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Archive for the ‘Libya’ Category

Pentagon officials are proposing air strikes and the use of special operations forces in Libya to counter the growing threat from ISIS. This potentially dangerous escalation of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East is being decided without public debate or dialogue. Is it really a good idea to open a new front in the expanding war in the region?

U.S. military strikes have not brought stability and peace to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia or Syria. Why do we think they will solve the problems now in Libya? Military strikes can destroy targets and kill fighters (along with civilians), but they cannot solve the underlying political problems and lack of accountable governance that are at the root of these conflicts.

The United States fought a major war in Iraq to suppress Al-Qaida, but that organization morphed into the even more dangerous menace of ISIS. We fired the Iraqi army and sent some of its senior officers to prison, where they became radicalized by jihadists. Today many of the military leaders of the so-called Islamic State are former commanders of the Iraqi army.

Military involvement in the Middle East is the problem not the solution. As we have seen in other countries, American military intervention creates a rejection response that drives many people into the arms of the extremist groups.

As Scott Atran recently observed, an extreme reaction from the United States and other Western countries is exactly what the strategists of Al-Qaida and ISIS want. The more we become bogged down in the region, the happier they are. They want to cause chaos and ‘vexation’, forcing the West to become directly involved militarily.

External military intervention reinforces the false narrative of the extremists that the West is waging war on Islam. Bombs falling on another Arab country will be a bonanza for ISIS recruiters.

The U.S. has conducted 10,000 military strikes against extremist targets in Syria and Iraq over the past 18 months, but the threat from ISIS in the region remains formidable and is now spreading to Libya.

Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations confirmed in a recent analysis that American bombing in Iraq and Syria has not achieved its strategic objectives. Pentagon officials claim that U.S. strikes killed 25,000 ISIS fighters last year. Yet military officials also acknowledge that the number of estimated ISIS fighters in the region today remains about the same as before. Bombing alone cannot stem the flow of extremist fighters.

Keep in mind that U.S. bombing strikes in 2011 created the chaos in Libya in the first place, causing the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime and the collapse of the Libyan state, spreading lawlessness and armed conflict across the Sahel.

Yes, we need to do more to stop the spread of ISIS, but U.S. bombing will create a backlash that could worsen the extremist threat. We need to act, but we also need to heed the warning: do no harm.

Rather than further stoking the flames of chaos, let’s focus instead on encouraging negotiations among Libya’s competing political factions. The only hope for a resolution to the crisis in Libya is political agreement among the local parties. U.S. intervention could shatter the thin hopes of forging a viable coalition government.

Now is an especially bad time for external military intervention as the Libyan factions have been engaged in internal political discussions and are taking tentative steps toward forming a unity government. Encouraging and supporting that political process should be our top priority.

A stable government in Libya would be more than capable of containing the threat from ISIS and could contribute to greater security in the region. Let’s focus on that task rather than the risky business of widening the war in the Middle East.

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With the Qaddafi regime collapsing, now is an appropriate time to begin assessing the implications of the NATO-led military mission, and of the broader policy of multilateral protective interventionism.

I was an early supporter of the no-fly zone, which morphed into a campaign of air support for the Libyan rebels. It was unusual for me to support armed action, since I have been an active opponent of U.S. military interventionism for decades, from Vietnam and Central America to Iraq and Afghanistan. As a peace activist and scholar I abhor war and believe that nonviolent solutions are available for resolving conflicts. But I felt that multilateral military action in Libya was warranted because of the imminent threat of massacres in Benghazi and other threatened cities back in March.

In making the case for military intervention, President Obama and other Western officials invoked the principle of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P). When governments are unable to protect their citizens, or are actively terrorizing their own people and committing mass murder, the international community has a responsibility to step in and help those who are victimized. This principle was endorsed by world leaders at the UN World Summit in 2005 and by a resolution of the UN Security Council in 2006. Libya is the first example of a formal attempt to implement the principle through multilateral military intervention.

The intervention was legal under international law because it had the backing of the UN Security Council. It also had regional political legitimacy as the Arab League voted in March for the UN to impose a no-fly zone and create “safe zones” in Libya, declaring that the Qaddafi regime had lost its right to sovereignty because of its attacks against civilians. The Security Council responded to the Arab League request by adopting Resolution 1973, which authorized the multilateral military mission, condemning the Qaddafi regime’s “widespread and systematic attacks” against civilians. In June the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against Qaddafi and his sons for crimes against humanity in the massacre of innocent civilians.

The implications of these developments for future policy are uncertain.  It was encouraging to see the international community demonstrate such quick and forceful resolve in responding to government abuse against its own people. Whether this action will serve as a model for other interventions against brutal regimes is uncertain. Some are asking if the Arab League and NATO should take action to save the people of Syria from the murderous actions of the Assad regime. That seems unlikely in the near term, but the apparent success of intervention in Libya may give pause to tyrants who claim the right to massacre their own citizens with impunity. The NATO-led action in Libya may signal a more active international commitment to opposing genocide and mass murder.

On the other hand, many questions are raised by the Libya experience. Protective intervention is indeed a legitimate principle of human security, but the use of military force should be a last resort, not the primary or only means of intervention. The success in Libya may create a false impression of the efficacy of military force and prompt some to argue for more frequent military interventions around the world. This could divert attention from nonmilitary tools of policy—including sanctions and diplomacy—that can help to prevent armed conflict and human rights abuse.

Troubling legal and constitutional questions are raised by the Obama administration’s refusal to seek congressional authorization for the use of force.  This reinforces the claim of executive war making privilege, weakens legislative authority, and increases the danger of future abuses of power.

The Libya intervention also brings into question NATO’s role as the instrument for multilateral intervention in regions beyond Europe. If protective intervention is to become global policy, an appropriate international legal framework needs to be created for this purpose. A more diverse security capability needs to be developed, one that is structured according to human security principles, as Mary Kaldor has advocated, and that is oriented toward policing rather than military action, as Robert Johansen has argued.  

These questions deserve debate and discussion in the coming months. Your comments are welcome.

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It is obvious by now that the rebels cannot defeat Gaddafi’s forces. Replacing the dictatorship with a more representative government remains the best strategy for protecting civilians and advancing democracy, but that goal will not be achieved by a ragtag rebellion and limited international air support.

Coalition air strikes have had some success so far in preventing civilian massacres and providing cover for resistance forces. But the operations themselves have taken Libyan lives, and supporting the insurgents has become more difficult as Gaddafi’s defenders have shed uniforms and military vehicles. The further utility of military force is questionable.

The U.S. and NATO should pursue diplomatic options. Two of Gaddafi’s sons recently proposed a negotiated transition in which their father steps down in favor of a constitutional democracy. Most observers dismissed the offer, but it may provide an opening that could be exploited by creative diplomacy. An offer to suspend NATO-led air operations could provide powerful leverage for negotiation to gain real concessions. (more…)

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I’ve been going through a bit of an identity crisis over what to say about the intervention in Libya. I abhor war and have spent most of my life trying to stop US military interventions, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. I never favor militarist solutions.

Yet I find the current operation partially justified. Already it has saved many civilian lives. As Juan Cole notes, Gaddafi’s tanks and planes killed thousands of Libyans in the weeks before the intervention, and they were poised to slaughter many more before they were stopped last week. The international air strikes have halted the regime’s advances and enabled the opposition to recapture lost ground.

The intervention is supported by the Libyan liberation movement and has multilateral authority and participation, with backing from the Arab League and UN Security Council. It is an unprecedented attempt by the international community to exercise the ‘responsibility to protect.’  So far the use of force has been targeted and has not resulted in many civilian casualties. (more…)

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The political and diplomatic prospects for imposing a no-fly zone over Libya advanced significantly yesterday (March 2). The Arab League, meeting in Cairo, said it will consider the possibility of imposing such a zone and will discuss the matter with members of the African Union.

This is very good news for the prospects of united international action against Gaddafi. It follows the nonbinding resolution adopted unanimously by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday (March 1) urging the UN Security Council to impose the no-fly zone. Russia, China, and other Security Council members have been reluctant until now, but if the Arab League and African Union approve, there would be little justification for further reluctance. The pieces are falling into place for establishing the necessary legal authority and political backing for decisive multilateral action to save Libyan lives and speed Gaddafi’s departure.

The Obama administration should mount a full-court diplomatic press, working directly with the Arab League, the African Union, and the UN Security Council, to prepare a resolution giving UN authorization for the no-fly zone. If Gaddafi continues to terrorize and bomb his population as he has done in recent days, the Security Council should authorize immediate action to establish the no-fly zone. The Pentagon should work with Arab and African partners along with NATO allies to facilitate preparations for the no-fly mission and ensure that if action becomes necessary it is a genuine multilateral operation in which Arab and African states participate fully. This will ensure united international support for the Libyan people and hopefully set a precedent for effective multilateral action to protect civilians from murderous dictators.

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My thoughts on a no-fly zone in Libya appear here in the New York Times online comment forum.

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