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Pressure Builds for a No-Fly Zone in Libya | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Pressure Builds for a No-Fly Zone in Libya

UPDATE 6:45 pm: In Cairo, where she met with the new Egyptian foreign minister, Hillary Clinton commented on Libya in response to a question at her news conference. She used a lot of weasel words, but in the end she seems to stick with the idea that no intervention in Libya, including a no-fly zone, will happens without specific authorization by the UN Security Council. That, of course, is not likely, given opposition from Russia and China. Here’s her comment: 

“With regard to Libya, we welcomed the Arab League’s statement on Saturday.  And I consulted with my G-8 colleagues yesterday in Paris.  As you probably know, there is a British-French-Lebanese Security Council resolution that is being discussed at this time in New York.  We are consulting with the Arab League about their understanding of the goals and modalities of a no-fly zone as well as other forms of support.  We understand the urgency of this and therefore we are upping our humanitarian assistance.  We are looking for ways to support the opposition, with whom I met last night.  But we believe that this must be an international effort and that there has to be decisions made in the Security Council in order for any of these steps to go forward.” 

UPDATE 3:05 pm Staunch opposition from Germany has killed, for now, any chance of a NATO or European-backed effort to impose a no-fly zone against Libya. At a meeting of the G8 in Paris, the German objections were supported by Russia. 

UPDATE Tuesday 2:30 pm:The entire conclave of neoconservatives, virtually an identical collection to the cohorts of the Project for a New American Century and the pro-Iraq war lobby before 2003, issued another call for President Obama to intervene in Libya, including air strikes on Libyan military positions. 

Says the statement issued by the Foreign Policy Institute (FPI), Bill Kristol’s thinktank:

"Thirty-eight former U.S. government officials, human rights and democracy advocates, and foreign policy experts expressed concern Tuesday regarding the ongoing crisis in Libya, urging President Obama to: urgently institute a no fly zone over key Libyan cities and towns, recognize the Libyan National Transitional Council, and explore the possibility of targeted strikes against Qaddafi regime assets." 

You can read the whole letter at their site. Signers include Randy Scheunemann, who is chief foreign policy adviser to Sarah Palin, Martin Peretz and Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic, Gary Schmitt, Tom Donnelly, and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, Robert Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution,  Bill Kristol of FPI and the Weekly Standard, Eric Edelman, Reuel Marc Gerecht, and many others. 

UPDATE Monday, 4:45 pm: The United States public is overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. intervention in Libya, according to a new Pew poll

"The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 10-13 among 1,001 adults, finds that 63% say the United States does not have a responsibility to act in Libya; fewer than half as many (27%) say the U.S. has this responsibility. Opinion about U.S. responsibility to take action in Libya is comparable to views about the conflict between Serbs and Bosnians in 1995; just 30% said the U.S. had a responsibility in that case. By contrast, far more Americans said the U.S. had a responsibility to take action in Kosovo in 1999 and in the Darfur crisis of 2007. … 

"Roughly half of Americans (51%) say that the best argument for not using military force in Libya is that U.S. military forces are already overcommitted." 

UPDATE 4:30 pm: From the State Department, Hillary Clinton (in Paris) and Sheikh Abdullah, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, answer questions about putting down one revolution and supporting another one by putting in place a no-fly zone (NFZ).. It must be so confusing for Clinton. The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states, sent troops into Bahrain to prop up that country’s decrepit royal family. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and UAE helped push the Arab League into supporting an anti-Qaddafi NFZ:
 

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, are you inclined to go ahead with a no-fly zone now that the Arab League has approved a no-fly zone?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Iʼm looking forward to talking with my colleague, counterpart, and friend Sheikh Abdullah about the events in the region. And obviously, that includes everything that is happening. But the UAE is currently the president of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and he is here representing the GCC, so we will have a very comprehensive discussion.

QUESTION: Mr. Foreign Minister, could you talk about the decision by the UAE to send troops to Bahrain (inaudible) the situation escalating there?

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH: Well, the Bahrain Government asked us yesterday to look at ways to help them to defuse the tension in Bahrain, and we have already sent roughly around 500 of our police force, who are there. The Saudis are there as well. There are other Gulf countries which are (inaudible) to support the Bahraini Government and to get calm and order
in Bahrain and to help both the Bahraini Government and people to reach to a solution which is for the best for the Bahraini people.

 

UPDATE 1:30 pm:  The African Union – which, like the Arab League, counts Libya as a member – has rejected a no-fly zone in Libya. Instead, the AU is sending a delegation to Libya comprised of the leaders of South Africa, Uganda, Mauritania, Congo and Mali, to seek a negotiated deal. Qaddafi, who condemned the Arab League call for an NFZ, welcomed the AU proposal. 

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council met today to discuss Libya, with France pushing hard for an NFZ. 

ORIGINAL POST: The Arab League’s decision over the weekend may have tilted the balance in favor of a UN-imposed no-fly zone (NFZ) in Libya, aimed at containing Muammar Qaddafi’s power. Still, as I’ve argued all along, a NFZ is likely to be counterproductive, ineffective and yet another exercise of American power in the Muslim world. Besides, it’s likely too late.

In response to the Arab League call, which followed a meeting of Arab foreign ministers, Russia has slightly softened its stance against an NFZ, without backing it yet. According to the BBC, Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia said that he’d seek more information about the Arab League’s proposal. The Russians are taking a harder line on Libya, with President Medvedev declaring that Qaddafi and his family are banned from Russia, including financial dealings—even though Qaddafi, in a quixotic effort to outflank NATO, the Arab League and the United States, has offered conciliatory oil deals to Russia, China and India. “We are ready to bring Chinese and Indian companies to replace Western ones,” said Qaddafi.

It’s extremely unlikely that NATO will enforce an NFZ. Germany is strongly opposed, and so is Turkey. “We have seen from other examples that foreign interventions, especially military interventions, only deepen the problem," said Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. “Therefore we see a NATO military intervention in another country as extremely unbeneficial and, moreover, are concerned that it could create dangerous results.” He added: “We need to give the Libyan people permission to chart their own course.”

That course looks increasingly bleak, however, as Libyan government forces continue to advance eastward toward Benghazi and take control of rebel-held towns in the west, near Tripoli, the capital. Qaddafi is using his air power very selectively and judiciously, trying not to provoke an NFZ by the United States or anyone else, and his ground forces—mechanized and with artillery and armor—are overmatching the rebels in every battle. Last week, James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told Congress that given the balance of forces in Libya, Qaddafi is likely to prevail. (Clapper’s comments were walked back by the White House, and triggered calls from Lindsey Graham (R. –SC) and others for his resignation, but Clapper was simply doing his job, i.e., providing an off-the-cuff intelligence estimate. President Obama, speaking after Clapper’s remarks, said on Friday that his intelligence chief “was making a hardheaded assessment about military capability, and I don't think anybody disputes that Qaddafi has more firepower than the opposition. He wasn't stating policy.”

Policy, however, remains confused. The French are pushing hard for intervention and an NFZ, and France has tacitly recognized the Libyan opposition. But earlier reports that Paris had officially backed the rebels appear to be wrong, and the Arab League, too, refused to support the Transitional National Council in Benghazi. Today, in Paris, Hillary Clinton will meet with the Libyan council. Her husband, Bill Clinton, ever the liberal interventionist, has publicly called for an NFZ. The latest liberal to join the pro-NFZ forces is Princeton's Anne-Marie Slaughter, in an op-ed in today's New York Times, adding her name to the long list of hawks, including Newt Gingrich, many neoconservatives, and John McCain.

Logistically speaking, if an NFZ is set up, nearly all of the patrols and military action to enforce it will be carried out by the United States, whether it's done unilaterally, under UN auspices, or with NATO or Arab League support.

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