Friday, April 15, 2011

Regime change in Libya

President Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron have published a joint op-ed, which appeared in the New York Times/International Herald Tribune, The Times of London and Le Figaro. "Libya's Pathway to Peace" 04/14/2011. They state about as straightforwardly as one could imagine in this editorial that even though the UN Security Council resolution that makes the so-called humanitarian intervention legal under international law does not authorize NATO to oust the Libyan government, they intend to do so anyway:

Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power.
Aux termes de la résolution 1973 du Conseil de sécurité, notre devoir et notre mandat sont de protéger les civils. C'est ce que nous faisons. Il ne s'agit pas d'évincer Kadhafi par la force. Mais il est impossible d'imaginer que la Libye ait un avenir avec Kadhafi.
Not that this was any secret. And that was always inherent in this intervention. NATO is taking sides in a civil war. But it's surprising to see them state this quite so bluntly. Maybe they see it as building a case for the necessity of ousting Qaddafi in pursuit of the goal "to protect civilians" by escalating their civil war. They reinforce the point later on:

However, so long as Qaddafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. In order for that transition to succeed, Qaddafi must go and go for good. [my emphasis]
Pourtant, tant que Kadhafi sera au pouvoir, l'Otan et les partenaires de la coalition doivent maintenir leurs opérations afin que la protection des civils soit maintenue et que la pression sur le régime s'accroisse.

Alors pourra commencer une véritable transition d'un régime dictatorial vers un processus constitutionnel ouvert à tous avec une nouvelle génération de dirigeants. Pour que cette transition aboutisse, Kadhafi doit partir, définitivement. [my emphasis]
The longer this war goes on, the less likely it is to end with minimal damage to the US, France and Britain. Part of making regime change such an explicit goal of the war in the way this public statement does is that it makes a negotiated settlement less likely. In the cynical game of war politics, this means that the prestige of the US, Britain and France are now committed to removing Qaddafi, which means that anything less would be a national humiliation, which means escalation is the only honorable thing to do to retain our credibility.

In Europe, the legacy of two world wars and the experiences of Britain and France in losing their colonial empires have made their publics more realistic about war and less impressive by vapid invocation of prestige and credibility. Britain lost even as massive a colonial possession as the area that is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. France learned in Vietnam and Algeria that colonial wars can cost far more than they are worth. And they experienced such traumatic defeats - loss of prestige, national humiliation, etc. - and survived as thriving, wealthy countries who have no fear of conventional military aggression against them. Calling it a day and saying the fight isn't worth it any longer just isn't the terrifying option that American politics makes them out to be.

But for the United States, such vague and dubious justifications still serve as adequate justifications for years and years of needless war, as we see most dramatically now in Afghanistan.

Ironically, the joint op-ed implicitly concedes that the means used by NATO, primarily air power, has been insufficient to adequately protect civilians from Qaddafi's forces:

Tens of thousands of lives have been protected. But the people of Libya are still suffering terrible horrors at Qaddafi’s hands each and every day. His rockets and shells rained down on defenseless civilians in Ajdabiya. The city of Misurata is enduring a medieval siege, as Qaddafi tries to strangle its population into submission. The evidence of disappearances and abuses grows daily.
Des dizaines de milliers de vies ont été épargnées, mais Kadhafi continue d'infliger jour après jour des atrocités au peuple libyen. Ses missiles et ses obus s'abattent sur les civils sans défense à Ajdabiya. Il essaie d'étrangler la population de Misrata, qui subit un siège digne du Moyen Âge, pour l'obliger à se soumettre. Les témoignages de disparitions et d'atrocités sont chaque jour plus nombreux.
I would like to see good sense and an appreciation for the limits of American power prevail in this situation and for the US to de-escalate our involvement and seek a negotiated peace. That's very unlikely to happen right away. But once we intervened, we made it "our" war, too. And our allies and other other countries can rightly ask why NATO isn't using adequate means to achieve the official goal of protecting civilians. Much less the further goal of removing Qaddafi's regime.


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