LIBYA: THE ALTERNATIVES
"QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you. Mr. – Colonel Qadhafi is hitting back very strongly at the rebels. He’s doing a lot of damage. CNN’s Arwa Damon, who is in the region, had an interview with the head of the interim government in eastern Libya, Mr. Jalil. And he said there has to be immediate action; the longer the situation carries on, the more blood is shed. You also had Mr. Clapper today saying that if this goes on, the regime will prevail. How long can the United States and the world community stand on the sidelines without taking military action?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t know anything about this final point, Jill. But on the first two questions concerning Libya, I think the international community is well aware of the situation and has moved quite quickly and forcefully. First, we imposed strong sanctions. Just in the United States we’ve already frozen over $32 billion of the Qadhafi regime’s assets. We have coordinated additional sanctions with our European and other partners and also through the United Nations. We’re expanding our sanctions to even more people within the Qadhafi regime.
Second, we have taken steps to put in motion actions that will hold members of the Qadhafi regime accountable through the United Nations Security Council resolution. We have referred the regime to the International Criminal Court. We have intelligence capabilities that are monitoring Libyan activities in order to establish the base for accountability.
Third, we are in direct contact with members of the opposition here in the United States, in Libya, in other countries. And we are working with them to determine what assistance they actually are able to use and asking for so that we can figure out how best to support their aspirations.
We are also, as I announced today, suspending the Libyan embassy in the United States. We will not accept representatives from the Qadhafi regime representing them in Washington. And we think all of this is adding up to significant pressure.
Fourth, we’re providing a lot of assistance to support the humanitarian needs. We have helped to repatriate people who have fled from Libya. We’re getting resources in in cooperation with a lot of other partners to provide support for the Libyans who are waging this very difficult struggle. And we are positioning our own people on the borders to figure out how much more we can do, and we are pursuing a range of military options.
But I think it’s important to underscore this takes time to prepare and plan. We – we’re very supportive of this week’s meetings in NATO. We’re pursuing 24/7 surveillance, and we are taking steps to enforce the arms embargo.
So today at NATO, the alliance agreed, number one, to increase maritime assets in the central Mediterranean. We agreed to move ahead with detailed operational planning for humanitarian relief and for even more active enforcement of the embargo. And we are continuing to plan for the full range of possible options, including a no-fly zone. And these plans will be presented to NATO on March 15th.
I know how concerned people are. I share that concern. But we have a lot of experience in this kind of circumstance, from Iraq, from the Balkans, and elsewhere. And we know how challenging it is to do any of the things that a lot of people are calling for. But I think the steps we have taken add up to a great deal of quick reaction to what we see happening.
QUESTION: Is there an actual trigger for military action?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, I’m not going to respond to that, because trying to plan is the first and most important undertaking, and there is an enormous amount of planning going on. But it’s very challenging, and I think we ought to be – have our eyes open as we look at what is being bandied about and what is possible in order to make good decisions. And that’s what the President has asked us to do".
American Secretary of State Clinton, "Remarks with with Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno after their meeting," 10 March 2011, in www.state.gov.
"There is a horrible sense that the military tide is turning in Colonel Gaddafi’s favour. So the West is faced with the prospect of watching an uprising that we have cheered on and encouraged, slowly crushed before our eyes. There is a nasty sense of deja vu. Isn’t this what happened in Iraq in 1991 – when the Shia in the South were encouraged to rise up against Saddam, and then slaughtered, while the West looked on? A couple of days ago, I heard a former French foreign minister comparing events in Libya to Hungary in 1956. “We encourage them to revolt. Then we do nothing when they are killed,” he said. His solution was a “no-fly-zone”. There is no doubt that pressure for the West to intevene will mount, the more you get headlines like the one in this morning’s FT – “Gaddafi bombs the hell out of city”.
In previous posts, I’ve noted that David Cameron has done a bit of a headless chicken act on Libya – one day talking about military intervention, the next backing off. But the Obama administration’s reaction has not been much more coherent, as this editorial from the New York Times lays out in excruciating detail. At one point the defence department seemed to be virtually ruling out a “no-fly zone”; then it was back on the table. Meanwhile, the political heat is mounting. John McCain, whose instinct always seems to be to bomb first and ask questions later, says the US cannot sit by and “watch one of the two or three worst despots in the world slaughter innocent civilians.” If Gaddafi prevails and Obama does nothing, the president will be portrayed as weak and indecisive – willing to see allies overthrown in Egypt, but unwilling to take on much nastier tyrants in Libya and Iran. Being thwarted by a failure to get a UN resolution on a no-fly-zone won’t be regarded as much of an excuse".
Gideon Rachman, "Libya 2011; Iraq 1991; Hungary 1956?" The Financial Times. 9 March 2011, in www.ft.com.
There has been a lot of back and forth about what are the best policy options for the West in the crisis in Libya. Some of it, as per Gideon Rachman's and other remarks has been of the emotional variety which was given free play with less than entirely positive results in say the Bosnian and Kosovo crises of the 1990's. Not to speak of say Somalia a few years prior to that....We have also been treated to the conflicting voices of the American Administration, which appears to be suffering from a very bad case indeed of timidity and hesitancy. One does not have to be a jingoist and adventurer `a la Senator John McCain to see that the rationale provided by American Secretary of Defence Gates makes absolutely no sense in strict military terms. The fact that the United States, the United Kingdom and to a lesser extent France, enforced the 'no-fly' zone, in Iraq from 1991 to 2003, with scarcely any casualties belies the reasons provided by the Secretary Gates for being cautious about instituting a 'no-fly zone over Libya. But as not only Rachman, the New York Times, but also the London Spectator, have pointed out, it would be kindness to characterize American policy in the crisis as: "timidity and cluelessness 1." Which is not to deny the point made by experts like Anthony Cordesman among others that per se a 'no-fly' zone, will only a limited impact on the fighting 2. Such reasoning of course have not prevented the mercurial French President Nicholas Sarkozy from recognizing the rebels and advocating not only enforcing a 'no-fly' zone, but even air strikes on the forces of Libyan strongman Colonel Qaddafi's. Something which his European Union confreres have shown little enthusiasm for as of to-day 3. And as per an analysis made public yesterday by the American National Intelligence Director, Mr. Clapper, sans Western military intervention on the side of the rebels, Colonel Qaddafi will ultimately emerge victorious 4. The Libyan leader possessing the greater firepower, hardware and trained military forces.
What I wish to do is however something a little bit different, which is: is there any sense in the Western powers intervening at all in the Libyan conflict? Should the Western powers remain neutral and allow the two sides to in essence fight the conflict out among themselves? Or are there sufficient Western strategic and other interests involved which mandate that the Western powers, actively intervene? The first alternative is the 'Somalian' one. Id est, that the Western powers, judging that they do not have any real strategic interests at stake, do not intervene and allow the two sides to fight-out their civil war until it would appear Colonel Qaddafi emerges as the winner. Or less clear-cut, the conflict is not easily terminated and runs on and on `a la Somalia, as Libya gradually assumes the status of a failed state. The second option is the 'Iraqi' one, in which it is judged that there are sufficient Western interests at stake for some form of intervention to take place. Such intervention running the gamut from a 'non-fly' zone (1991-2003) to overt military intervention on the ground (2003-to present). Given the two above alternatives, which one should be followed in the case of Libya? Simply put one judges that matter by a process of elimination. In the case of the Somalian option, one asks oneself: can and is the West prepared to have Libya, a sizable country occupying a considerable amount of coastline an the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as considerable oil supplies, become a failed state `a la Somalia? With all that this may involve by way of possible bridgeheads for radical Islamic extremists? Does or can the West comfortably allow the Qaddafi regime to re-establish itself in power? Especially, given the fact that the regime might anchor itself on a purely anti-Western basis `a la its earlier incarnation in the 1969-2000 period. The question au fond easily answers itself. With that being said, we come to the second, Iraqi option: that there exists sufficient Western strategic interests in Libya, of either a positive (access to oil supplies) or negative variety (preventing the entrenchment of political instability in North Africa), to mandate some type of military intervention.
Now that we are agreed to the need for some type of military intervention, the question now is: what exactly should the West do and when? Here the options are in essence three: i) institute a 'no-fly' zone and with it a vey limited naval blockade; ii) arm the rebels and launch `a la Sarkozy's proposal of Thursday, air strikes against Qaddafi's forces; iii) invade the country militarily, hook-up with the rebels and together, depose Qaddafi's regime. Let us discuss then in order of plausibility each of the above alternatives: the 'iii', is the least sensible as it involves the type of over military intervention which having been once tried (albeit with much, much less reason) in Iraq in 2003, few have the stomach to undertake once again. Especially the Americans who would by the nature of things have to supply most of the troops for any such adventure. Not to speak of the international community outside at large's opposition. The 'ii' option has the advantage over the first of being much more limited in scope and degree. Albeit not limited enough for those powers (most of the planet of course) who would still oppose such overt military intervention, especially air strikes. The chief deficiency of the Sarkozy option is that it has all of the disadvantages of overt military intervention with almost none of the advantages. Id est., with its air strikes and supplying of arms to the opposition, it clearly shows that the Western powers wish to overthrow the Qaddafi regime. And yet there is not any absolute assurance that this form of limited military intervention will necessarily result in Qaddafi's overthrow. Nor is one entirely assured by the amorphous nature of the opposition coalition in Benghazi, that it makes sense to intervene actively on their behalf to overthrow Qaddafi. One of necessity recalling that none of us has any real idea who or what exactly is the opposition coalition, and what are their goals. The fact that their stronghold, Benghazi was in former times the chief bulwark of the Islamist opposition to Qaddafi, is hardly reassuring or encouraging 5. Which leaves us with option 'i', which to my mind is by this process of elimination the safest and least problematic form of Western involvement. In terms of 'world opinion', while not necessarily popular, it does have the advantage of not being ruled out tout court, and indeed the Arab League is expected to seriously discuss calling for instituting a 'no-fly' zone at their next meeting on Saturday the 12th of March 6. It also has the advantage of nominally at least, complying with the current wishes of the opposition in Benghazi, which has so far opposed any more overt form of Western involvement in the conflict. The other advantages are that this limited form of involvement does provide a platform, for more overt forms of involvement, if that becomes necessary. Finally, a 'no-fly' zone, does have the added advantage of not completely burning the Westerns powers relations with the current regime in Tripoli. Since, if Qaddafi does in fact, 'no-fly' option or no, does emerge victorious, then we shall have to course, in a limited fashion, 'live-with-him', `a la the way that the Western powers 'lived' with Saddam Hussein from 1991 to 2003. And of course will allow the Western powers to put Qaddafi on notice that if he does seriously mis-behave himself `a la his policies of arming terrorist groups in the 1970's and the 1980's, he will pay a very serious price for the same. This option also has the added advantage of being easily wrapped up, if the after a few months time, Qaddafi does emerge victorious and does not appear to be interested in pursuing an course of political adventurism abroad. Not of course an optimum solution to the turmoil now going on in Libya, but, faute de mieux we have little in the way of better alternatives in this conflict in the near future.
1. Leader, "Freedom Fight," The Spectator. 26 February 2011, p.3.
2. Anthony Cordesman quoted in,"Libya poses difficult question for candidates," 10th March, in www.csis.org.
3. Peggy Hollinger & Peter Siegel, "Paris calls for targeted Libyan air strikes,"
The Financial Times. 10 March 2011, www.ft.com; Peter Siegel, Brussels Blog: 'Sarko Stands alone?" The Financial Times. 11 March 2011, www.ft.com.
4. Mark Mazzetti & David Sanger, "U.S. Intelligence chief says Qaddafi has edge in conflict," The New York Times. 11 March 2011, in www.nytimes.com.
5. Omar Ashour,"De-radicalizing jihadists the Libyan way," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 7 April 2010, in www.carnegieendowment.org; Scott Stewart, "Jihadist opportunities in Libya," Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 24 February 2011, in www.stratfor.com; Frederic Wehrey,"Libya's Terra Incognita: Who and what will follow Qaddafi?" The Rand Corporation. 28 February 2011, in www.rand.org.
6. Michael Georgy & James Mackenzie, "Europe and U.S. step up pressure on Gadaffi to Go," Reuters. 11 March 2011, in www.reuters.com.