Friday, March 04, 2011

No Go for No Fly..

Middle East
Mar 5, 2011
Asia Times

To fly or not to fly?
By Ian Williams

So, there is an eccentric dictator, disliked by all his neighbors. When the chips came down with demonstrations across Libya, his only friends are similar arch-bombasts, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega and Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, and even their friendship seems based on a safe physical distance, a steady supply of cash and a presumed shared enemy in Washington.

With the Arab League, Organization of Islamic States, the African Union, the European Union and now even the full United Nations Security Council - including China, Russia and India - on your side against Muammar Gaddafi, surely this is a time where the

UN doctrine of "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) adopted five years ago and American declarations of humanitarian intent should form a vector of forces all heading in the same direction?

Sudan is still sitting pretty after far more bloodshed in Darfur, showing the power of friendship and diplomacy, with the Arab League and African Union trying to pull the leash back on the International Criminal Court, while even Security Council members who do not accept ICC jurisdiction, like the US and India, voted to refer Libya's rulers.

And yet, despite, dare we say, bombast from Senator John McCain and Senator Joe Lieberman, the Barack Obama administration is correctly hesitant about letting loose the dogs of war on Gaddafi, not even to enforce a no-fly zone.

The framers of the R2P principles at the UN made a bedrock principle of "First Do No Harm", and US intervention would clearly fail that test spectacularly. This is sad. Yet the resistance in Libya deserves, and might even need support. Indeed rather than physical intervention, a clear threat that it was possible and likely would give second thoughts to small groups of Gaddafi loyalists who must already have that sinking feeling of going down with a mad captain heading straight for the White Whale.

Although the present juncture of events in the Arab world was then unthinkable, or at least unforeseen, a year ago, Obama might have been able to get away with it then. His outreach to Muslims with speeches in Cairo and Istanbul added to the general feeling of euphoria that a black American with a Muslim middle name and an African surname had been elected president was enough, and what is more, his seemed to be the first administration since George H W Bush to confront Israel on settlements and peace.

Since then a lot of water has flowed - backwards - under the bridge. While he maintained some pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about settlements, he had a chance, but the revelation that the only sanctions threatened were a cut off of aid to the victim - the Palestinians, unless they knuckled under, showed a reversion to Clintonian, indeed Bush politics.

The first veto, of a resolution actually stating US views on Israeli settlements (if we elide the weaselly distinction between "Illegitimate" and "illegal"), starkly revealed US isolation and choices. It had 130 sponsors and every US ally on the Security Council voted for it. The fervor with which Washington tried to head off the vote shows they knew the risks they were taking, but nothing explains why they thought it was worthwhile.

We can see the potential as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh refers to the protesters in his country as American and Israeli agents. It is nonsense, but he knows that it would be a potent objection if he could make it stick. The riots across the Arab world are not about Israel and Palestine, they are about food, democracy and many other pressing domestic issues.

But polls have shown that Arabs do feel strongly about the humiliation of their Palestinian brethren by Israel. And instead of biddable and buyable kleptocrats, Washington now has to worry about the views of the Arab electorate for the first time. They might not want to go to war against Israel: but they certainly will not countenance being bases for a war for Israel, or even the US, against yet another Arab country.

Even more broadly, after Iraq, for which British premier Tony Blair claimed humanitarian reasons when the weapons of mass destruction went missing, there is no way that the US could repeat a Kosovo operation without a UN mandate - which the US is almost certainly not going to get.

In addition to traditional Russian suspicion of US motives, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has memories. He was UN ambassador when Moscow extended the hand of cooperation over the first Iraq war in 1991 - and he feels quite rightly betrayed. Russia voted for sanctions - and saw them maintained for a decade after their declared original purpose of liberating Kuwait had been achieved. He saw UN measures to help the Kurds against the Ba'athist regime expanded to include a no-fly zone over the whole country, and once again maintained for a decade with no explicit UN authorization.

Now that the US is looking and sounding like the old-style US administrations, he is not cutting them any slack. There was a sound "nyet" to any suggestion of military action in the resolution.

In fact, he is saving the US from itself. After Obama's first veto he has reverted to being just another US commander-in-chief, and there are many people in the region who would ask whether those jets were flying for democracy or Israel - a question with extra force since many of those who are advocating it were much less keen to lend support to Egyptians ousting Hosni Mubarak, let alone the king of Bahrain.

Even Gaddafi, who eccentrically blames al-Qaeda as if this will win him support from Washington, is likely to raise the Israel specter if the US Air Force flies in. Even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a clear US surrogate is incompatible.

However, rather than the US, a threat of Turkish, or Egyptian intervention or interdiction of the Libyan military might overcome many of the legitimate actions, and indeed would encourage the rebels while stripping Gaddafi of the last of his crew so he could go down without taking the ship with him.

Ian Williams is the author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

The end of the end of history
Mar 4

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