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Libya Thread # 2

By Kelly Thomas - Posted on 21 March 2011

I thought I would start a new thread (to continue our initial discussion) on Libya here.

Josh Marshall, editor at Talking Points Memo argued pretty strongly that this U.N. intervention in Libya was a bad idea, but said he was open to alternative viewpoints and welcomed them. Apparently, he received many. He posted a powerful rebuttal from someone with foreign policy expertise. I think they both have good points. I am just hopeful the outcome is quick and positive.

Bad Idea

At the end of last week I couldn't help tweeting that everything I was seeing in Libya was bringing out my inner foreign policy Realist. And everything I've seen this weekend has confirmed me in that view. Indeed, there are so many reasons this strikes me as a bad idea I really hardly know where to start. So let me focus on the three biggest problems I see.

First, insurrections like these by poorly organized rebel forces depend hugely on momentum and the perceived weakness of the leader. Not long ago Qaddafi's authority appeared to be crumbling. Numerous members of the regime were defecting to the inchoate rebel forces. It seemed like only a matter of days. Perhaps hours. The turning point came when Qaddafi stabilized the front moving into western Libya. Once that happened, once he'd halted the momentum toward collapse, it was very bad news for the rebels because as we've seen Qaddafi had all the heavy weapons and command and control on his side. By this weekend, without massive outside intervention, it's pretty clear Qaddafi had already won.

A week ago a relatively limited intervention probably could have sealed the rebels' victory, preventing a reeling Qaddafi from fully mobilizing his heavy armaments. But where do we expect to get from this now? It's not clear to me how the best case scenario can be anything more than our maintaining a safe haven in Benghazi for the people who were about to be crushed because they'd participated in a failed rebellion. So Qaddafi reclaims his rule over all of Libya except this one city which has no government or apparent hope of anything better than permanent limbo. Where do we go with that?

We're calling a time out on a really ugly situation the fundamental dynamics of which we aren't in any position to change. That sounds like a mess.

Maybe we do this and then that rejuvenates the opposition and Qaddafi is gone in a week. If that happens, great. Egg on my face. But I doubt it.

Second, it's difficult for me to distinguish this from an armed insurrection against a corrupt autocrat that looked to be winning and then lost. That sort of thing happens a lot. Only in very specific circumstances is there any logic for us to intervene in a situation like that. I've heard people saying well, we took too long to stop the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and we didn't lift a finger to stop the genocide in Rwanda, so let's not make the same mistake this time. But these seem like preposterous comparisons. This is ugly and it's brutal but a lot of people getting killed in a failed rebellion isn't genocide. It's not. And unlike situations where violence can destabilize the larger region, in this case our presence seems more likely to destabilize the larger region.

Qaddafi is a clownish nut, though clearly a very savvy one. He's awful for his country. But we seem to be being ginned up into this by the usual suspects in the US -- I'm waiting for John McCain to announce that we're all Benghazians now. That and a French President who I have to imagine is being motivated by domestic politics we only dimly understand, despite lacking a military capable of projecting force the several hundred miles from France to the battle zone.

Lots of countries have jet fighters and navies and missiles. But the kind of modern warfare we tend to take for granted in the US these days requires getting all those different things operating together, with all the right hardware in all the right places all at the same time, keeping everything in communication over vast distances. One key to understanding the contemporary world system is that the US is really the only military able to do that. With the semi-exception of the UK, even the modern NATO militaries operate more like auxiliaries to the US legions.

Finally, the talk of exit strategies is always a bit off the mark in these situations. Sometimes the stakes are high enough that the exit strategy doesn't have to be clear. The better question is this: can you maintain the initiative in getting to your goal. In this case, we go in and then we're stuck. Again, maybe the introduction of outside force to buoy the rebels will shake things up and turn the momentum against Qaddafi. Things are so fluid in the Mideast today that I do not discount that possibility. Maybe there's more our people know that makes them think that's likely. But from the outside, I don't see it. Or more specifically, it's not clear what steps we can take to make it more likely.

It looks more like once we've closed down Qaddafi's air forces we've basically taken custody of what is already a failed rebellion. We've accepted responsibility for protecting them. Once we recognize that, the logic of the situation will lead us to arming our new charges, helping them get out of the jam they're in.

So let's review: No clear national or even humanitarian interest for military intervention. Intervening well past the point where our intervention can have a decisive effect. And finally, intervening under circumstances in which the reviled autocrat seems to hold the strategic initiative against us. This all strikes me as a very bad footing to go in on.

Good Idea

I have to disagree with your reasoning on Libya. For full disclosure, I am a U.S. government official serving in a Middle Eastern country, but I am writing to express my personal views only.

The Arab world is in a state of remarkable transformation. But you would be wrong to look at these as individual transformations, individual revolutions, within individual nation-states. The Arabs certainly don't see it that way. Rather, Libya today occupies a position at the heart of what has been a regional phenomenon, an Arab Spring if you like, that has been defined by a remarkable feeling of solidarity across the Arab world.

Without a doubt, the outcome of this Arab Spring is of critical importance to the United States. Key questions remain unanswered, questions such as: where will the protests spread? How will autocrats respond? What sorts of governments will take their place? And how will they and their people view us?

By responding favorably to the rebels, and indeed the Arab League's pleas for military intervention, we are helping to speed Qadhafi's departure. It isn't a sure bet, but it's certainly a far better one than doing nothing. Another successful dictator toppled can encourage the democracy movement to continue, which I believe is in the interests of the region and the world, not to mention our own.

Furthermore, by intervening on the side of the rebels in Benghazi, we are in effect tangibly allying ourselves with the cause of the protesters for the first time since these protests started. And this, too, is in our interests, as there is currently a great deal of anger towards the United States for our past realpolitik-driven friendships with certain of these autocrats. Supporting the transformation in Libya can go a long way towards erasing some of that resentment.

I understand your wariness about the reception among Arabs towards the prospect of another U.S. intervention in a Muslim country. Understand it, and would share it under normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances. I watch Arabic satellite news, read the newspapers, and more importantly interact with people on the street. And I can tell you that the feeling towards this intervention is one of relief and hope.

So, in sum, while you may have been correct two months ago in asserting that Libya is of questionable importance from a national security or humanitarian perspective, today this is no longer accurate.

But what frustrates me most about yours and others' "realpolitik"-driven critiques of this intervention is that critics seldom stop to consider the alternative. What if we had ignored the rebels' pleas for our assistance? What if we had stood by and done nothing? As you say Qadhafi probably would have prevailed, and the payback likely would have been terrible, for the people in Benghazi and elsewhere. Democracy would have failed in Libya, and stalled elsewhere.

All of which would have been covered exhaustively on Al Jazeera, of course. Under the overall narrative that the United States, after launching a $1.5 trillion invasion of Iraq, ignored the suffering of the people of Libya despite the region's urgent requests for assistance. That we let the democracy movement die in Libya, that we betrayed the Arab people and showed that we do not really care about democracy after all, only about our narrow economic interests. Seriously, people on the street were already using these lines with me last week, even before the going got really bad for the rebels.

The damage to our standing in the region would have been enormous and long-lasting, of that I have no doubt. And this most certainly would not have been in our interests.

Today in Libya and elsewhere in the region we are watching history unfold. It is easy in such moments to lose track of the big picture, to lose perspective. But at the end of the day we must realize that we are faced with a decision that will define our relations with these countries and their people for a long time to come: whether to take the risk and support in a tangible way their democratic aspirations, or stand aside and do nothing in fear of all the things that could go wrong. I for one am glad we chose the former.





Link from TPM. In a new CNN poll, most approve of No-Fly Zone actions, but against ground troops.

Source:  Dailykos

The President sent his notification to Congress regarding the Libya situation in accordance with the War powers Act. The law requires such a notification within 48 hours of commencing military actions.

Quite a bit of ink was spilled yesterday by folks suggesting the President was not complying with the War Powers Act because he had not notified Congress. But, of course, the criticism was premature and in this case unwarranted since the 48 time period has not yet elapsed. It has now, and his notice has been delivered.

At this point the law requires that hostilities by the US cease within 60 days unless Congress approves. We'll have to see how that plays out.

The text is here.

~~Notification sent, but nobody home. Congress is in recess until March 25.

Kucinich thinks we're idiots.

Dennis Kucinich: Obama's Libya Attack An Impeachable Offense

Presidents have initiated many military conflicts without congressional approval since World War II, including President Clinton's air assault on the Milosevic regime in Serbia in 1999, President Bush's intervention in Somalia in 1992, and President Reagan's own attack on Qaddafi in 1986. The War Powers Act -- passed in reaction to the Vietnam War and mostly ignored by Presidents since then -- requires the president to inform Congress that he is committing U.S. forces abroad within 48 hours and to request approval within 60 days.

I always enjoy TPM comments. Smart and often humorous.
Although we have some in Congress saying President Obama should be impeached over the Libya decision and others saying he should have been more of a cowboy and not let France take the lead, it looks like the majority of Americans support President Obama's handling of Libya. Depending upon how things go in the coming days, that could certainly change.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Funny how we question this president's authority on strikes, but always accepted the premise in the past...what is different about this Obama guy?

Since there is suddenly a debate on whether President Obama should have gone to Congress first (he did brief Congressional leaders on Friday but did not seek a vote) or if this is even constitutional (it is) I read some articles on David Frum's site and found these comments interesting:

1.  "I do wish the constitutional scholars would be a bit more analytical when they declare things to be unconstitutional. Section 8 gives Congress the power “To declare War”. There is nothing in Section 2 (the President) that prohibits the President from taking action (hostile or otherwise) using our military forces. Not every military action is a war. If you think the founders intended that every incident where a soldier discharges their weapon when ordered to do so is a war and requires an act of Congress you are wrong. The President has broad latitude both as Chief Executive and Command In Chief.

The action in Libya could conceivably turn into a war but it certainly is not a war at this point. Additionally, Congress passed the treaty that forms the basis for NATO. Under this treaty the U.S. is authorized AND obligated to perform certain actions up to and including the use of hostilities. There are also other treaties passed by Congress, which authorizes immediate aid to other nations should they be threatened or attacked.

I do wish folks would think, read, research, and analyze a bit before they pop up with statements that something is unconstitutional. Our action in Libya is not unconstitutional in any way shape or form. Now whether is was wise to take such an action without consulting with Congress is another question. Personally, I doubt that he had time for Congressional games and second, most of Congress was pushing him to take some action."

2.  "The question then becomes “are there any distinctions to be drawn with regards to this case in Libya.” I would argue that the UN authorization that calls on member states to enforce a NFZ saddles us, especially as a nation that voted for the resolution and the world’s foremost military power, with some of the responsibility of enforcement. Ultimately, long-term action or operations that require ground troops necessitate congressional approval. Thus, under the War Powers Resolution Obama has 60 days to wrap this up or he has to come back to Congress for authorization."

3.  "Frum discovers his constitutional inner man? A bit late in the day perhaps since he’s spent much of the past three weeks urging US intervention. To be honest I’m not sure what the exact legal position is but isn’t there a long history of US presidents taking action of this sort without obtaining congressional approval? Reagan’s bombing of Libya back in the 80’s, his invasion of Haiti, the invasion of Lebanon, Bush senior’s invasion of Panama, are all incidents that spring to mind. I can’t remember whether congressional approval was obtained for these. Perhaps someone could remind me."

4.  "We went to the “shores of Tripoli” for the first time in 1790 – the First Barbary War – without Congress saying the magic words “we declare war”. And that was when Jefferson was president and Washington and virtually the entire generation who framed the constitution were still alive."

5.  "People who are screaming “unconstitutional” have no leg to stand on. Not liking something does not make it unconstitutional."

6.  "Actually, Congress was not bypassed at all. On Friday congressional leaders were brought in for a full presentation and review of the potential Libyan operations.

Now whether you think Congress should have had to vote on this then that is a different matter. For this limited U.N. approved military operation, I do not think Congress needed to vote on this. Did Congress vote on Kosovo? Did Congress vote on the Iraq no-fly zone?

Actually, Reagan set the example with his invasion of Granada and Panama. Well, that’s not quite right. Johnson’s Vietnam came first. None of those so-called police actions had Congressional approval as I recall. The Iraqi invasion approval is a bit stickier but it can be argued as many have that Congress did not approve the invasion."

7.  "Should Congress have been consulted? Yes, that’s the law. However, if you’re going to hang one President for acting without Congressional approval, you have an obligation to hang all the others as well. Are you ready to hang Reagan?"

8.  "No, he acted too impulsively... or... he waited too long... or... he is bowing down to foreign dictators... or... he is disrespectful of the sovereignty of an independent state... or... -oh, I'm so confused! I don't know which criticism to use."

9.  "Are they mad because he didn’t lead or jump in soon enough. Now they are mad because he is in. What is it? I don’t think the President would have made people happy regardless of what he did. How would Congress have approved things if he jumped in quickly? Would we still be back to square one waiting for approval?"

10.  "Then, would they say, he acted to fast and now we have to hold up approval. Sigh."


Humanitarian threat... 

A lot of heads would have been spinning if Obama stood by while a massacre took place in Benghazi, especially when McCain was talking about his lack of leadership, and suggesting it should have been done weeks ago.

So who's idea was it...

Obama's women Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power pushed Obama into it?

Obama's Women of War

The Libyan airstrikes mark the first time in U.S. history that a female-dominated diplomatic team has urged military action.

Libya Airstrikes: The Women Who Called for War

From the Netherlands - Dutch political cartoonist Joep Bertrams


Obama: US will turn over control of Libya effort

WASHINGTON – The four-day air assault in Libya will soon achieve the objectives of establishing a no-fly zone and averting a massacre of civilians by Moammar Gadhafi's troops, President Barack Obama said Tuesday, adding that despite squabbling among allies, the United States will turn control of the operation over to other countries within days.

"When this transition takes place, it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone. It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily enforcing the arms embargo. That's precisely what the other nations are going to do," the president said at a news conference in El Salvador as he neared the end of a Latin American trip overshadowed by events in Libya.

He spoke as one senior American military official said the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar was expected to start flying air patrols over Libya by this weekend, becoming the first member of the Arab League to participate directly in the military mission.

Criticism of the operation has been muted so far, with the president out of the country, but is likely to increase once he flies home on Wednesday — a few hours earlier than had been scheduled.


The US needs to hand off this mission. Nice to hear this.

If there is a problem with the American portion of this operation, it would be to whom to "hand off" the leadership or command structure after air supremacy is established.

NATO is currently under the command of an American general, so it would be hard to claim U.S. involvement had been toned down. And the E.U. military command has no experience in a "real world" military conflict.

Maybe U.N. forces?

Or maybe, Arab League/UN/NATO-led type committee can make decisions collectively, when it comes to arming the rebels and humanitarian aid. Qatar fighter jets and transport aircraft expected to participate this weekend.
I don't like war , but I certainly don't like watching innocents being murdered in the streets by Gadafi, either. I stand with the Libyan freedom fighters who have the guts to fight to the death for their liberty. Most of you know me well, and know how I feel about "regime change" and "liberation" of soverign nations. I've always said the people of a nation must want it for themselves. Well, the Libyans WANT IT, and are willing to die for it. They have begged for outside help establishing a no-fly zone. The UN gave it to them. As long as we don't get into a ground war there, and I don't think we will, I support the effort of the coalition, and our part in it.
IMO, this is NOT another war.

Where is Libya on the map?

I am encouraged that some people even knew that Libya was in Africa.

Link from TPM. Pat Buchanan is blaming those sissy girls in the Obama adminsitration for using their emotions to guide them on Libya. Can we say sexist?

Maureen Dowd's column yesterday suggested that the primary influencers on Obama's decision to involve the U.S. military in Libya were primarily the senior female advisersHillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security Adviser Samantha Power.) This spawned an interesting discussion on Morning Joe today, which lead conservative pundit Pat Buchanan to suggest that women in the administration were making an emotional argument in their advice to get the U.S. involved. Hoo boy! (namely Sec. of State


Consider the source!

Pat Buchanan.  Really?

Sorry to share the same religious preference as this loser (and Sean Hannity).

New polling-widespread support on Libya.

70 percent of both Republicans and Democrats and 65 percent of independents approve of the missile and airstrikes. Three-quarters of the public think the campaign to enforce a no-fly zone authorized by the United Nations Security Council will be effective, but only 20 percent expect it to be very effective in protecting civilians and rebels from Colonel Qaddafi’s forces.

Funny how the media makes you think the public is up in arms about Libya and want to impeach the president for his unconstitutional moves. The increased support of the Arab League is huge in this operation. Talk about diplomatic miracles.

How the U.S. pulled off a major freeze of Libyan assets

The Treasury Department team had been working nonstop on a plan to freeze Libyan assets in U.S. banks, hoping they might snare $100 million or more and prevent Moammar Gaddafi from tapping it as he unleashed deadly attacks against protesters who wanted him gone.

Now, at 2:22 Friday afternoon, Feb. 25, an e-mail arrived from a Treasury official with startling news. Their $100 million estimate was off — orders of magnitude off.

The e-mail said there was in “excess of $29.7 Billion — yes, that’s a B.” And most of the money was at one bank.  Source: The Washington Post

Sweden freezes Libyan assets worth 1.5 billion dollars

Austria widened an asset freeze list on Friday to include a top official at the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) because of possible links to Muammar Gaddafi's inner circle. The move against LIA deputy chief Mustafa Zarti, who has an Austrian passport, follows international sanctions on Gaddafi's family and associates. Libya's main sovereign wealth fund, the LIA controls about $65 billion.

Libya, Serbia, Iraq, Libya

Kristine Frazao looks back at a controversial timeline...

Good night and good luck - Edward R. Murrow

Papantonio: Sorry GOP, Libya Won’t Hurt Obama in 2012

War presidents usually do well.

Not sure why Gallup has such different results on support for U.S. involvement in Libya but here's the poll results.

With U.S. and other allies going out of their way to stress that this involvement should be short, I kind of wonder if they know something (intelligence-wise) we don't. They seem pretty confident. If it's just an act and this goes on and on, President Obama may pay a political price.

I just have a weird feeling that some of the critics may end up with egg on their face and we may finally make progress in a place that we never felt we could.

One big argument is that the opposition forces are too weak and untrained. Well, isn't that expected? Should that rule out help? They have to pass a strength test? Doesn't that show the passion, that they fight knowing they don't have the might? And isn't that why we are helping them? Did the Patriots have the better army against the British?


Anxious to reduce its front-line air combat role in Libya, the Obama administration pressed Thursday for allies who first pushed for the campaign to come up with a workable alternative.

PARIS (AP) -- France says it has agreed with the United States that NATO should have a role in coalition's military operations in Libya.

A statement issued in Paris said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Barack Obama "agreed on the modalities of using the structures of the NATO command to support the coalition."


Separately, British Prime Minister David Cameron's office said that he and Obama also agreed that NATO should play a key role in commanding the military campaign in Libya.


The command and control handoff to NATO, probably this weekend. Non-NATO countries are involved, but I'm not sure who they are... I'll find out.

On 20 March 2011, NATO states agreed on enforcing a arms embargo against Libya.

NATO has added new members seven times since first forming in 1949 (the last two in 2009). NATO comprises 28 members: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

House Speaker John Boehner asking for details on the goals, costs and scope of the operation through a letter to President Obama.

White house press secretary Jay Carney said that if the president had waited for Congress to return from its recess before moving on Libya, "Gadhafi's forces would control Benghazi and there would have been a great deal of people killed in the process."

Allied officials have said Gadhafi's air force has been essentially defeated, but he remained defiant even as his forces absorbed more heavy blows against his artillery, tanks and ammunition bunkers.

Congress is still in recess...

Is it normal to for Congress to be out of session so much? So much for the urgent jobs situtation. Oh, but they make time for abortion and defunding NPR!

Great opinion piece from E.J. Dionne.

WASHINGTON — Leaders do not operate in a vacuum. When they make strategic adjustments, their opponents do too. President Obama has prompted just such a pivot by Republicans.

They're criticizing him not for the decisions he's made but for the ones he hasn't, and the ones he delayed. They are attacking him not as a liberal ideologue but as a man in full flight from any ideological definition. If they once said his plans were too big, they are now asking if he has any plans at all.

The immediate focus for the new GOP approach is the President's extended deliberations over Libya, with criticism raining down from various points on the GOP spectrum.

Mitt Romney, a likely presidential candidate, issued a string of denunciatory adjectives — “tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced” — to characterize Obama's Libya policy. (Here's hoping for an explanation of why being “nuanced” about complicated foreign policy choices is such a terrible thing.) Newt Gingrich called the administration “inept.”

And many conservative Republicans have joined left-of-center Democrats in asking why the President didn't seek congressional authorization for the Libyan action. “The United States does not have a King's army,” said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.

But Republicans had started shifting their lines of attack against Obama before the Libya controversy. They did so in response to Obama's own moves since the 2010 election designed to place himself above partisan infighting in Congress and cast him as a moderate, forward-looking, non-ideological voice trying to talk reason to politicians mired in the past's unproductive bickering.


I am still strongly opposed to this bullying military adventurism. Very strongly.

My question would be why Libya?

Why do we interfere in some countries internal affairs in the name of humanitarianism and not others?

What national interest is at stake in Libya? 

Oil. It's just more blatant than in other cases. 

I think the Libya issue is more about a stabalized region which is in our interest. It is encouraging to see such a grassroots push for freedom and Democracy in "dictator-driven" nations from the PEOPLE, but they need international support to ensure this can happen. I think the GOPers who have been so critical and are demanding the president address the nation may regret it. I think his policy will be seen as very measured, thoughtful and inclusive (in terms of NATO/UN) as opposed to the knee-jerk and "ask questions later" as some in the past are famous for. An interesting Obama Doctrine is emerging.

Update on Libya: Rebels are making progress with key victories. Far from a done deal but pretty amazing in such a short time.


The GOP critics of administration policy, would be falling all over themselves to support the EXACT same policy under a Republican president.

Definition of political stance.

I would oppose this policy under ANY president.

I think before the U.S. Military is ever called into action, the U.S. must have a vital national interest and it must be very clear as to what the objective is.

I'm not sure this meets either of those standards. 

As "inclusive" and "humanitarian" as the Serbia/Kosovo war, then without UN consent (Russia vetoed it)?

This is seriously ridiculous. Why not intervene in tens of countries with dictatorial or authoritarian regimes? Why no sanctions against China, where opponents are imprisoned and information is not free?

The West is too broke and too old to be the policeman of the world. It will soon come to an end.

Libya has the highest life expectancy in Africa (74 years): 25 years higher than in Liberia, Congo, South Africa, Malawi and others. The highest GDP per capita, the lowest infant mortality in Africa, and one of the highest literacy rates. These are true figures, not an endorsement for Gaddafi (a dictator, no doubt about it).

What democracy do you want in Libya? Libya has no political parties like Egypt, Syria and others. They have tribes.

By the way, there is a report made by West Point a few years ago about foreign fighters in Iraq :



84% of libyan fighters in Iraq came from Benghazi and Darnah, two rebel strongholds in eastern Libya


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