonizing in a hospital bed, together with scenes of rebels climbing trees, firing missiles, and others participating in opposition protests. At one point, Amy Goodman interrupted him, shouting, “Professor Falk, Professor Falk!” And challenged him to come up with an historical example of when a no-fly zone didn’t work.
Dr. Falk responded with an obvious recent example, Iraq:
Well, I think in Iraq, it set the stage for both the greater suffering of the Iraqi civilian population and led to a situation that eventuated in an unlawful, aggressive and terribly destructive war. It’s a relatively rare mechanism that’s been used. And, for instance, it was never even contemplated when Israel attacked Gaza at the end of 2008, where the population was completely vulnerable to a massacre from the air, on the ground and from the sea. So, it’s very selective in the way this kind of discourse is carried on internationally.
He concluded with the following words:
…I think it’s imprudent, as well as probably unlawful, to conceive of this option. It’s a very unpredictable act of war. And it, as [US Secretary of Defense] Gates indicated, it has to be preceded by an actual military attack to remove the threat to the planes enforcing the no-fly zone. And so, I think the U.S. is already dramatically overextended. It can’t deal with its domestic social demands. And it would be a real example of imperial overstretch to think that the U.S. is in a position to carry out a uncertain mission of this sort, which almost certainly would expand in the process of it being executed.
Steven Zunes arrives at the same conclusion. In his BBC interview, he emphasized that it would take a great deal of bombing to destroy the Libyan government’s defensive installations, with a high probability there would be large numbers of civilian causalities. Although Zunes, like Richard Falk, is not a supporter of Gaddafi, he points out that the recent self-appointed Council of rebels does not represent the whole of the opposition, nor the whole of Libyan society, and certainly not the large number of Gaddafi supporters and government armed forces. “Right now it is a civil war.” He says it would have to get a lot worse before he could accept justification for “humanitarian intervention” in the form of bombing Libya and imposing a no-fly zone. Zunes is explicit about his support for anti-Gaddafi forces, but he reminds the idealistic BBC reporter that “supporting an armed faction usually doesn’t result in a democratic government” and that “martial law is not a good way to bring about representative government.”
In spite of the logical, unbiased analysis by these anti-Gaddafi observers and experts in the politics and history of the Middle East and North Africa, most Americans are treated to the romancing of the rebel cause on the corporate media as well as on certain so-called “alternative” media. We are subjected 24/7 to news reports demonizing the Libyan mad man while expressing deep concern for the brave, “untrained” rebels who fearlessly confront Gaddafi’s superior forces. NPR, Democracy Now and the BBC have been embedded with those courageous “revolutionaries.” Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (NPR), Pascale Harter (BBC) and Anjali Kamat (DN) report with palpable sisterly compassion every moment of exhilaration or frustration the lads experience. The BBC drops a few seconds of incomprehensible words from the crazy master plan (The Green Book) while ignoring Gaddafi’s insistence that he several weeks ago invited the UN to send in an investigation team, and invited news reporters, to see what was actually going on. After weeks of audibly snickering at Libyan government officials interviewed, and reporting that Gaddafi and his troops were committing crimes against humanity—that anyone cooperating with him would be subject to the same international legal procedures reserved for war criminals— three British reporters apparently were taken to Tripoli against their will, but not treated to the usual Libyan hospitality.2
Very few of us are experts on Libya, Gaddafi, or the make-up and origins of the “rebels.” Even fewer are aware of what is involved in implementing and maintaining a no-fly zone, let alone the expanded version thereof that allows for using all means necessary to protect civilians. In spite of the various polls showing that a majority of Americans favor US involvement in imposing a no-fly zone in Libya, I would guess that most Americans do not want the US to get involved in another war.3 One might assume that that liberal and leftist activists in particular, with their well-honed sense of what democracy does and does not look like, along with their growing awareness of the domestic and international consequences of capitalist imperialism, would not be suckered into another “coalition of the willing” war supposedly intended to remove yet another “bad autocrat” (as opposed to the “good autocrats” we would leave in place).
Apparently, this is not the case. In spite of what Secretary of Defense Gates has warned us: “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.”4 There are apparently many among those liberals and leftists that favor intervention. In case they think Gates and Zunes are hyping what it would mean for the Libyan civilians and ourselves if the US does intervene militarily in Libya, perhaps they could find the assessment of a pro-war specialist more persuasive.
Former US Special Operations paratrooper and military analyst, D. B. Grady, was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered.5 In clarifying that “a no-fly zone isn’t just a place where planes aren’t allowed to fly; it’s a military intervention,” Grady explains that it begins with launching missiles against anti-aircraft sites, against Libyan fighter jets, and against runways used to launch the jets: “It’s a bombing campaign from day one.”
After that it is “constant aerial surveillance,” he stresses, “We’re looking at sustained and very significant investment of our air power over [Libya]…Financially, there’s no getting around the fact that this is going to be an extraordinarily expensive operation.” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Analysts Todd Harrison and Zack Cooper estimate that a full no-fly zone would cost $100 to $300 million per week.6
Grady also discusses the kinds of men on the ground that the US would need in place to carry off the no-fly operation: Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (“the guys pointing the lazers”), Delta and Special Operations forces. He then adds: “I’m unaware of any no-fly zone imposed by the United States that didn’t ultimately end up with military intervention that actually put soldiers on the ground: Bosnia and Herzegovina started out as Operation Deny Flight.(my emphasis) Once you launch that first missile, the shock is gone, and then it’s very easy for mission creep. It’s very easy to move on from there.”
Noting that no-fly zones in Bosnia and Iraq led to US military intervention, the NPR host, Guy Raz, asks Grady if such an operation in Libya wouldn’t be “a kind of a slippery slope.” To which Grady responds, “Oh, absolutely…Once we get started in Libya, I would say that it will also involve ground troops. It’s going to become a war.”
Having taken the time necessary to get all the major international players on board, the White House apparently feels confident that the invasion of Libya will not be seen as a US initiative and “another Iraq.” Britain and France have been banging the war drums loudly, while the Arab League has now joined the push for implementation of a no-fly zone. Richard Falk’s complete confidence that Russia and China would veto any UN Security Council no-fly zone resolution has been proven unwarranted. As the Security Council planned to vote on said resolution Thursday evening (3/17/11), it was expected that China and Russia would abstain and allow the resolution to pass. The latest version of the resolution goes beyond implementation of a no-fly zone. US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice insisted that it was too late for simply implementing a no-fly zone. That in order to protect Libyan citizens, we need to do far more than that. Mission creep? Slippery Slope?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that unmanned drones, bombing Libyan air defense, and arming rebels are all part of the package. McClatchy News (3/17/11) reported that “the resolution would authorize the nations that enforce the no-fly zone to use ‘all necessary means to protect civilians short of military occupation.’” They add that “the bar on a foreign military occupation of Libya was included in the resolution to assuage Russia And China, which as permanent members of the Security Council could block the resolution.”
Robert Naiman, Policy Director with Just Foreign Policy, is not fooled by US rationale for more aggressive intervention. In a conversation with Free Speech Radio News (3/14/11), he noted that people in favor of a no-fly zone say that they want it to protect civilians. But “it is clear that the goal of people calling for this no-fly zone is not to protect civilians; it is to intervene in one side or the other of a civil war.” Naiman believes that policy with the goal of compromise on both sides should be used to stop the fighting and protect the civilians; and that foreign intervention in any country’s civil war could have unintended consequences. “It is extremely divisive, controversial, exacerbates tensions, violence, and makes people behave in a maximalist way. We should count to a million before we should consider such a dangerous step.”
“We” again, are not being given time to count even to ten before “they” make their decision. Such is life under our democracy where none of the politicos and officials making this decision to go to war again cares what we think.
As the sirens for war sang louder, there seemed to be an uncommon silence among American liberals and leftists. The usually quite outspoken and easily mobilized human rights and anti-war activists were strangely mute. One heard no public criticism of the exaggeratedly biased corporate and “alternative” media coverage. No recognition that here we go again on a “humanitarian” war of liberation to save a foreign nation from another Hitler-like, Saddam-incarnate, diabolic ruler. When pushed for a private opinion some will would assert, sotto voce, that they would not like to see US military intervention in Libya, of course. But then, with heightened intensity, they quickly confirmed their hatred for that murderous devil Gaddafi, and prayed that the rebels would oust him from power. Others, with perhaps less emotional involvement in Middle East and North African politics, pondered how one mounts a protest against US “humanitarian intervention” that won’t be misunderstood as support for Gaddafi. It seemed clear that you could not have it both ways.
Vilifying Gaddafi as a homicidal, suicidal criminal cannibalizing his own kin, while at the same time opposing US military intervention, may not make sense to those “masses” the American Left hopes to eventually enlist in a “mass movement.” Equally confusing is the argument for supporting the brave rebels, but opposing the US military intervention these insurgents want. Finally, a coalition of over twenty activist organizations–United National Antiwar Committee–spoke out loud and clear, and took a stand against “any form of U.S. military or economic intervention in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia and other countries where movements are rising in opposition to dictatorships and military rule.”
Black Agenda Report Executive Director, Glen Ford, was one of the few to take note that “many Americans that claim to be anti-war are actually just looking for a U.S. military action that is to their liking. Fortunately, the United National Anti-War Committee, UNAC, understands that U.S. imperialism is the ultimate enemy of peace and says “no” to the U.S. invasion of Libya.7
UNAC had already scheduled demonstrations in New York City for Friday, March 18, from 4:30 – 6:00 PM in front of the Manhattan Federal Building. Their timing couldn’t have been better.
Email at: moc.liamgnull@CANU.
- Routledge, 2008. [↩]
- Gadhafi Troops Detain, Beat BBC News Team,UPI.com, 3/10/11. [↩]
- Poll: Most favor Libya no-fly zone, Politico 3/14/11. [↩]
- NYT 3/4/11. [↩]
- 3/13/11 Understanding no-Fly zones and their Implications. [↩]
- New study: No-Fly Zone in Libya could cost billions, Atlantic Council, 3/10/11. [↩]
- U.S. Prepares to Make Its Lunge at Libya’s Oil Fields, 3/2/11. [↩]