Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why No Go for US No Fly

Tribune 11 March 2011

Ian Williams on Libyan intervention

Some people would have picketed the Normandy Landings as imperialist intervention. (The Communist Party of the USA did actually condemn the British blockade of Nazi Germany as an imperialist attempt to starve German workers!) On the other hand, when I went to the UN legal department at the time of the belated attempts to help the Kurds after the first Gulf War, they shuffled their feet, and admitted that one of the few modern precedents they could find for “humanitarian intervention,” was Hitler’s land grabs in Czechoslovakia when he claimed to be rescuing Sudeten Germans from persecution.

When Kofi Annan persuaded the governments of the world to reinterpret the UN Charter to encompass “The Responsibility to Protect,” even supporters of intervention invoked the maxim “First do no harm,” and warned of the need to consider carefully the motives, intentions and methods of those intervening. Beware of brain surgeons with grudges and hatchets.

So, even though there are good ethical reasons to help the rebels in Libya, sadly there are few candidates qualified to do it. Obama has certainly blown it with his recent veto, which regresses US standing back to the inglory days of George W. Bush. (By the way, the UK went against the Blairite tradition and supported the resolution.)

In the face of Netanyahu’s refusal even to pause building settlements which the US coyly calls “illegitimate” but which the rest of the world unequivocally condemns as “illegal,” the US stood firm - and threatened to withdraw aid to the Palestinian victims unless they withdrew the embarrassing resolution!

One consequence is that this effectively rules out any attempt at international intervention in Libya, even to enforce a no-fly zone - at least if it involves US or NATO forces. There would be too many questions in the region about whether the jets flew for democracy or Israel, which was after all invoked by Mubarak’s security forces and the Yemeni president against protestors.

Gaddafi is still in some parallel universe where he thinks invoking Al-Qaeda gets him a free pass in Washington. This sounds like he is not quite hundred dirhams to the dinar, but put in the regional context of US support for any murderous autocrat who signs on for the anti-terrorist crusade and it is not that stupid. It might work yet, but if it doesn’t and there is any Western intervention, you can guarantee that he will invoke Israeli interference.

It is an interesting exercise to compare Obama’s recent stands, (or in some cases “prones,” might be a better word) on events in the region with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who has categorically condemned settlements as illegal, and called for Mubarak to step down long before the leaders of the free world screwed their courage to the sticking place. After making the call, he returned to New York to fierce protests from the Egyptian mission to the UN, which have one gathers, been replaced with thanks and plaudits from the new regime in Cairo.

In Libya Ban called for "an immediate halt to the government's disproportionate use of force and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets". This is welcome change from the UN’s traditional inability to distinguish between victim and perpetrator in conflicts and reflects Ban’s unprecedentedly forthright condemnations of member governments committing crimes - and, it is worth remembering, his public support for the International Criminal Career when he was running for the office with the support of the Bush administration.

Of course, Ban has no troops of his own, even if he wanted to deploy them. The UN is now sending a fact-finding mission which could restrain regime excesses in Tripoli, and one also suspects that other countries are sending less public missions to help the rebels, which one hopes are more circumspect than the arrested British SAS team. Any help has to be hands off to be successful. And the ironic result of democracy in Libya, like in Egypt, will be an elected government more anti-Imperialist than its paid-for predecessor.

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