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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

US Military Intervention in Libya

Democracy Won’t be

Delivered by a No-fly Zone

A popular democratic wave is washing across North Africa. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Iran and Iraq, millions of people are rejecting authoritarian regimes, demanding their rights, and asserting their democratic will. Despite decades of repressive autocratic, corrupt and dictatorial rule, and frequently in the face of brutal reprisals, people are telling their governments and the world that their desire for self-government, democracy, sovereignty, peace and an end to poverty will no longer be denied.

This has put the U.S. government in an awkward position, for all too often it has been our government that has provided their rulers with the arms, planes, tear gas, riot gear and surveillance equipment that have been used to sustain their authoritarian rule. The utter hypocrisy of U.S. policy is being exposed.

So far the Obama administration has approached this issue with appropriate caution. But Phyllis Bennis at the Institute for Policy Studies warns,

Powerful U.S. voices — including neo-conservative warmongers and liberal interventionists in and out of the administration, as well as important anti-war forces in and out of Congress — are calling on the Obama administration to establish a no-fly zone in Libya to protect civilians.

There is a natural desire on the part of social justice advocates to do whatever can be done to prevent needless bloodshed and to defend democratic forces against the substantially greater military forces loyal to Qaddafi. But the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya would put the U.S. on a road it has traveled before. That road led to a twelve year military enforced embargo followed by an eight year long war in Iraq that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and nearly 4500 U.S. troops, while wounding hundreds of thousands of others and displacing more than four million Iraqis.

In Tunisia and Egypt repressive regimes yielded ultimately to the overwhelming will of the people. In both countries, the labor movement played a central role in transforming a popular uprising into a revolution that succeeded in forcing dictators to yield power without protracted violent strife. But that has not been the case in Libya, where the regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi has clung tenaciously to power and responded with savage ferocity, plunging the nation into civil war.

Elements of the regime, including importantly units and officers of the armed forces, have abandoned Qaddafi to side with the people. But the popular resistance is poorly organized, with no central command or unified leadership, and, importantly, with no tanks, artillery or defence against the Libyan air force.

Some elements of the popular resistance have called for the US and NATO powers to establish a no-fly zone. This call has been echoed by others in the West, including some governments. Libyans are unanimous, however, is clearly rejecting the introduction of any foreign military forces into their country.

Phyllis Bennis reports that human rights lawyer and opposition spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga was crystal clear: We are against any foreign intervention... This revolution will be completed by our people.” And Libyan General Ahmad Gatroni, who defected to lead the opposition forces, urged the U.S. to “take care of its own people, we can look after ourselves.”

It is worth recalling that the U.S. also armed and equipped Saddam Hussein’s armed forces, seeking to play Iraq off against Iran, plunging those two countries into a mutually ruinous eight year war that claimed more than a half million lives. It was also the U.S. that armed the mujahedeen guerrillas of Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation. Elements of those guerrilla forces were later reconstituted as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. And we all know where that led!

There is no question that the U.S. has the military means to establish and enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, but as Secretary of Defense Gates has noted, a pre-condition to any successful no-fly zone would require a military assault on Libya’s air defenses, and that would constitute an act of war under international law. It would also result in an untold number of civilian deaths, not to mention the U.S. casualties that would inevitably occur. And it would interject the U.S into the middle of a conflict in yet another Arab nation, provoking even greater anger across the region and around the world.

It is also entirely possible that even with a no-fly zone, the well equipped Libyan Army might prevail with artillery, tanks and other heavy weapons against the lightly armed, poorly organized and largely untrained popular resistance forces. Then the U.S. would be faced with the need to commit ground forces to stave off a defeat of the anti-Qaddafi revolution.

General Wesley Clark (ret.) has learned a thing or two about military interventions. In a lengthy article in the Washington Post (March 12), he recounted the record of U.S. military interventions since the Vietnam War:

A no-fly zone in Libya may seem straightforward at first, but if Gaddafi continues to advance, the time will come for airstrikes, extended bombing and ground troops - a stretch for an already overcommitted force. . . .

Whatever resources we dedicate for a no-fly zone would probably be too little, too late. We would once again be committing our military to force regime change in a Muslim land, even though we can't quite bring ourselves to say it. So let's recognize that the basic requirements for successful intervention simply don't exist, at least not yet: We don't have a clearly stated objective, legal authority, committed international support or adequate on-the-scene military capabilities, and Libya's politics hardly foreshadow a clear outcome.

We should have learned these lessons from our long history of intervention. We don't need Libya to offer us a refresher course in past mistakes.

Phyllis Bennis concludes her own essay with this advice:

The future of Libya and much of the success of the democratic revolutions now underway across the region, stand in the balance. If the Obama administration, the Pentagon, war profiteers and the rest of the U.S. policymaking establishment continue to define U.S. “national interests” as continuing U.S. domination of oil-rich and strategically-located countries and regions, Washington faces a likely future of isolation, antagonism, rising terrorism and hatred.

The democratic revolutionary processes sweeping North Africa and the Middle East have already transformed that long-stalemated region. The peoples of the region are looking for less, not greater militarization of their countries. It is time for U.S. policy to recognize that reality. Saying no to a no-fly zone in Libya will be the best thing the Obama administration can do to begin the process of crafting a new, demilitarized 21st century policy for the U.S. in the newly democratizing Middle East.

Within the social justice movements, it is natural for people to want to come to the aid of a beleaguered people seeking to overthrow an oppressive dictatorship. But good impulses alone are not a basis for making sound policy.

The greatest help we can provide to democratic forces around the world is to end the U.S. role as global cop, global bully and arms merchant to every autocrat, despot, tyrant and authoritarian regime that is willing to do our government’s bidding.

The resources our government now squanders playing super-power to the world should be invested in creating jobs, restoring the social safety net, and meeting the myriad needs of people here and around the world.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Yemenis Protest Against Repressive Regime; Britain Doubles Aid

Wikileaks Part 2: <br />Yemen’s Al-Qaeda policy

Wikileaks Part 2:
Yemen’s Al-Qaeda policy

Matt Bigge


Much has been said in the past week about the potentially troubling diplomatic relations which will result from Wikileaks’ leaked State Department cables... [T]he Yemen cables in particular could affect US national security more tangibly than any others. A recent series of foiled terror plots on US soil originating in Yemen have reinvigorated debate over Obama’s terrorism policy toward al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). And while the leaked cable only confirms what we already knew about Yemen, including its eagerness for US aid (even if it is to be used in ways it was not intended) and the presence of US air strikes against al-Qaeda , how will the public release of these cables affect the United States, Yemen, their relationship and transnational actors who also have a stake in the region?

Middle Eastern governments have always tried to walk a fine line by cooperating with the US behind the scenes to avoid public backlash and Yemen is no exception. The most damning (and oft-quoted) element of the Yemen cables is President Saleh’s “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours” in reassurance to General Patreaus that Yemen is serious about helping the United States monitor and weed out AQAP. However, other parts of the cable confirm that Saleh may have other priorities on his mind such as nearly doubling US foreign assistance to the country and as American Ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche implies, bolstering the Yemeni military: “Raising a topic that he would manage to insert into almost every item of discussion during the hour and half-long meeting, Saleh requested that the U.S. provide the ROYG with 12 armed helicopters. Possessing such helicopters would allow the ROYG to take the lead in future CT operations, ‘ease’ the use of fighter jets and cruise missiles against terrorist targets, and allow Yemeni Special Operations Forces to capture terrorist suspects and identify victims following strikes…‘We won’t use the helicopters in Sa’ada, I promise. Only against al-Qaeda,’ [Saleh continued].”

While Saleh gives the impression that he holds the same concerns as the United States, Yemen’s characteristic misuse of US military aid and “catch and release” terrorist policies reaffirm that Saleh has different priorities. Former Ambassador to Yemen William Rugh argues that “[Saleh’s] priority, however, is not al-Qaeda but dealing with discontent in the south; the bloody, ongoing rebellion in the north [Sa’ada]; and the complex array of tribal and local interests that threaten his leadership. Yemen’s sagging economy only galvanizes Salih’s critics. At Washington’s insistence, al-Qaeda is on Salih’s list of priorities but he has other existential concerns that trump counterterrorism cooperation with the United States.”

However, with the release of confidential reports, Al-Qaeda may pose more of a threat to Saleh than he originally envisioned as public knowledge of US-Yemeni military cooperation may radicalize Yemenis against their president. Gregory Johnson, an expert on Yemen from Princeton University postulates just this, stating that “in some of the tribal areas where al-Qaida is really attempting to recruit people, having something like this where the president and his ministers are on the record talking about lying and deceiving parliament and the Yemeni public, I think it will have traction. Al-Qaida will be able to use it in the months to come.” If regime security is Saleh’s main concern, then somewhat ironically, he has been emboldening his opposition all along.

Whether news of the leaks and Saleh’s comments reach the Yemeni public remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that AQAP will use the leaks to further their own agenda. In the 1990s, Rugh argues that “Salih calculated that strong action against al-Qaeda and its tribal allies might strengthen his domestic opponents and feared that open cooperation with the United States would validate al-Qaeda’s narrative that Salih was an anti-Muslim American puppet.” This same fear exists today and presents a deterrent to full collaboration with the US, however with al-Qaeda armed with the newly leaked knowledge and poised to act, the Yemeni government, which denies the reports, may find that fighting al-Qaeda is actually in its best interest and that of its most powerful ally.
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