Thursday, March 17, 2011

War in Libya

To my considerable surprise, the UN Security Council has just approved a no-fly zone in Libya, which would also permit air strikes on Libyan military defenses.
The United Nations Security Council approved a measure on Thursday authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from harm at the hands of forces loyal to Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The measure allows not only a no-fly zone but effectively any measures short of a ground invasion to halt attacks that might result in civilian fatalities. It comes as Colonel Qaddafi warned residents of Benghazi, Libya, the rebel capital, that an attack was imminent and promised lenient treatment for those who offered no resistance.

“We are coming tonight,” Colonel Qaddafi said. “You will come out from inside. Prepare yourselves from tonight. We will find you in your closets.”

Speaking on a call-in radio show, he promised amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away” but “no mercy or compassion” for those who fight. Explosions were heard in Benghazi early Friday, unnerving residents there, Agence-France Presse reported.

The United States, originally leery of any military involvement in Libya, became a strong proponent of the resolution, particularly after the Arab League approved a no-fly zone, something that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called a “game changer”

With the recent advances made by pro-Qaddafi forces in the east, there was a growing consensus in the Obama administration that imposing a no-fly zone by itself would no longer make much of a difference and that there was a need for more aggressive airstrikes that would make targets of Colonel Qaddafi’s tanks and heavy artillery — an option sometimes referred to as a no-drive zone. The United States or its allies might also send military personnel to advise and train the rebels, an official said.

In the most strident verbal attack on Colonel Qaddafi to date by an American official, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that the Western powers had little choice but to provide critical military backing for the rebels. “We want to support the opposition who are standing against the dictator,” she told an applauding audience in Tunisia on Thursday. “This is a man who has no conscience and will threaten anyone in his way.”

The Qaddafi government responded to the potential United Nations action with threats. “Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military facilities will become targets of Libya’s counter-attack,” it said in a statement carried on Libyan television and the official news agency, JANA, Reuters reported. “The Mediterranean basin will face danger not just in the short-term, but also in the long-term."

This has come as a real surprise to me. I thought the Obama administration was acting very cautiously about Libya, and had no real intention to support this UN resolution. Secretary of Defense Gates only a couple of weeks ago was pointing out that a no-fly zone was an act of war, since it meant destroying Libya's air defenses. What changed the administration's mind? And why has there been so little public discussion of this rather momentous step? Read Andrew Sullivan's Some Questions on the Imminent War. As Kevin Drum says, this is Our Shiny New War in Libya. Norm has a lot to say about Libya - Libya Now.

The Guardian live-blogged the UN vote and has some additional information. Voting for the resolution: Permanent members: United States, Britain, France. Non-permanent members: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa. Abstaining: Permanent members: Russia, China. Non-permanent members: Germany, Brazil, India.

I think that if all our attention were not directed towards what is happening in Japan, this would be a much bigger public deal in the U.S. I'm watching the PBS Newshour right now, and they haven't yet addressed the UN decision.

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