A status report on our intervention in Libya. Historians will find this farce fascinating.

Summary:  Our mission in Libya expands while the original rationale for the war stands exposed as falsehoods.  It’s just another typical war for America in the waning days of the Second Republic.  This post gives a status report, with excerpts from relevant articles.

A review of Obama’s speech about our intervention in Libya, comparing it to our adventure in Iraq

But, after what we saw yesterday, there can be no counting on the people, and it really seems as though old Hegel, in the guise of the World Spirit, were directing history from the grave and, with the greatest conscientiousness, causing everything to be re-enacted twice over, once as grand tragedy and the second time as rotten farce …
Letter from Friedrich Engels’ letter to Karl Marx, 3 December 1851

Contents

  1. Mission creep …
  2. while the reason for the war is revealed to be bogus
  3. For more information

(1)  Mission creep …

What’s wonderful about this is that Obama never explains why he changed his mind, or even acknowledges that he has done so.  We are at war with Eastasia; we have always been at war with Eastasia.

Speech by President Obama at National Defense University, 28 March 2011, about Libya:

Of course, there is no question that Libya -– and the world –- would be better off with Qaddafi out of power.  I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

Expanding the goal — “The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes“, op-ed in The Telegraph, Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, 15 April 2011 — “The Libyan leader will make his country a pariah state. To leave him in power would be an unconscionable betrayal.”  Excerpt:

Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. . . . However, so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their 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. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.

Expanding the expected duration of the war — President Obama in an interview with Associated Press, 15 April 2011:

I didn’t expect that in three weeks, suddenly as a consequence of an air campaign, that Gaddafi would necessarily be gone. … You now have a stalemate on the ground militarily, but Gaddafi is still getting squeezed in all kinds of other ways. He is running out of money, he is running out of supplies. The noose is tightening and he is becoming more and more isolated.  My expectation is that if we continue to apply that pressure and continue to protect civilians, which NATO is doing very capably, then I think over the long term Gaddafi will go and we will be successful.

(2)  while the reason for the war is revealed to be bogus

We’re conned again.  Just like “remember the Maine”, the Tonkin Gulf resolution, and Saddam’s nukes.

(a) Did Obama avert a bloodbath in Libya?“, Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, 3 April 2011 — Excerpt:

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.”

(b) Libya is not Rwanda“, Paul D. Miller (Asst Prof of International Security Studies, National Defense University), Foreign Policy, 30 March 2011 — Excerpt:

{Obama’s speech} gives credence to the reports that Hilary Clinton, the secretary of state, Susan Rice, the U.S. permanent representative to the U.N., and Samantha Power, N.S.C. senior director for multilateral affairs, led the charge to war specifically to avoid “another Rwanda.” The latter two especially have been outspoken in their belief that the United States was wrong not to intervene to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which the ethnic Hutu Interahamwe militia slaughtered some 800,000 fellow Rwandans in a few weeks while the world watched. One diplomat told Power she shouldn’t let Libya become “Obama’s Rwanda,” according to the New York Times. Rwanda looms darkly in the liberal conscience as a powerful prod of guilt, whispering “Next time, do something. Do anything. Anything is better than nothing.”

Liberals have a point about Rwanda. It was grotesque that troop-contributing countries actually withdrew their forces from the U.N. Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), rather than beef it up with more resources and authority, as the genocide unfolded. (However, Power betrays her ignorance of military realities when she argued in her book, A Problem From Hell, that the U.N. could have stopped the genocide with the assets it had on the ground at the time).

But Libya is not Rwanda. Rwanda was genocide. Libya is a civil war. The Rwandan genocide was a premeditated, orchestrated campaign. The Libyan civil war is a sudden, unplanned outburst of fighting. The Rwandan genocide was targeted against an entire, clearly defined ethnic group. The Libyan civil war is between a tyrant and his cronies on one side, and a collection of tribes, movements, and ideologists (including Islamists) on the other. The Rwandan genocidiers aimed to wipe out a people. The Libyan dictator aims to cling to power. The first is murder, the second is war. The failure to act in Rwanda does not saddle us with a responsibility to intervene in Libya. The two situations are different.

Advocates of the Libyan intervention have invoked the “responsibility to protect” to justify the campaign. But R2P is narrowly and specifically aimed at stopping genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity on a very large scale. It does not give the international community an excuse to pick sides in a civil war when convenient.

(c) False pretense for war in Libya?“, Alan J. Kuperman, op-ed in the Boston Globe, 14 April 2011 — Excerpt (links added):

Evidence is now in that President Barack Obama grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya. The president claimed that intervention was necessary to prevent a “bloodbath’’ in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and last rebel stronghold.  But Human Rights Watch has released data on Misurata, the next-biggest city in Libya and scene of protracted fighting, revealing that Moammar Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.

Misurata’s population is roughly 400,000. In nearly two months of war, only 257 people — including combatants — have died there. Of the 949 wounded, only 22 — less than 3% — are women. If Khadafy were indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties.

Obama insisted that prospects were grim without intervention. “If we waited one more day, Benghazi . . . could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.’’ Thus, the president concluded, “preventing genocide’’ justified US military action. … The best evidence that Khadafy did not plan genocide in Benghazi is that he did not perpetrate it in the other cities he had recaptured either fully or partially — including Zawiya, Misurata, and Ajdabiya, which together have a population greater than Benghazi.

Libyan forces did kill hundreds as they regained control of cities. Collateral damage is inevitable in counter-insurgency. And strict laws of war may have been exceeded.

But Khadafy’s acts were a far cry from Rwanda, Darfur, Congo, Bosnia, and other killing fields. Libya’s air force, prior to imposition of a UN-authorized no-fly zone, targeted rebel positions, not civilian concentrations. Despite ubiquitous cellphones equipped with cameras and video, there is no graphic evidence of deliberate massacre. Images abound of victims killed or wounded in crossfire — each one a tragedy — but that is urban warfare, not genocide.

Nor did Khadafy ever threaten civilian massacre in Benghazi, as Obama alleged. The “no mercy’’ warning, of March 17, targeted rebels only, as reported by The New York Times, which noted that Libya’s leader promised amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away.’’ Khadafy even offered the rebels an escape route and open border to Egypt, to avoid a fight “to the bitter end.’’

If bloodbath was unlikely, how did this notion propel US intervention? The actual prospect in Benghazi was the final defeat of the rebels. To avoid this fate, they desperately concocted an impending genocide to rally international support for “humanitarian’’ intervention that would save their rebellion.

On March 15, Reuters quoted a Libyan opposition leader in Geneva claiming that if Khadafy attacked Benghazi, there would be “a real bloodbath, a massacre like we saw in Rwanda.’’ Four days later, US military aircraft started bombing. By the time Obama claimed that intervention had prevented a bloodbath, The New York Times already had reported that “the rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda’’ against Khadafy and were “making vastly inflated claims of his barbaric behavior.’’

It is hard to know whether the White House was duped by the rebels or conspired with them to pursue regime-change on bogus humanitarian grounds. In either case, intervention quickly exceeded the UN mandate of civilian protection by bombing Libyan forces in retreat or based in bastions of Khadafy support, such as Sirte, where they threatened no civilians.

Alan J. Kuperman, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, is author of The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention and co-editor of Gambling on Humanitarian Intervention.

A last comment about our love of foreign wars

This might not be true of the Libyan War, but probably, eventually our foreign wars will bring us to a sad end.

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx, 1852

For more information

Articles about the Libyan war:

  1. Western powers dig in for long war in Libya“, analysis by Reuters, 15 April 2011
  2. Nato mission in disarray as criticisms mount“, The Independent, 16 April 2011 — “Obama admits ‘stalemate’ on the ground as France seeks fresh UN resolution”

Other posts about Libya:

  1. Libya’s people need uninvited infidel foreigners to save them!, 1 March 2011
  2. “You just have not seen enough people bleed to death”, 8 March 2011
  3. About attacking Libya – let’s give this more thought than we did Afghanistan and Iraq, 6 March 2009
  4. Our geopolitical experts see the world with the innocent eyes of children (that’s a bad thing), 14 March 2011
  5. We’re at war, again. Another shovel of dirt on the corpse of the Constitution., 21 March 2011
  6. A war monger review, looking at the articles advocating a US war with Libya, 22 March 2011
  7. What will the world’s tyrants learn from the Libyan War? Get nukes., 25 March 2011
  8. Who are we helping in Libya? Here are some answers., 27 March 2011
  9. In America, both Left and Right love the long war, 30 March 2011
  10. Can the UN give Obama the authority to send US forces in the Libyan War?, 1 April 2011
  11. Tearing the Constitution is a bipartisan sport!, 4 April 2011
  12. Why the Libyan War is important to us – and to our children, 9 April 2011 

5 thoughts on “A status report on our intervention in Libya. Historians will find this farce fascinating.

  1. Important background information about the nation of Libya: “Is there a Libya?“, Issandr El Amrani, blog of the London Review of Books, 28 April 2011 — Free registration. Worth reading in full (in fact, I recommend subscribing). Excerpt:

    The current de facto division of Libya into east and west, roughly along the boundaries of the old Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, reflects the absence of any strong historical links between the two regions, which are separated by a 300-mile stretch of desert where the Gulf of Sirte swoops down to brush the 30th Parallel. Indeed, Libya had no history of political unity before its creation by the UN on 24 December 1951.

    At the beginning of the 20th century, the provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fazzan, in the south-west, had been under the nominal control of the Sublime Porte for about 400 years. Their population of around a million, two-thirds of whom lived in Tripolitania, consisted mostly of nomadic pastoralists. Disease and famine ensured that the number remained stable for more than a century. Europeans had romantic notions of the provinces’ ancient history – the coast had been controlled at various points by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Byzantines – and the ruined temples these civilisations had left behind.

    … In 1911, Italy, a latecomer to empire, decided to annex Tripolitania and Cyrenaica and turn them into what the proto-Fascist Gabriele d’Annunzio called its ‘Fourth Shore’. After formally notifying the Ottoman Empire, the Italians launched an invasion, starting with the major coastal cities. It was not until 1913 that it got Tripolitania under control; Cyrenaica proved more difficult still. They managed to hold onto the coastal towns and turn them into garrisons, but they met fierce resistance from the Senussi, a religious order founded in Mecca in 1837 which combined Cyrenaica’s traditional Sufi teachings with Salafist ruminations on the need for an Islamic renewal. The Senussi had fought against French encroachments into southern Cyrenaica and Fazzan in 1902, and now turned their energies on the Italians.

    … By killing more than a quarter of the total population, the Italians substantially weakened the power and social structure of the Cyrenaican tribes and the Senussi order. … The Italian colonial era left behind a traumatised population … The Italians sent 110,000 settlers to what they now called Libya …

    After WWII … the Great Powers initially favoured the idea of three trusteeships: Italian in Tripolitania (where some 40,000 Italian settlers remained), British in Cyrenaica and French in Fazzan. The intensification of the Cold War in the late 1940s changed that view, with the US and Britain now seeing an independent Libya as more to their advantage: the trusteeship system did not allow for the establishment of military bases. As the American ambassador noted at the time, ‘a glance at the map shows the strategic value of Libya … without which there might have been little interest in the emergence of an Arab kingdom in North Africa … If Libya had passed under any form of United Nations trusteeship, it would have been impossible for the territory to play a part in the defence arrangements of the free world.’

    Thus was created the United Kingdom of Libya, a portmanteau state born out of compromise, whose new ruler, the Senussi chief King Idris, now had to unite it. It was one of the poorest countries in the world, with an annual income per capita of about $25, a 94% illiteracy rate and not a single doctor … Its 3 component parts insisted on a strongly federal system, and in its first version, from 1951 to 1963, the kingdom maintained 3 distinct capitals. Its chief source of income until oil revenues began to flow in the late 1950s derived from the rental of two military bases to the Americans and the British; by the end of the 1950s, Libya received the highest volume of US aid per capita in the world.

  2. Obama Takes the Cape – Pakistanizing the Libyan War“, Franklin C. Spinney, Counterpunch, 22 April 2011 — Opening:

    Taking the Cape is a time-honored term of art used in the Pentagon for luring your opponent into going for your solution, especially when it is not in his or her best interest. The analogy is to waving the red cape in front of the bull. While the psychological game of the dazzle and the stroke has been perfected in the Pentagon as a means for winning its domestic budget wars, the American military has been far less successful in beating its adversaries in a game that goes back to at least the time of Sun Tzu. Consider please the following

    On Thursday, April 22, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced President Obama approved the initiation of drone strikes in Libya. The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright claimed the drones were “uniquely suited” for attacks in urban areas because they can fly lower and get better visibility of targets, presumably, than pilots’s eyeballs in airplanes. Gates went on to claim drone strikes Libya would be done for “humanitarian reasons.”

    In other words, someone has sold Obama on Pakistaning the Libyan War, i.e., pursuing a military strategy of relying on drone attacks to a destroy an adversary hiding in the environmental background. What is astonishing is that Obama took the cape, despite the fact that only 12 days earlier, a report in the Los Angeles Times by David Cloud illustrated once again the absurdity of Cartwright’s and Gates’ claims.

    Cloud’s report is worthy of very careful study, because it is loaded with all sorts of unexplored ramifications — none of them good. …

  3. Did anybody see this coming? “In Libya, a Fundamentalist War against Moderate Islam Takes Shape“, TIME, 18 January 2012 — Excerpt:

    Throughout this country, Libyans are discovering that their hard fought battle to win freedoms is at risk. Puritanical Muslims known as Salafis are applying a rigid form of Islam in more and more communities. They have clamped down on the sale of alcohol and demolished the tombs of saints where many local people worship. The small town of Zuwara near the Tunisian border, dominated by a heterodox Muslim sect despised by the Salafis, is quickly becoming the battlefield for competing visions of Libya’s future.

  4. Libya Struggles to Curb Militias as Chaos Grows“, New York Times, 8 February 2012 — Excerpt:

    As the militiamen saw it, they had the best of intentions. They assaulted another militia at a seaside base here this week to rescue a woman who had been abducted. When the guns fell silent, briefly, the scene that unfolded felt as chaotic as Libya’s revolution these days — a government whose authority extends no further than its offices, militias whose swagger comes from guns far too plentiful and residents whose patience fades with every volley of gunfire that cracks at night.

    The woman was soon freed. The base was theirs. And the plunder began. “Nothing gets taken out!” shouted one of the militiamen, trying to enforce order.

    It did anyway: a box of grenades, rusted heavy machine guns, ammunition belts, grenade launchers, crates of bottled water and an aquarium propped improbably on a moped. Men from a half-dozen militias ferried out the goods, occasionally firing into the air. They fought over looted cars, then shot them up when they did not get their way.

    “This is destruction!” complained Nouri Ftais, a 51-year-old commander, who offered a rare, unheeded voice of reason. “We’re destroying Libya with our bare hands.”

    The country that witnessed the Arab world’s most sweeping revolution is foundering. So is its capital, where a semblance of normality has returned after the chaotic days of the fall of Tripoli last August. But no one would consider a city ordinary where militiamen tortured to death an urbane former diplomat two weeks ago, where hundreds of refugees deemed loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi waited hopelessly in a camp and where a government official acknowledged that “freedom is a problem.” Much about the scene on Wednesday was lamentable, perhaps because the discord was so commonplace.

    … The woman was soon freed. The base was theirs. And the plunder began.

    “Nothing gets taken out!” shouted one of the militiamen, trying to enforce order.

    It did anyway: a box of grenades, rusted heavy machine guns, ammunition belts, grenade launchers, crates of bottled water and an aquarium propped improbably on a moped. Men from a half-dozen militias ferried out the goods, occasionally firing into the air. They fought over looted cars, then shot them up when they did not get their way.

    “This is destruction!” complained Nouri Ftais, a 51-year-old commander, who offered a rare, unheeded voice of reason. “We’re destroying Libya with our bare hands.”

    The country that witnessed the Arab world’s most sweeping revolution is foundering. So is its capital, where a semblance of normality has returned after the chaotic days of the fall of Tripoli last August. But no one would consider a city ordinary where militiamen tortured to death an urbane former diplomat two weeks ago, where hundreds of refugees deemed loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi waited hopelessly in a camp and where a government official acknowledged that “freedom is a problem.” Much about the scene on Wednesday was lamentable, perhaps because the discord was so commonplace.

    … The militias are proving to be the scourge of the revolution’s aftermath. Though they have dismantled most of their checkpoints in the capital, they remain a force, here and elsewhere. A Human Rights Watch researcher estimated there are 250 separate militias in the coastal city of Misurata, the scene of perhaps the fiercest battle of the revolution.

    … Bashir Brebesh said the same was true for the militias in Tripoli. On Jan. 19, his 62-year-old father, Omar, a former Libyan diplomat in Paris, was called in for questioning by militiamen from Zintan. The next day, the family found his body at a hospital in Zintan. His nose was broken, as were his ribs. The nails had been pulled from his toes, they said. His skull was fractured, and his body bore signs of burns from cigarettes.

    The militia told the family that the men responsible had been arrested, an assurance Mr. Brebesh said offered little consolation. “We feel we are alone,” he said.

    “They’re putting themselves as the policeman, as the judge and as the executioner,” said Mr. Brebesh, 32, a neurology resident in Canada, who came home after learning of his father’s death. He inhaled deeply. “Did they not have enough dignity to just shoot him in the head?” he asked. “It’s so monstrous. Did they enjoy hearing him scream?”

    The government has acknowledged the torture and detentions, but it admits that the police and Justice Ministry are not up to the task of stopping them. On Tuesday, it sent out a text message on cellphones, pleading for the militias to stop.

    “People are turning up dead in detention at an alarming rate,” said Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, who was compiling evidence in Libya last month. “If this was happening under any Arab dictatorship, there would be an outcry.”

  5. A year after uprising, militias hold sway in Libya“, AP, 17 February 2012

    One revolutionary militia controls the airport. Others carve up neighborhoods of the Libyan capital into fiefdoms. They clash in the streets, terrifying residents. They hold detainees in makeshift prisons where torture is said to be rampant.

    As Libya on Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi, hundreds of armed militias are the real power on the ground in the country, and the government that took the longtime strongman’s place is largely impotent, unable to rein in fighters, rebuild decimated institutions or stop widespread corruption.

    … As a result, Libya has been flipped upside down, from a country where all power was in the hands of one man, Gadhafi, to one where it has been broken up into hundreds of different hands, each taking its own decisions. The National Transitional Council, which officially rules the country, is struggling to incorporate the militias into the military and police, while trying to get the economy back on its feet and reshape government ministries, courts and other institutions hollowed out under Gadhafi.

    In one sign of the lack of control, Finance Minister Hassan Zaklam admitted that millions of dollars from Gadhafi family assets returned to Libya by European countries — a potentially key source of revenue — have flowed right back out of Libya, stolen by corrupt officials and smuggled out in suitcases through the ports.

    “The money comes for transit only,” Zaklam said in a Feb. 6 interview on Libya state TV. He threatened to resign if the government didn’t impose control over ports or stop unfreezing the assets. “I can’t be a clown,” he said.

    …The militias, meanwhile, are accused of acting like vigilantes and armed gangs, fighting over turf and taking the law into their own hands. Many run private prisons, detaining criminals, suspected former regime members or simply people who run afoul of the fighters.

    In a report Wednesday, London-based Amnesty International said it found prisoners had been tortured or abused in all but one of 11 militia-run facilities it visited. Detainees told the group they had been beaten for hours with whips, cables and plastic hoses and given electrical shocks. At least 12 detainees have died since September after torture, it said.

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