In a surprisingly bold move for the notoriously molasses-like institution, the UN Security council has approved not just a “No-Fly” zone over Libya, but offensive operations against Qaddafi forces.
This is opening Pandora’s Box.
Qaddafi is without a doubt a murderous tyrant. And he is without a doubt brutally suppressing a popular uprising against his rule. But in our need to “do something” we may be making matters worse. There are questions that need to be asked, and I’m not sure anyone has asked them:
What happens the day after? Much as they initially had their way with Saddam’s forces, I have no doubt NATO air forces will be able to mop the floor with Libya’s antiquated military, comprised of vintage Soviet and French equipment. But, again as Iraq demonstrates, what happens after that has been accomplished? Do UN Blue Helmets go in? Arab League forces? Do we leave it to the “Free Benghazi” rebels to establish a new order?
Who are the players? Speaking of which, just who are the “Free Benghazi” rebels? These are not the Egyptians who rose up in non-violence. The Libyan rebels are using guns and force and will probably take bloody vengeance on those groups who supported Qaddafi. Of note:
The fact that most of the Libyan volunteers have come from the east is no coincidence. Benghazi has traditionally been a center of rebellion against the al-Qaddhafi regime. It is a highly conservative area that has been kept purposefully underdeveloped, and for this reason it has developed into the main center of Islamic activism in the country. It represented the core of the militant Islamist groups that appeared on the Libyan scene in the 1980s and 1990s, including the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).
I somehow doubt they are Jeffersonian democrats or adherents of Gandhi.
What is the precedent being set? There is a line on unintended consequences that can be drawn between NATO’s intervention in Serbia (military force used in support of breakaway region) and Russian military intervention in Georgia (military force used in support of breakaway region). The Russians took great pleasure in pointing this out. Can we object in the future if another country takes sides in an internal conflict? But perhaps more importantly, how can we now not intervene in other, similar conflicts. The Ivory Coast is currently suffering under very similar circumstances. Why is there no call for a No-Fly zone there? Civil strife is killing millions in the Congo. Yet we did nothing. And we probably will continue to do nothing. But Libya has oil. And that makes our intervention look very, very self-interested.
What are the parallels? Iraq and Afghanistan, surely, but two spring to mind. The aforementioned air campaign against Serbia, which was ostensibly successful. Though it should be noted that Slobodan Milosevic was not brought down by NATO, he was eventually brought down by a non-violent student movement (a movement the Egyptians studied and modelled themselves after). The other parallel that really sticks out for me is Somalia. Like Somalia, we are intervening in a civil war that hasn’t played out. There is a real danger that “mission creep” will set in as it did there. Qaddafi forces may melt away, as so many armies have in history, and mix in with the population to engage in irregular warfare. Despite what some American generals think, air power is useless that situation and the temptation to put ground troops in will certainly be there. And then our intervention becomes an occupation. And like Somalia, I see no evidence that we have a good understanding of who the players are. In the past, Blue Helmets only get involved when an agreement has been reached between belligerents.
It’s painful to stand on the sidelines and watch civilians die. But military intervention will not solve Libya’s problems. Libyans will solve Libya’s problems. I do fervently hope it works out, but the eventual outcome is very much a mystery to this observer.
UPDATE: As of writing, Qaddafi has announced a unilateral ceasefire. And why not? This will force NATO from acting “defensively” to acting “offensively”. Qaddafi will play this game for a long time.
UPDATE 2: How could I forget that Bahrain, and our ally Saudi Arabia, have released the hounds to bloodily crush a nonviolent opposition movement. Where’s our military there, eh? Actually we know where it is. The 5th Fleet is stationed in Bahrain.
UPDATE 3: 40 anti-government protesters killed in Yemen. Will the UN Security Council reconvene?
UPDATE 4: Quote of the day: “As you know, Qadaffi has already inserted his forces in the urban areas.” Pandora’s box indeed.