Category Archives: Libya

Democracy and human rights in Libya??

I just caught up with this piece by the Guardian’s Chris Stephen in Tripoli. (H/T B of MofA.)
Tell me again why anyone ever thought that NATO missiles were capable of somehow ‘delivering’ democracy and a system of respecting basic human rights in Libya?
Stephen writes of the country’s current rulers, the National Transitional Council:

    The NTC refuses to say who its members are, or even how many there are. Although it appointed a cabinet last month, policy decisions are taken inside what amounts to a black box. Meetings are held in secret, voting records are not published, and decisions are announced by irregular television broadcasts.
    Typical was last week’s announcement, which came out of the blue, that the oil and economy ministries would be moved to Benghazi, and the finance ministry to Misrata. Diplomats scoffed at the impracticality of such a scheme, which would leave Libya’s administration scattered over hundreds of miles. This opacity reminds some Libyans of how things were run in former times…

And there’s this:

    According to diplomats, the country can move forward only when the national army controls the militias. However, the national army is neither national nor an army.
    It was formed in the February revolution in the eastern city of Benghazi by several hundred army officers who defected to the rebels. But most of the army itself remained loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. All of which has left this “national army” with plenty of chiefs but precious few Indians.
    The militias, meanwhile, are getting organised. Those of Zintan and Misrata are in effect citizen armies, controlled by their leaders and military councils. Discipline remains a problem, with older members complaining of too many unemployed young men with guns, but order in both cities is more complete than in Tripoli, where gunfire crackles on most nights.

The news peg on which Stephen hangs his article is a grim reminder of how deep the political fragmentation in Libya currently is. basically, it’s the tale of how the militias were all lining up to control tripoli’s international airport, in the expectation that the UN was about to fly in several planeloads of Libyan dinar bills that had just been printed in Germany… with the hope that whoever could control the airport and the road from there to the central Bank could take a hefty rakeoff from the booty in the name of “providing security services.”
Here is the scene that Stephen described:

    Last weekend the army tried to storm the airport and was stopped in a battle at the main airport checkpoint, which left two militiamen wounded and flights suspended as tracer fire arced over the runways. The army tried again midweek, summoning reinforcements from eastern Libya, only for the column to be stopped 200 miles west by units from Misrata, which are allied with Zintan.
    More fighting is expected after unidentified gunmen shot and wounded a son of army commander General Khalifa Hifter in a battle outside Tripoli’s biggest bank, then kidnapped another on Friday.

Meantime, even people in the ranks of the rebels are conceding that somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 Libyans were killed during the seven months of fighting that followed NATO’s entry into the fighting March 19. Prior to that, the death toll was only one-tenth as high.
My old friend Hugh Roberts knows 100 times as much about North Africa as I do. In November, he was writing these very sane words in the LRB:

    The claim that the ‘international community’ had no choice but to intervene militarily and that the alternative was to do nothing is false. An active, practical, non-violent alternative was proposed, and deliberately rejected. The argument for a no-fly zone and then for a military intervention employing ‘all necessary measures’ was that only this could stop the regime’s repression and protect civilians. Yet many argued that the way to protect civilians was not to intensify the conflict by intervening on one side or the other, but to end it by securing a ceasefire followed by political negotiations…

This was, of course, the very same argument that I was making back in March. So was Hugh: He was then working for the International Crisis Group, which as he noted in the LRB piece put forward its own very sensible proposal for a negotiated de-escalation at the time. But no: The foul humors and animal spirits of the west’s warmongers won the day on that occasion– as they seem to, only too, too often.
But why, I wonder, had so many western liberals and rights activists learned nothing from what had happened in Iraq over the preceding eight years? Truly tragic.

Solipsism of U.S. power: Iraq, Libya

This is just a short post to, once again, express my anger and sadness at what the U.S. government has done during nearly nine years of occupation of Iraq. (And also, at what looks very likely to happen over the coming years in U.S.-attacked Libya.)
Right now, the particular form of ‘constitutional democracy’ that the American occupiers imposed on Iraq looks set to implode and as Reidar Visser notes, there is a real possibility of complete political disintegration there. The present situation and future prospects for most of Iraq’s 30 million people look very grim indeed.
But in Washington DC– and Fort Bragg, NC– Pres. Obama and his people seem oblivious to the fate of Iraqis, intent as they are on trying to “sell” to the American people the idea that simply getting the American troops out of Iraq without them suffering any additional casualties constitutes some kind of a valuable achievement… regardless of what happens to the long-suffering Iraqis.
Obama’s people are even trying to fundraise around this idea. Two days ago, I got this email from Obama’s re-election campaign:

    Helena —
    Early this morning, the last of our troops left Iraq.
    As we honor and reflect on the sacrifices that millions of men and women made for this war, I wanted to make sure you heard the news.
    Bringing this war to a responsible end was a cause that sparked many Americans to get involved in the political process for the first time. Today’s outcome is a reminder that we all have a stake in our country’s future, and a say in the direction we choose.
    Thank you.
    Barack

No reference at all to the idea that perhaps, having wrought such havoc inside Iraq, we might also have a responsibility to– and a stake in– Iraq’s future, as well.
This is wilfull, almost psychopathic, disregard for the facts of human inter-dependence and the responsibility that war-waging nations have under international law for the wellbeing of the civilian residents of the places where they choose to fight their wars.
We have seen this same solipsism in the conduct of the U.S. and its NATO allies in Libya– and in particular, in the way that the NATO command tried wilfully to disregard the compelling evidence that NATO bombs had killed many of the very same civilians whom they were allegedly acting in Libya to protect.
C.J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt had a generally excellent piece of reporting in the NYT on December 17, in which they detailed both their own painstaking investigations of incidents in which NATO airstrikes in Libya had killed civilians– and the extreme reluctance of NATO officials to acknowledge these facts.
Libya looks in many ways to be the ‘western’ nations latest paradigm in how to fight a war. Taking lessons from the problems the United States encountered in running the Iraqi occupation, western actions towards Libya have been much more hands-off. NATO never explicitly put troops on the ground in Libya (except for a few ‘deniable’ special ops forces), and therefore acts as if it does not have to bear any direct responsibility for running the country now. Meanwhile, the British government still reportedly controls much of Libya’s sovereign wealth, and NATO ships continue to police Libya’s shoreline. Both those instruments of power can be used to exercise indirect control over key aspects of the post-Qadhafi government’s policy.
It all sounds a lot like Gaza to me. There, the Israelis pioneered the whole concept of running a ‘hands-off’ kind of a military occupation wherein they (quite illegally) deny that they have any responsibility for the welfare of Gaza’s residents, while they still nonetheless continue to control all significant interactions between Gaza and the outside world…
At least in Gaza there is one, generally competent, indigenous governing body which has done a generally good job of maintaining public security for the vast majority of the Strip’s 1.6 million people– something that has been especially welcome to Gazans after the lawlessness of the earlier years of IDF/Fateh condominium there. In Libya, by contrast, the power vacuum that followed NATO’s destruction of Qadhafi’s army and the reluctance of the NATO powers to take any responsibility for post-Qadhafi public security has left the whole country open to the competing militias and warlords who were NATO’s local allies.
But why would voters in America or in other NATO powers care about any of that? The bet that Obama and the other NATO leaders are making is that the voters at home won’t care at all.

Libya: The longer view

The NATO-assisted uprising in Libya is now in the last phases of taking the whole country. These phases may well be marked by some major rights abuses– conducted in the name of “mopping up” operations and motivated by some combination of vengeance and triumphalism.
I hope that such excesses are kept to a minimum and that reporters on the ground are careful both to pay attention and to report accurately what they see.
Meanwhile, I see that Ben Rhodes, a former speechwriter who somehow got elevated to “deputy national security adviser for communications” has been doing a bit of a victory lap with Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin.
This part of Rogin’s report struck me as particularly worrying:

    President Barack Obama’s strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also will form the basis of Obama’s preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said.
    “There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it’s far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers,” said Rhodes. “Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn’t bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions.”

Why would we imagine that the U.S. president should even be in need of any form of a “model” for “future military interventions”?
But more to the point, the real “victory” for Libya’s people, if there is to be one, is still very far indeed from having been won.
Do we have any assurance at all at this point that the situation in Libya, in 2020, will be any better than the still-tragic situation in Iraq today, eight years after the U.S. “victory” on the battlefield there in 2003… Or, than the still-horrendous situation in Afghanistan today, nearly ten years after the U.S. “victory” on that battlefield, in 2001?
Libya, after 36 years of brutal Italian colonial rule, 40 years of Qadhafi’s rule, and the most recent five months of armed conflict, has very few institutions of good governance and almost no culture or tradition of good governance. We have also seen very disturbing social fissures opening up during these most recent months of war– between easterners and westerners, and between Arabs and Imazaghen. I am trying hard to muster some hope that the country’s “transition” to a decent level and quality of self-governance can be well achieved within the next 2-3 years, but it is really hard to see any indications of how this might be achieved.
What is true is that, given its geography, Libya is a real and present challenge primarily for Italy and the other countries of Europe— and also for its two in-transition Arab neighbors Egypt and Tunisia. But Egypt and Tunisia are both extremely (and rightly) busy with their own concerns; and Egypt is anyway somewhat buffered from events in Libya by large expanses of desert.
As for Italy and the other European countries– well, they all also have huge concerns of their own right now, and probably not a lot of attention or resources to devote to providing useful help to the Libyans.
It is thus almost impossible to identify any non-Libyan power who can provide solid, disinterested, useful help to Libya’s people as they face the present challenges of post-war social reconstruction. Possibly Turkey? Who knows?
What is clear now, though, is that this task will be huge, and it has barely even begun…

Cordesman on the slippery slope of warmaking

I generally have broad respect for the military assessments made by Anthony Cordesman, and his latest assessment of the situation in Samantha’s War in Libya contains much excellent analysis.
Including this opening paragraph:

    At some point in time, it will be critical to examine the historical record behind the French, British, and US intervention in Libya and why they dragged NATO and allies like Qatar and the UAE into such a gamble. It seems likely, however, that the choice to act came after watching the rebels advance with seeming ease towards Qaddafi’s overthrow and suffer what still seemed like limited reverses. Given past cases, it is likely that regional, intelligence, and military experts in each country all expressed caution and gave warning about the problems and uncertainties involved, but were overruled by their respective political leaders – who saw their staffs as needlessly cautious.
    What is already certain is that the end result was a set of decisions that focused on short term considerations and bet on the outcome…

Then, this:

    there is nothing amusing about the fact that the lives and futures of some 6.6 million Libyans are at stake. The Franco-Anglo-American gamble now seems far too likely to fail at their expense. Moreover, it seems likely to drag the other nations that support the operation into their failure — along with part of the reputation of NATO and credibility of the UN…
    A weak, divided, poorly led, and badly equipped and supplied set of rebel forces can only hang on with the present level of air support. Yesterday’s announcement that British and French military advisors are going to help is not going to alter that situation quickly. It will take months more – at a minimum – to properly train and equip them and it will take a radical shift in rebel leadership to give them meaningful unity and discipline.
    In the interim an enduring war of attrition will turn a minor humanitarian crisis into a major one

So what does Cordesman recommend? If he truly had the “humanitarian” interests of the Libyan people as his prime goal, surely he would join me in calling an urgent humanitarian ceasefire and the speedy deployment of all international diplomatic mechanisms possible, with the aim of resolving the very tough political matters at issue between Qadhdhafi and his opponents.
But no. He argues instead for a massive escalation of the western war effort:

    France, Britain, the US and other participating members of the Coalition need to shift to the kind of bombing campaign that targets and hunts down Qaddafi’s military and security forces in their bases and as they move – as long before they engage rebel forces as possible. Qaddafi, his extended family, and his key supporters need to be targeted for their attacks on Libyan civilians, even if they are collocated in civilian areas. They need to be confronted with the choice between exile or death, and bombing needs to be intense enough so it is clear to them that they must make a choice as soon as possible.
    This kind of operation cannot be “surgical’ – if “surgical” now means minimizing bloodshed regardless of whether the patient dies. Hard, and sometimes brutal, choices need to be made between limited civilian casualties and collateral damage during the decisive use of force and an open-ended war of attrition that will produce far higher cumulative civilian casualties and collateral damage. The Coalition will also need to avoid the trap of blundering into some kind of ceasefire

His text illustrates something very important about the nature of war. War is a slippery slope. Once you think it’s okay to engage in it, it can very easily face you with exactly the same kind of tough dilemma that Cordesman describes.
For what it’s worth, I think he may be right that, as between launching a huge, “a-l’outrance” escalation now and continuing with the current half-hearted western war effort, probably the escalatory approach would cause less human suffering over the short run of, let’s say, six months.
But then what? As we saw in Iraq, 2003, even a decisive western military victory that succeeds in ousting a hated Arab opponent doesn’t solve the problems of that country’s people. Indeed, in Iraq, on April 9, 2003 the Iraqi people’s travails had barely started to begin.
Look, I have a personal confession to make. Back in 1991, during the early days of the (very speedy) western military campaign to push Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, I was still a supporter of the utility of war (under some circumstances.) Up to the eve of Operation Desert Storm, I had been publicly urging Pres. Bush to give diplomacy and negotiation every single chance he could. But when he did not do that but instead launched the military effort, I then publicly urged him– as Cordesman does here– to pursue the war wholeheartedly and with massive force, in order to make it short and decisive.
Afterwards, I hated myself for having written those belligerent newspaper columns; and sometime in the mid-1990s I became a completely convinced pacifist.
I completely understand the technical-military expertise and deep realism that Anthony Cordesman brings to his analysis. And I believe that Cordesman– unlike so many of the armchair analysts and liberal hawks who have been baying for this war– does have a deep understanding of the dynamics and consequences of warfare. But because of my own experience in 1991, I urge him to follow the path I adopted in the years after 1991… Above all, people should never let themselves get railroaded and rushed into reaching the conclusion that “only” war can solve their problems. This is never the case. There is always a better way.

C.J. Chivers on Libyan rebels’ violations of laws of war

Last week, the NYT’s military-affairs writer C.J. Chivers was one of the first to do detailed reporting of the use by Libyan government forces of cluster bombs in the heavily populated port city of Misrata. Today, the NYT carries another piece of well researched reporting by him– this time on laws of war violations (and other very questionable actions) by the rebel forces in Libya.
Weapons in rebel hands, Chivers writes,

    include… heavier weapons — Type 63 and Grad rockets — that rebels have fired indiscriminately, endangering civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Read the following parts of his piece carefully:

    Among the Forces of Free Libya [i.e., the rebels], an absence of discipline and experience, a fleeting appreciation for both the tactical and technical aspects of weapons employment and a disregard for, or perhaps ignorance of, international conventions are all on display.
    Put simply, the rebels have a limited sense of how to use modern weapons in ways that maximize their effectiveness while minimizing their risks to everyone else.
    They have exhibited what seems to be a tolerance for at least a small number of child soldiers. Such was the case of Mohamed Abdulgader, a 13-year-old boy seen at a forward checkpoint earlier this month with an assault rifle in his grip.
    Mohamed claimed not be a front-line fighter. But he was in area that within an hour came under fire, and made clear his readiness to fight. “If the Qaddafi men try to do anything to me, I will hurt them,” he said. None of the fighters present, or their commander, appeared concerned.
    Similarly, the rebels have little evident command-and-control and no clear or consistent rules of engagement — factors that have perhaps contributed to instances of abusive or outright brutal conduct.
    There have been credible accounts of rebels beating and robbing African men on the mere suspicion of their being mercenaries, and on April 9 two journalists observed rebels capture and immediately kill a suspected Qaddafi informant.
    Countries that provide arms to such lawless forces could later be accused of encouraging or enabling these kinds of crimes. Similarly, many rebels have assembled powerful but inaccurate weapons systems that they have been firing near Ajdabiya and Brega. These include 107-millimeter rockets on pickup trucks, as well as makeshift mounts for 122-millimeter Grad rockets and 57-millimeter air-to-ground rocket launchers removed from former Qaddafi attack helicopters.
    Journalists have seen these high-explosive munitions fired repeatedly, and often haphazardly. The rebels firing them typically have no evident communication with forward observers who might watch where their ordnance lands, and have shown no ability to adjust their aim.
    In tactical terms, this is indiscriminate fire — the very behavior rebels and civilians have decried in the Qaddafi forces, albeit on a smaller scale.

Well, I don’t believe Chivers or anyone else is in a position right now to make a judgment on whether the rebels in Libya have been using indiscriminate fire more or less than the (presumably, better trained) government forces. Hard, too, to know exactly how to measure this…
Regardless of that quibble, here is a well substantiated account of widespread violations of the laws of war being committed by the rebel forces in Libya. (And recall, too, how admiring many western journos back at the beginning of the Libyan insurrection seemed to be, of the very young age of some of the rebels taking up arms… )
So now, shall we see Human Rights Watch or any other international organizations writing reports about these violations that Chivers has so carefully described and documented?
HRW has thus far issued no fewer than three reports (1, 2, 3) about alleged laws of war violations by Libyan government forces in and around Misrata.
The second of those reports was based largely on Chivers’s earlier reporting. If his reporting on that occasion provided an adequate basis for HRW to rush out a follow-up report under their own imprimatur, surely they should do the same thing now?
So now, in response to his latest reporting, can we expect HRW to rush out another statement based on it? I’m not holding my breath.
… In general, HRW’s reporting on this deeply tragic, NATO-escalated war in Libya– maybe we should call it “Samantha’s War”?— has had many of the moral and political qualities of those warmongers of earlier eras who would rush around waving the bloody shirts of those wounded or killed in order to whip up war fever.
War is always hell. Anyone who has ever spent serious amounts of time living in a war zone, as I have, knows that very well. (And no, just “visiting” a war zone in pursuit of a career in journalism or human-rights advocacy is not the same experience, though I salute the courage of all who do that, including Samantha Power, back in the 1990s in Bosnia.)
The suffering that Libya’s people are experiencing today was exacerbated considerably by the France-Britain-U.S. decision to join in (and thereby considerable escalate) the fighting there, back on March 19. There was an alternative at that point. If only Washington, London, and Paris had devoted even one-tenth as much cash and attention to active pursuit of a negotiated resolution of all the matters at issue between Qadhdhafi and his opponents as what they have poured into this very hard-to-end war, then the situation of all the country’s civilians would be considerably better than it is today. And the prospects for their coming days and months would be considerably rosier than the endless strife, hurt, train of deaths, lingering resentments, uprooted families, and broken infrastructure that now seem almost certain to lie ahead of them.
It is not too late to turn away from this war, and to turn back to a path of energetically pursued negotiation and diplomacy. But the western powers– along with their handy maidservant, Qatar– seem determined to continue escalating.

Applebaum warns Libyan war may weaken NATO

Anne Applebaum, who is both a columnist for the WaPo and the spouse of the Foreign Minister of NATO member Poland, writes today that

    when Western leaders talk about the Libyan campaign as a “NATO operation” they are, at the very least, being economical with the truth.

She notes that many NATO members aren’t participating in hostilities in Libya. (Poland is one of these, though strangely she makes no mention of it. Even stranger: That the WaPo makes no mention of her national/sentimental affiliations when she writes about foreign policy issues for them.)
She notes, further, that Sweden, Netherlands, Norway, and Italy are among those NATO countries that are participating militarily but are doing so under tight restrictions imposed by their national governments, and that the U.S. government has cut back its military activities considerably since it “handed over command” of the operation to NATO.
Her conclusion?

    Yet neither Britain nor France wants responsibility for the operation — and neither feels comfortable relying on the other… This failure to cooperate is hardly surprising. This, after all, is the first Anglo-French military operation since the Suez escapade of 1956 — and that one ended rather badly.
    But if this historically unreliable Anglo-French coalition proves unable to sustain a long operation, what then? … If Britain and France run out of planes, fuel, money or enthusiasm, it’s over. And NATO — an organization that, I repeat, did not plan for, prepare for or even vote for the Libyan operation — will shoulder most of the blame. The use of NATO’s name, in Libya, is a fiction. But the weakening of NATO’s reputation in Libya’s wake might become horribly real. In truth, the Libyan expedition is an Anglo-French project and has been from the beginning.

Now of course it is impossible to say how much of Applebaum’s analysis is shared either by her husband, the Polish foreign minister, or the rest of the Polish government. But it is probably fair to suppose that she would not knowingly publish a piece of public commentary with which her husband would strongly disagree or that could embarrass him in his public life in Poland.
By way of reference, here was Polish PM Donald Tusk recently asking a Warsaw newspaper,

    isn’t the Libyan case yet another example of European hypocrisy in view of the way Europe has behaved towards Gaddafi in recent years or even months?

Well, attentive JWN readers will know I have disagreed strongly with Anne Applebaum in the past. Crucially, she is probably very eager for NATO to retain its coherence, its capabilities, and its “credibility”, while I see it as a dangerous relic of an imperialist past and a deep drain on resources that should be used for socially useful goods.
But Applebaum does bring a helpful degree of realism to today’s column.
What she doesn’t mention is the fact that American mismanagement of the decade-long NATO mission in Afghanistan has already considerably weakened the older ties within the organization… So the dreadful military “adventure” in Libya incited by the self-regarding (and strongly pro-Israeli) French philosopher “BHL” maybe just brings it that much nearer to its final death-knell.
But then, what indeed is NATO’s mission– what is NATO?– now that the Soviet Union has been so long dead and buried? In Afghanistan, George W. Bush and Barrack Obama tried to use NATO as a sort of force auxiliary for the projection of American military power in Central Asia. In Libya, Sarkozy and Cameron have tried to use it as their force auxiliary, helping them to realize neo-imperialist goals defined for them by BHL.
By the way, I missed– but just found– this excellent late-March commentary by the FT’s Gideon Rachman.
He wrote,

    the reality is that the Libyan war is more likely to mark a last hurrah for liberal interventionism than a new dawn. For the brutal truth is that the western powers that are the keenest promoters of the idea will not have the economic strength or the public backing to sustain many more overseas interventions. And the rising economic powers – China, India, Brazil and others – are deeply sceptical about the whole concept.
    … Britain and France have maintained the instinct to think globally, without the resources to back it up. Even the US, by far the world’s pre-eminent military power, is signalling strongly that it is losing the will to be the world’s policeman.
    In the Victorian age, the British once sang – “We don’t want to fight, but by Jingo if we do/ We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too.” The Libyan intervention feels like a last reprise of that old tune, rather than a bold statement for a new age.

Yes, indeed. Gideon Rachman strikes me as a far more credible guide to the power balances and sensibilities of the 21st century than Bernard-Henri Levy.

Obama’s (and Sarkozy’s) nonexistent ‘casus belli’ in Libya

Hat-tip to Harvard’s Steve Walt for this fine article, in which he identified and linked to two other fine articles that took apart the ‘rationale’ adduced by Presidents Sarkozy and Obama for their decision to undertake acts of war against Libya on March 19.
In this one, the Chicago Tribune‘s Steve Chapman writes,

    In his March 26 radio address, Obama said the United States acted because Gadhafi threatened “a bloodbath.” Two days later, he asserted, “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi — a city nearly the size of Charlotte (N.C.) — could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”
    Really? Obama implied that, absent our intervention, Gadhafi might have killed nearly 700,000 people, putting it in a class with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. White House adviser Dennis Ross was only slightly less alarmist when he reportedly cited “the real or imminent possibility that up to a 100,000 people could be massacred.”
    But these are outlandish scenarios that go beyond any reasonable interpretation of Gadhafi’s words. He said, “We will have no mercy on them” — but by “them,” he plainly was referring to armed rebels (“traitors”) who stand and fight, not all the city’s inhabitants.
    “We have left the way open to them,” he said. “Escape. Let those who escape go forever.” He pledged that “whoever hands over his weapons, stays at home without any weapons, whatever he did previously, he will be pardoned, protected.”

He also quotes Alan Kuperman, an associate professor at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, as having said,

    Qadhafi did not massacre civilians in any of the other big cities he captured — Zawiya, Misrata, Ajdabiya — which together have a population equal to Benghazi. Yes, civilians were killed in a typical, ham-handed, Third World counterinsurgency. But civilians were not targeted for massacre as in Rwanda, Darfur, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia, or even Kosovo after NATO intervention.

Chapman also wrote,

    I emailed the White House press office several times asking for concrete evidence of the danger, based on any information the administration may have. But a spokesman declined to comment.
    That’s a surprising omission, given that a looming holocaust was the centerpiece of the president’s case for war. Absent specific, reliable evidence, we have to wonder if the president succumbed to unwarranted panic over fictitious dangers.

The second article that Walt linked to in that section was this March 22 piece by Alan Kuperman himself. Kuperman is a very thoughtful analyst of the uses and many known abuses for the concept of humanitarian “intervention”, whose work I think I have cited here on JWN before.
He argues,

    Proponents of such intervention claim it is the only way to protect Libya’s populace. But intervening actually magnifies the threat to civilians in Libya, and beyond. That is because armed uprisings, such as Libya’s, typically provoke massive state retaliation that harms innocents. By contrast, non-violent movements, as in Egypt and Tunisia, rarely trigger so brutal a response.
    By helping rebels, we thus increase the risk of retaliatory massacres or even genocide. Indeed, The New York Times reported that violence threatening Libya’s civilians was ” provoked by rebels.” Aiding the Libyan rebels also encourages copycat uprisings in other countries, proliferating the risk of atrocities.

Kuperman makes these very poignant points:

    But did Gadhafi massacre civilians or plan to commit genocide?
    His forces certainly harmed innocents while defeating rebels in urban areas, as U.S. forces have done in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he did threaten “no mercy” in Benghazi, but Gadhafi directed this threat only at rebels to persuade them to flee. Despite ubiquitous cellphone cameras, there are no images of genocidal violence, a claim that smacks of rebel propaganda.
    No-win situation
    Indeed, Libya’s rebels started the war knowing that they could not win on their own, and that their attacks would provoke harm against civilians, aiming to draw in outside support — and it worked. Tragically, this same dynamic has cost thousands of lives in other wars.
    In Bosnia’s conflict of the early 1990s, for example, the most influential Muslim politician, Omer Behmen, later told me that his whole strategy was to ” put up a fight for long enough to bring in the international community.” The result? Three years of war and 100,000 dead.
    In Kosovo, a senior ethnic Albanian official, Dugi Gorani, confessed on BBC: “The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) of course realized that.” NATO’s intervention backfired by escalating the conflict, leaving 10,000 dead and a million expelled from their homes.
    In Darfur, Sudan, the top rebel leader fought for three years and then rejected a peace offer in 2006, despite retaliation that killed more than 100,000. Abdul Wahid al Nur later explained that he was waiting for greater U.S. and British intervention “like in Bosnia.”

His piece ends with a really helpful, five-point plan to try to ensure that “humanitarian” support does not end up getting used/abused to fuel cycles of violence that increase the suffering of noncombatants.
The three key ones are:

    •Deliver purely humanitarian aid — food, water, sanitation, shelter, medical care — in ways that minimize the benefit to rebels. The United States admirably is delivering supplies to Libyan refugees across the border in Tunisia and Egypt. But we should ensure that relief sites do not become rear bases for Libya’s rebels. If local governments are unwilling to patrol the refugee encampments, we should organize multilateral policing.
    •Expend substantial resources to persuade states to address the legitimate grievances of non-violent domestic groups. Ironically, Obama has applied little pressure on Yemen and Bahrain, which slaughtered peaceful protesters, but he bombed Libya for responding to armed rebels. This sends precisely the wrong message to the Arab street: If you want U.S. support, resort to violence.
    •Do not coerce regime change or surrender of sovereignty unless also taking precautions against violent backlash — such as golden parachutes, power-sharing, or preventive military intervention. If the White House insists on Gadhafi’s departure, it should guarantee asylum for him and a continuing share of power for his senior officials and allied tribes. Simply demanding regime change could drive him to genocidal violence as a last resort, while the international community lacks the will for a preventive deployment of ground troops.

I have to confess I have been in a near-depressive state since March 19, the day Pres. Obama launched the current, extremely irresponsible and damaging (bordering on criminal) NATO-GCC attack on Libya. Okay, I admit that maybe I was naive, believing a good amount of “that hope-changey thing” that Obama promised us when he was a candidate. A good part of why I supported his presidential bid with such energy was precisely because, back in 2003, he’d opposed the decision to attack Iraq… Then he launched the escalation of the war in Afghanistan… And now, he’s launched this other, completely avoidable war.
I’ve been quite depressed, too, to see how many of my friends and close allies have supported this latest war, on allegedly “liberal” or “pro-liberation” grounds that, while I understand what they’re talking about, I find absolutely unconvincing.
As Chapman and Kuperman persistently asked: where was the evidence for the imminence of any act of mass atrocity in Benghazi??
Back on March 27, I blogged about the report the on-the-ground ICRC delegation published about the humanitarian situation in and around Benghazi on March 18. No mention there of any impending humanitarian disaster. Indeed, from the actually humanitarian (as opposed to faux-humanitarian) point of view, the situation in Benghazi was apparently getting a little better on March 18, with aid shipments getting through, etc.
… Oh yes, plenty to get depressed about. But I have two exciting books my publishing company is working on and some pretty exciting (fingers crossed!) developments in the family, as well… And getting depressed certainly doesn’t help anyone build the kind of awareness and the kind of movement that is needed to bring an end to all these insane wars.
Also, lest I forget, the whole of Steve Walt’s piece there, “Is America Addicted to War?”, is definitely worth reading.

What can be done in Syria (and could have been done in Libya)

Syria is, like Libya, a one-man-ruled country with a long history of having been on Washington’s hit-list that in the past two weeks has witnessed mounting popular protests and government attempts to crack down.
I have made periodic reporting trips to Syria for 35 years now and have a broad range of contacts among people in the regime, in the opposition, and among the country’s intellectuals. For many (perhaps most) Syrians, the main challenge they face is how to reconcile the strong desire they have for a government that is much more accountable and less repressive than the present one with the (also strong) fear they have that any political opening-up might lead to the kind of all-pervading fitna (social breakdown) that they saw in post-Saddam Iraq. Remember, Syria has been host to maybe a million refugees from that fitna in Iraq, and they have seen at first hand the horrendous social and psychological devastation that it involved.
In the past, many Syrians have also muted their calls for political rights and a real multi-party system because they feared that any situation of political uncertainty in the country might invite Israel– with which Syria is still in a state of war, since Israel continues to occupy most of Syria’s strategic Golan region– to take further actions against the country and its people.
It goes without saying that the members of Syria’s numerous overlapping security services have always played very strongly on the fears of Israeli adventurism or Iraq-style (or Lebanon-style) fitna as they brutally shut down any attempts to build autonomous political or civil-society networks.
Now, however, it seems that the Asad regime’s long-sustained attempts to intimidate Syria’s 22 million people into political quiescence have started to fail. Under the pressure of the social-media led activities emanating from Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the region, Syrian community groups in various parts of the country have launched and apparently managed to sustain a serious challenge to the regime’s authority. The first ground zero for this movement has been the small southern city of Deraa, where a cycle of small actions leading to arrests leading to big demonstrations leading to crackdown, leading to deaths among protesters, leading to escalating demonstrations has been in motion throughout the past ten days, and continue today.
Other parts of Syria have also seen sizeable protests, including the Mediterranean port city of Lattakia and some exurbs of the capital, Damascus. And there have been other signs of possible regime fracture. Syria’s ambassador to the U.S., Imad Moustapha, wrote a blog post on March 25 that was an elliptical and meandering exploration of the concept of sadness… But the most direct aspect of it was the dedication he put in at the top: “(This is dedicated to the martyrs of Daraa).”
Also, over the weekend, “Angry Arab” Asaad Abou-Khalil reported that vice-president Farouq al-Sharaa had resigned– though it subsequently appeared that Sharaa might have had second thoughts.
In the past couple of days it has been widely reported that President Bashar al-Asad is about to speak to the nation and will announce significant political reforms in his speech. However, a couple of deadlines for that address have now come and gone. It feels a little like that momentous but long-delayed Mubarak speech in early February, but less intense. After all, on that occasion the expectation was that Mubarak would use the promised speech to announce his resignation. This time round, in Syria, no-one is expecting Pres. Asad to resign– and significantly, very few of the demonstrators themselves have thus far been calling for his resignation.
Even more intriguing, though: neither the the U.S. nor any other western power– nor even that little Middle East power on Syria’s southwestern border– has been calling for all-out regime change in Syria!
In one commentary I read, the explanation was “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t know… ” Other explanations are also possible. And indeed, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the complete overthrow of Asad and his Baath Party might well lead either to Iraq-style fitna right there in Syria’s strategically important space or to the emergence of a regime that far better represents the interests of Syria’s majority Sunni-Muslim population, many of whom are inclined to be political Islamists of one type or another, as opposed to the longheld secularism of Asad’s Baath Party.
In these circumstances, several voices in western elites have started to call for an urgent political/diplomatic engagement with Syria, the goal of which would be to persuade/pressure Asad to insist on restraint in his forces’ response to protesters while moving speedily to transform his political system into one that is much more pluralistic and inclusive. This is the thrust, above all, of the call that the International Crisis Group issued on March 25.
Here is what the ICG is calling for:

    President Assad must show visible leadership and do so now… He alone can prove that change is possible and already in the making, restore some sense of clarity and direction to a bewildered power apparatus and put forward a detailed framework for structural change. This should include several steps:
    * The President should speak openly and directly to his people, recognise the challenges [Syria faces], stress the unacceptable and counterproductive nature of repression, offer condolences to the families of victims, order a serious, transparent investigation into the violence in Deraa, present a package of measures for immediate implementation and suggest an inclusive mechanism for discussing more far-reaching reforms.
    * He should announce the following, immediate measures: release of all political prisoners; lifting of the emergency law; authorisation of peaceful demonstrations; opening of new channels for the expression of complaints, given lack of trust in local officials; and action on the many cases of corruption that already have been compiled by the security apparatus but lie dormant due to nepotistic intervention.
    * Upcoming parliamentary elections should be postponed pending a referendum on sweeping constitutional amendments which should be discussed with a wide and inclusive range of Syrians. Deeper change requires broad consultation and cannot be arbitrarily implemented.

Also apparently supporting the “speedy reform” project in Syria is Turkish prime minister Rejep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country– as he noted in Ankara earlier today– shares an 800-mile border with Syria.
That report, from Reuters, included this:

    Erdogan, speaking at Ankara airport before leaving for a visit to Iraq, said he had suggested to Assad that he meet some of the demands of thousands of people who have taken part in pro-democracy demonstrations across Syria.
    “[Subject of verb not given, but presumably Asad?] said they were working on lifting the state of emergency to meet demands. They told us they were working on political parties … we hope these measures are actually implemented rather than remaining promises,” Erdogan said.
    “We did not receive a negative answer when we urged Mr Assad to listen to the voice of people. I hope he makes the announcement today or tomorrow.”

This approach to the developments in Syria is very notably different from the approach that Washington (and France and Britain) adopted toward Libya. The biggest difference is that in Syria, the western governments have been addressing their political demands to Pres. Asad, and thus (presumably in good faith) wanting him to engage with the demands and with their authors. In Libya, by contrast, Pres. Obama and Pres. Sarkozy have been explicitly calling for Qadhdhafi’s ouster– a stance that provides no incentive at all for Qadhdhafi to engage or respond positively in any way.
Allied to these differing political stances (and, in all truth, probably antecedent to them in the decisionmaking in Washington and Paris) was an early desire by France and Washington to intervene militarily in Libya, in contrast to the deliberate military restraint they have announced toward Syria.
Erdogan’s role is, I think, key. Given the length of its common border with Syria, Turkey has a strong interest in preventing a number of outcomes in Syria:

    * Fitna;
    * Emergence of a regime that is much more strongly Islamist than Erdogan’s own AK Party;
    * An outright western or western/Israeli military intervention in the country; and
    * The west’s imposition of much tighter sanctions on Syria, such as would drive the regime and many Syrian citizens toward extremism and further anti-westernism.

Erdogan is also in a unique position to be the spearhead of the “speedy reform” project in Syria, on account of the following factors:

    * The high esteem he enjoys both from Pres. Asad and those around him– and, crucially from the great mass of the Syrian people;
    * Turkey’s geographic proximity to Syria: This allows Turkey to do things (like increasing or easing pressure on trade routes or flows of Euphrates water) that can act as incentives or disincentives for the Syrian reform process. It also means that Turkey’s political elite and public all widely understand that they need to deal successfully with the Syrian challenge, even if it costs them something, because the cost of failure could be huge for Turkey itself.
    * The fact that the AK Party, with its west-leaning and generally moderate form of Sunni Islam, is in a generally good position to be able to interact with emerging leaders from Syria’s own long-repressed Sunni majority community. (Come to think of it, a democratizing Syria could also usefully have a “Justice and Development Party”– AKP– of its own, why not?)

Will Asad engage with this opportunity that western powers and Turkey appear to be offering him? I don’t know, though I strongly hope that he will. The alternatives are too horrible to contemplate. This Pres. Asad cannot, in 2011, hope to undertake a repeat of the “shell them all to smithereens” approach to repressing protesters that his father used in Hama in 1982– and survive.
… All of which does lead me to note, as an important footnote here, that this posture of western governments issuing a clear demarche to Syria against using excessive violence against protesters and then enrolling a variety of international diplomatic mechanisms to monitor and report on the situation with a view to incentivizing or disincentivizing good or bad behavior on the streets and real, significant moves to political reform is one that could and should have been used in both Libya and Bahrain.
Instead of which, what we had was: in Libya, the rush to a terrible war whose consequences (and even, whose goals) are quite impossible to discern; and in Bahrain– nothing, a complete carte blanche to that very repressive regime to do whatever it wanted against the well-organized and above all nonviolent protesters who were gathering in a disciplined way to seek basic human rights.
(Regarding Qadhdhafi, I realize that the bellicose threats that he and his son Seif al-Islam made in the lead-up to the passage of UNSCR 1973 indicated quite the opposite of any willingness to engage with the political demands of the UN or other international bodies. But still, Ban Ki-Moon never even made any attempt to push forward the political parts of 1973; and he and others prevented the AU from doing so, either. The western-led rush to war there was, as I noted yesterday, both tragic and criminal.)

War and humanitarianism: From Kosovo to Libya?

The three western governments that have, with a little help from two Arab governments, been undertaking very lethal military action against Libya in the past eight days have worked to “justify” those acts of war largely in the name of either ending an existing humanitarian crisis or preventing one that was extremely imminent. In line with the too-common parlance in western countries, this war has thus been described as a “humanitarian intervention”– although war itself is anywhere and always an intrinsically anti-humanitarian undertaking.
In wars, the combatants may try to restrict their killing to members of the opposing army, but there is always a high risk of the “collateral” killing of noncombatants (as 9.5 years and counting of US-led war in Afghanistan depressingly continue to demonstrate.) In wars, too, when the armed forces of one side incapacitate roads, bridges, power lines, ports, airports, telephone systems or any of the other infrastructure of modern life– infrastructure that may or may not have military utility but that is always a necessary underpinning of normal, modern, civilian life– then civilians can very speedily be pushed into a complex humanitarian emergency in which hundreds or thousands of lives are lost.
In Kosovo/Serbia in early March of 1999, the NATO leaders “justified” their bombing of Belgrade and other locations inside Serbia as being necessary in order to halt ongoing ethnic cleansing, mass expulsions, and other linked atrocities that, NATO leaders alleged, the Serbian government forces were committing inside Kosovo at the time. However, that account of what was happening was always deeply flawed. Until a few days before the NATO bombing of Serbia began, there had been an OSCE monitoring teams inside Kosovo investigating and reporting on all allegations of atrocities; and they had been reporting that the situation had been easing somewhat over what it had been before… But as the Clinton administration and its allies decided they needed to ratchet up the tensions and prepare for a possible war, they managed to persuade OSCE to pull its monitoring teams out.
Then, once the NATO bombing of Serbia started (with Tomahawk missiles and various forms of navy-launched bombardment, much of it coming out of Italy… sound familiar?), one of the immediate responses of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and his supporters was to launch in earnest that exact same ethnic cleansing campaign inside Kosovo that the bombardment had allegedly been designed to forestall! Given the tensions that had long simmered between Serbs and Kosovars inside Kosovo, Milosevic’s reaction was entirely predictable. Hundreds of thousands of terrified Kosovars fled their homes and made the difficult trek to Albania. Photos of that ‘trail of tears’ were widely circulated in the west as a way of “justifying” the war.
Given what is happening in Libya today, it is definitely worth going back to study the history of the NATO war for Kosovo. As Wikipedia tells us, in mid-May 1999, around 6 weeks into that 10-week war, Clinton’s “Defense” Secretary William Cohen told CBS that,

    “We’ve now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing… they may have been murdered.”

The allegation there was that Milosevic’s forces had quite possibly killed those 100,000 Kosovar men. However, Cohen’s alarmism turned out to be a great exaggeration (if it was, indeed, based on any firm evidence at all.) Wikipedia tells us that

    In the 2008 joint study by the Humanitarian Law Center (an NGO from Serbia and Kosovo), The International Commission on Missing Person, and the Missing Person Commission of Serbia made a name-by-name list of 13,472 war and post-war victims in Kosovo killed in the period from January 1998 to December 2000.[72][73][74] The list contained the name, date of birth, military or civilian status of victim, type of injury/missing, time and place of death. There are 9,260 Albanians and 2,488 Serbs, as well as 1,254 victims that can not be identified by ethnic origin.[75]

First of all, note the long period of time covered by those figures. Then, remember that they are counting deaths of both combatants and noncombatants.
Clearly, Cohen was exaggerating. (In the prosecutions that the ICTY launched after the war, members of the NATO-supported Kosovo Liberation Army were convicted, along with many Serbian leaders. In case anyone’s interested in all that… )
… So what was the situation in Libya in the run-up to NATO’s present war? From early February on there had been civilian street protests in several Libyan cities, some of which were met with force from the army. Then fairly early on, the rebels in Benghazi and I believe other eastern cities managed to bust into armories and pull out and distribute large amounts of weaponry for their own use; and they were also winning defections from numerous members of the government forces. Those armed rebels adopted a pre-revolutionary flag to fight under and started to advance toward Tripoli.
Not surprisingly, during those weeks of mounting civil unrest, many of the foreign migrant workers in the country became increasingly scared until they started to flee the hotspots. There were many reports that black Africans, in particular, were treated very badly by the rebels. But by about March 7 there certainly was a large-scale, existing humanitarian emergency: the flight of the migrant workers who tried to reach and succeeded in reaching the borders with Tunisia and Egypt. Once over the border, their situation remained very dire until those two host governments, with some help from local NGOs and a lot from international aid organizations and foreign governments, were able to provide tents, basic humanitarian supplies, and onward transport to their home countries.
That is what a humanitarian emergency looks like. I have seen no allegations at all that the Libyan government did anything to prevent or block the arrival of the humanitarian supplies that were needed to deal with that flood of refugees.
In addition, however, during the week of March 12, the Libyan government forces started to make rapid advances in the counter-attack they launched against the rebel forces that had been trying to reach Tripoli from the east, and managed to advance quite far toward the east. Libyan tanks and perhaps some planes launched ordnance against rebel-held cities. The rebel leaders and spokespeople expressed understandable concern that if the government forces were able to retake eastern cities like Benghazi or Tobruk, they would undertake mass atrocities against the residents of those cities.
In other words there was a (probably, but not necessarily, well-founded) fear of imminent mass atrocities against the residents of those cities. And it was based on those fears of future atrocities, much more than on any convincing evidence of significantly scaled past atrocities that Presidents Obama and Sarkozy and PM Cameron launched their war.
Indeed, if you go into the web archives of the International Committee for the Red Cross, which is the international (though Swiss-based) organization that is charged both with being the guardian of the whole body of the international laws of war and with taking a lead role in responding to humanitarian crises that arise in times of war, then you will find the following important report dated March 18:

    Geneva/Benghazi (ICRC) – Two days after its temporary relocation to the city of Tobruk in eastern Libya, a four-member team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) returned to Benghazi today to resume its humanitarian work.
    “The improved security situation made it possible for us to return to Benghazi today,” said Simon Brooks, the ICRC’s head of mission in Libya. “We are eager to carry on supporting hospitals, visiting detainees in Benghazi and elsewhere and working with the Libyan Red Crescent to help civilians. At the same time, we continue to urge both parties to let us access other cities and areas, so we can assist other people affected by the fighting.”
    The ICRC is moving more food and essential household items into Libya so that it can help tens of thousands of people if the need arises. The organization shipped 180 tonnes of relief goods to Benghazi last Tuesday and seven trucks carrying 145 tonnes of rice, sugar, oil, lentils and salt are on their way from Egypt to Tobruk.
    The ICRC continues to help people at the Egyptian and Tunisian borders contact their families. Together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, it is supporting the work of the Egyptian and Tunisian Red Crescent Societies, which are providing them with essential services.

In other words, as of March 18, the ICRC’s people were reporting that the humanitarian situation inside Benghazi was getting a little better, not worse.
The following day, Obama and his allies launched their war.
Now, I will grant that Muammar Qadhdhafi and his sons had all made some very bellicose and anti-humane threats against the rebels and the residents of Benghazi in the preceding days. But crucially, it seems to me, there was a clear window, after the Security Council’s passage of resolution 1973 on March 17, when its two first crucial, “political” provisions– which called urgently for a ceasefire and internationally supervised negotiations aimed at defusing the conflict– could and should have been energetically pursued.
In them, the Security Council said that it,

    “1. Demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians;
    “2. Stresses the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people and notes the decisions of the Secretary-General to send his Special Envoy to Libya and of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union to send its ad hoc High-Level Committee to Libya with the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution.”

But Obama and his pals never gave negotiations a chance.
Now, it is extremely unclear what the political upshot of all this will be in Libya. In Kosovo, Washington ended up midwifing a tiny, landlocked little statelet that is a hub of organized crime at the heart of the Balkans, and whose people have a very stunted quality of life.
How will Libya look, 12 years hence? Will it be one state, or two, or three? Will its people still be locked in an unresolved and very damaging civil war or a situation of longterm political conflict? Will the Libyan people finally have the chance to have a well-run, transparent, and accountable government? I don’t think anyone in the Obama administration has any idea what Libya will look like– or, how it might get from its present situation of war-wracked division and NATO-inflicted infrastructural breakdown to anything that might be desirable.
And how on earth do they expect Libyans or anyone else to look at what NATO (and Qatar and the UAE) are doing in Libya today and to take away the lesson, which is so essential to the building of any decently functioning democracy, that when you have political differences with others– even sharp ones– the only acceptable way to solve them is through a commitment to nonviolence and to the nonviolent practices of deliberation, discussion, social solidarity, and voting?

Tripartite attack on Libya hits geopolitical obstacles

It is extremely unclear what the political outcome inside Libya of the tripartite (western) assault against the country will be. It is unclear, too, what political outcome the leaders of the three countries are aiming at in Libya.
In my experience, all wars are anti-humane and anti-humanitarian. But according to “Just War” theory, Clausewitz, Gen. Sherman, and other definers of the western pro-war canon, wars can only ever be justified if they are fought to bring about political outcomes that are clearly defined, compellingly desirable, and highly probable. If you can’t even define the desired political endgame, then launching a war is ipso facto immoral. Launching a war just to “prove some kind of a point” is doubly immoral.
The only things that are clear as of today are that the politics not just of terminating this war but also of fighting it are extremely muddled; that this degree of muddle can be expected to grow; and– given the passions that the war has already ignited– that the escalation of violence that it represented will be very hard indeed to tame, de-escalate, and finally bring under control.
French Pres. Nicholas Sarkozy was facing local elections in his country yesterday. I can’t escape the feeling that his bellicosity against Qadhdhafi last week might have been connected with that. He has seemed eager to make this a fight “to the very end”– the end of Qadhdhafi’s rule in Libya, that is.
Two weeks ago, Obama called for end to Qadhdhafi’s rule, too. But when the war-permitting UNSCR 1973 was passed on Thursday (March 17), Obama spelled out that “regime change” in Libya. was not part of the war plan. And today, the American general who has been leading the war effort for the Pentagon, “Africom” head Gen. Carter Ham, reiterated that position:

    “I have no mission to attack that person, and we are not doing so. We are not seeking his whereabouts or anything like that,” Ham said.
    … “I have a very discreet [discrete] military mission, so I could see accomplishing the military mission and the current leader would remain the current leader,” Ham said. “I don’t think anyone would say that is ideal.”

In that article, FP’s Josh Rogin also wrote that Ham spelled out that the tactical goals that U.S. missile and drone strikes are planned to achieve have to do only with “the protection of civilians” rather than with aiding the military campaign of the Libyan insurrectionaries.
Here is Ham’s very complex explanation of what his forces are trying to achieve, as reported by Rogin:

    “Many in the opposition truly are civilians…trying to protect their civilian business, lives, and families,” said Ham. “There are also those in the opposition that have armored vehicles and heavy weapons. Those parts of the opposition are no longer covered under that ‘protect civilians’ clause” of the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized military intervention.
    “It’s a very problematic situation,” Ham admitted. “Sometimes these are situations that brief better at the headquarters than in the cockpit of an aircraft.”
    So how are pilots in the air supposed to tell the difference? If the opposition groups seem to be organized and fighting, the airplanes imposing the no-fly zone are instructed not to help them.
    “Where they see a clear situation where civilians are threatened, they have… intervened,” said Ham. “When it’s unclear that it’s civilians that are being attacked, the air crews are instructed to be very cautious.”
    “We have no authority and no mission to support the opposition forces in what they might do,” he added.
    What’s more, the coalition forces won’t attack Qaddafi’s forces if they are battling rebel groups, only if they are attacking “civilians,” Ham explained. If the Qaddafi forces seem to be preparing to attack civilians, they can be attacked; but if they seem to be backing away, they won’t be targeted.
    “What we look for, to the degree that we can, is to discern intent,” said Ham. “There’s no simple answer.”

A team of NYT reporters has described the upshot inside Libya, as of earlier today, in the following terms:

    Rebel fighters trying to retake the eastern town of Ajdabiya said they were driven back on Monday by rocket and tank fire from government loyalists still controlling entrances to the city. Dozens of fighters retreated to a checkpoint around 12 miles north of Ajdabiya…

For his part, Rogin had reported that Gen. Ham “said the United States was looking to transfer leadership of the mission to an international organization or structure within a few days.”
Well, good luck with that.
The alacrity with which the Obama administration launched the military strikes against Libya– and the fact that it used the Stuttgart-based “Africom” to do so– means that Africom itself is now probably a broken instrument, inasmuch as its long-described mission had been to try to build tight military-cooperation and basing relationships between the U.S. and as many African nations as possible.
Many members of the African Union have been gobsmacked by the belligerence the U.S. has shown toward Libya. The Daily Monitor of Kampala, Uganda, reported today that,

    The United Nations Security Council has rejected requests by the African Union (AU) High Level Ad-hoc Committee on Libya (AHCL) to fly to Tripoli to mediate between President Muammar Gaddafi and pro-democracy protesters fighting to end his 42-year rule.
    A communiqué of the committee issued yesterday after its meeting in Mauritania said, “The committee, in conformity with resolution 1973 (2011) of the United Nations Security Council, requested for the required permission for the flight carrying its members to Libya in order to fulfill their mandate. The committee was denied permission.”

Article 2 of UNSCR 1973– the resolution that also allowed military action against Libya “for the protection of civilians” stated specifically that the security Council,

    Stresses the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people and notes the decisions of the Secretary-General to send his Special Envoy to Libya and of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union to send its ad hoc High-Level Committee to Libya with the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution;

Well, perhaps not exactly the strongest endorsement ever of the AHLC mission. But still… Uganda’s President Youweri Museveni had been the lead author of the proposal. Lest we forget, Museveni is a longtime close ally of the U.S. in Africa.
The situation at the Arab League is scarcely any better than that at the African Union, from Washington’s point of view. Yesterday, League head Amr Moussa expressed his consternation that the three-power attack against Libya had been so broad and so harsh. (Though honestly, what on earth had the Arab League leaders expected when they had earlier called for western action against Qadhdhafi???)
Also, no-one should be terribly impressed with the news that Qatar and the UAE might send a few of their very expensive jets over to help the French with their air operations over Libya. That realy won’t affect the military equation very much.
… But if Gen. Ham was hoping to pass off leadership of this military action to any body, it was probably not the African Union or the Arab League… but NATO.
And here’s where matters have become very interesting indeed… Because NATO is deeply divided over the war. In particular, there has been a huge spat between NATO members France and Turkey over the issue, which apparently threatens to block NATO from being able to take over command and control of the military effort.
That report, from Hurriyet Daily News in Anqara, included this:

    The Turkish and French permanent representatives to NATO, Haydar Berk and Philippe Errera, quarreled seriously during Sunday’s meeting over the role of the alliance in implementing the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution No. 1973, the Daily News has learned.
    … A key contributing factor to Sunday’s rift was the French decision not to invite Turkey to a meeting on Libya where the details of the implementation of the Security Council resolution were discussed. Turkey’s anger was little soothed when French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s foreign policy advisor Jean-David Levitte called Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu to explain why Ankara was not invited to the meeting.
    “It is not possible for us to understand that France is taking the lead in this operation. We’re having difficulty understanding [it acting like] it is the only executor of the U.N. resolution,” said Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül.
    Diplomatic sources who spoke to the Daily News expressed concern about the way Paris is trying to take control of the situation on its own. “France is acting as if it were the gendarmerie of the region. This approach could lead to instability,” one Turkish diplomat said.

Before the tripartite assault, Turkish PM Rejep Tayyip Erdogan was working hard to try to mediate a political resolution to the contest between Qadhdhafi and the rebels– one that would have involved Qadhdhafi stepping aside and a peaceful resolution of all outstanding differences.
The news out of the ongoing NATO summit in Brussels is all over the place. (Reuters 1, Reuters 2, Reuters 3.) Bottom line: No-one in NATO seems really able to figure out what it is they want to achieve or who it is they want to achieve it.
Oh boy, it looks as if the world is in for a nasty, ill-planned, very damaging, and quite possibly long-drawn-out war in Libya.
How come no-one told Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and their bellophilic friends from Washington’s large aviaries of liberal hawks that this is, indeed, the nature of war? I guess the U.S. military– and SecDef Gates– had tried to.
But launching this war was not, in the end, a decision that was taken by Clinton, Powers, or Rice. It was taken by Barrack Obama. Shame on him.