Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Humanitarian" war is still war

Juan Cole, who has supported the US-French-British intervention in Libya from the beginning of it, illustrates in Misrata's People under Siege Informed Comment 04/13/2011 part of the dilemma the US finds itself in whenever it intervenes in a conflict like this:

Misrata, a city of several hundred thousand people about 150 mi. east of the capital of Tripoli, is under, and for weeks has been under siege. Qaddafi’s strategy is to starve it out, deprive it of essentials, and bomb it indiscriminately, as a way of defeating its esprit de corps an allowing a pro-Qaddafi takeover. Qaddafi clearly thinks that the NATO no-fly zone becomes useless if he occupies all the significant cities in the country, then hides his tanks in the conquered cities. Moreover, if he can take Misrata, that victory would free up men and weapons for deployment against Benghazi itself. Qaddafi's indiscriminate bombardment of the civilian city, and his blockade on food, water and medicine, is a crime against humanity.

Misrata's besieged people need to be rescued.
The Bad Guys are winning! The Good Guys are being killed! Our Side is losing! What are we the United States going to do? Are we going to sit back and let the Bad Guys win?

I'm not saying that as a criticism of Cole's statement I quoted. It's part of a conflict like this. We've intervened in a civil war in an Arab Muslim country. We've taken sides. Our policy is based around the expectation that the current government of Muammar Qaddafi will be removed. We have allies to support and enemies to defeat.

So when things go badly for Our Side, the logic in Cole's statement above is obvious: we need to do more to help Our Side. The more we do, the more we get involved, the more our sacred "prestige" is on the line, so the more we need to do to defend our "prestige", and so on until we get what we have in Afghanistan: a war that's gone on for nearly 10 years with no end to American combat involvement in sight.

It's a hell of a lot easier to get into a war than to get out of one.


The US is still playing an active role in the air war again, as Spencer Ackerman reports in What, You Thought The U.S. Was Done Bombing Libya? Danger Room 04/13/2011:
U.S. pilots are doing exactly what the Obama administration promised they wouldn’t be doing after NATO took command of the Libya war: bombing Libya.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, never an enthusiast for this third simultaneous U.S. conflict, pledged to Congress that America’s combat commitment to Libya stopped when NATO came to lead what’s now called Operation Unified Protector. Pressure from senators led him to qualify that U.S. warplanes would be on "standby" if NATO pilots felt overwhelmed. They've apparently felt overwhelmed.

Pentagon officials confirm to NBC News that U.S. pilots have attacked Libyan air defenses three times in the past week. They've not hit Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces, the ones that continue to attack rebel positions and Libyan civilians. And the Pentagon swears it's kept its pledge to remain in a "supporting" role for NATO by pointing to that distinction.

'We do not characterize those as 'strikes,' because [air defense suppression] is considered a defensive, vice offensive, mission,' said Col. David Lapan, a Defense Department spokesman.

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