Implosions, more and less advanced

While the rest of the world catches up with the question of “how does Libya end,” which I dealt with yesterday, let’s take a look ahead.  Today’s big news was not the explosions in Libya, but rather the implosion in Yemen, where President Saleh is now facing an opposition strengthened by defections from his army, government, parliament and diplomatic corps.  He is appealing for “mediation” by the Saudis, which is being interpreted in some circles as a plea for Saudi guarantees if he agrees to step down in six months.  He had already agreed to step down at the end of his present term in 2013.

It very much looks as if Washington may lose its spear carrier in the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  This is a problem, since no one–including Saleh–seems to think AQAP is a serious threat to Yemen, which it uses as haven and launching pad.  No one in his right mind would want to try to govern it.

Washington will have to convince whoever takes over–the betting seems to be on General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, but these things are inherently uncertain–that AQAP merits his attention.   This will be difficult:  Yemen is a place with a lot of problems.  Water and oil are running out, there are more or less perennial rebellions both north and south, the population is high half the day on qat, and the authority of the government barely extends to the outskirts of Sanaa, the capital.

In Syria, the process of popular protest is far less advanced, but firing on demonstrators by the security forces has reaped an increase in demonstrations in the south.  No telling whether the Syrians have the stomach to go all the way to revolution, and Bashar al Assad is a clever autocrat.  But he too is lacking resources and tied to Iran in ways that make it difficult for him to do what most Syrians want:  an opening to the West and foreign investment, which necessarily entails reducing ties to Iran and Hizbollah and settling up somehow with Israel.  Syria also has ethnic and sectarian issues:  Kurdish citizens treated as second class and a Sunni majority governed by an Alawhite (more or less Shia) but secular majority.

Bahrain, now under Gulf Cooperation Council protection, seems to be doing its best to turn its rebellion into sectarian strife, which is not how it began.  It is hard to believe that is in the interests of the (Sunni) Khalifa monarchy, which governs a less than prosperous Shia majority.  But when Saudi Arabia decides to embrace you, I guess you have to hug back.

It has already been an extraordinary few weeks in North Africa.  While the monarchies in Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia seem to be learning how to keep the lid on, the pot is boiling over in Yemen and may still do so in Syria and Bahrain.  It would be nice if the heat rose under the Iranian pot, but that does not appear to be happening, no matter how often the Secretary of State and the President wish it so.


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It should stop only with Gaddafi at the exit

While the rest of the world focuses on current military operations, I’d like to focus again on the critical, but not yet urgent, question of when the military effort against Gaddafi should stop.

As Neal Ascherson points out in The Guardian this morning, the problem in Libya is Gaddafi.  UN Security Council resolution 1973 does not recognize that.  It calls for “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, and Hillary Clinton (among others) has been at pains to reiterate that regime change is not the objective.

This matters because it could determine when the military effort against Gaddafi comes to a halt.  Arab League Secretary General, and putative presidential candidate in Egypt, Amr Moussa is already trying to distance himself from the military effort due to alleged civilian casualties.  Pressures of this sort will build over the next several days, as Gaddafi is sure to make all sorts of claims about the damage the air attacks are doing.

Resolution 1973 provides precious little guidance on when to stop, beyond the overall purpose of protecting civilians.  Yesterday’s statement from the Paris meeting of those states that want to be counted as constituting or supporting the coalition of the willing provides more:

Muammar Gaddafi and those executing his orders must immediately end the acts of violence carried out against civilians, to withdraw from all areas they have entered by force, return to their compounds, and allow full humanitarian access.

If this is fully operative, it is hard to see how Gaddafi could survive in power, as “those executing his orders” certainly include not only the military under his command but also the internal security forces. If they were to withdraw “from all areas they have entered by force,” he would have no means of continuing to control most of Libya, as arguably this phrase could even apply to Tripoli but certainly applies to Zawiya in the west and the towns his forces have taken in the last ten days in the east as well.

In practice, the international community often compromises on issues of this sort, as it comes under enormous public pressure to stop a one-sided military campaign. The military “coalition of the willing” includes not only leaders France and the UK but also Canada, Denmark, Italy, Spain and Norway in addition to the United States.  The United Arab Emirates and Qatar, slow on the draw, are thought to be getting ready to contribute combat aircraft.  I can only imagine how strong the internal political pressures in several of these countries will be against continuing the military campaign a week from now.

If the campaign stops too early, with Gaddafi still in place and controlling a substantial part of the country, it will be difficult to implement the peace in a way that preserves Libya’s territorial integrity and gives it an opportunity to become a more normal state than it has been for more the four decades.  If the campaign stops too late, it will leave Libya in shambles.

At least as much wisdom is required to know when to stop as was required in deciding to start, but getting Gaddafi out should certainly be an important factor in the calculus.  I trust American diplomats are working as hard on that as they did on the remarkable Resolution 1973.

PS:  I expected pressures to build, but not as fast as this morning, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen said on Meet the Press:  Qaddafi staying in power is “certainly potentially one outcome,” adding the UN-approved airstrikes “are limited and it isn’t about seeing him go.”  I stick by what I said above:  he should be at the exit door before we stop.  We don’t need another half-baked result that burdens us for years to come.



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One big decision made, another coming

With kind permission of, here is my piece they published this evening:

The Strikes on Libya: Humanitarian Intervention, Not Imperial Aggression

This has much more in common with the international response to Bosnia than it does with the war in Iraq


The destroyer USS Barry fires Tomahawk missile at Libya from Mediterranean Sea. By Reuters.

A coalition of the willing attacks an Arab country. French warplanes strike armored vehicles. American cruise missiles take down air defenses. It all sounds to some too much like Iraq redux. But it is not. The proper analogy is Srebrenica. This is the international community acting under international law to prevent mass murder.

The current military action against Libya is clearly authorized by the UN Security Council. Qaddafi has claimed it is illegal, but even China and Russia (who abstained from the UN vote) cannot doubt that Resolution 1973 authorized the use of force to protect Libyan civilians. Neither will Germany, Brazil, nor India (all of whom abstained). Angela Merkel has already said “We share the aims of this resolution. Don’t confuse abstention with neutrality.” The others may not like it, but if they had serious legal or political objections they could have voted against. Or maybe their interests in becoming permanent Security Council members overwhelmed their reserves. Either way, the resolution had all the votes it needed.

These strikes are not based on doubtful evidence. Qaddafi has said plainly what he intends to do to civilians who resist, even peacefully, and he has demonstrated repeatedly that he is prepared to carry out his threats. Even on the morning of the attacks, his armor entered Benghazi, in clear contradiction of his own Foreign Minister’s declaration that Tripoli would respect the cease-fire. Later Qaddafi’s spokesman disowned the foreign minister’s statement.

There is a solid coalition backing the military action, one that includes several Arab countries as well as the U.S., France and the United Kingdom. Even the Italians, who have historically close relations with Libya and even with Qaddafi personally, are on board. Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates were present for the meeting in Paris that launched implementation of the UN resolution, as was the Arab League. (Saudi Arabia was missing.) While Russia, China, India, and Brazil were absent, Germany was present.

The U.S., while it has claimed outsized credit for the diplomacy, is not visibly in the lead of the military action. UK and France have claimed that honor, with NATO as the operational forum. American contributions are likely to be substantial, in particular when it comes to cruise missiles, intelligence, command and control and other U.S. assets. But this is not an American operation with a coalition tacked on.

This leaves the question of purpose. Is this offensive, like the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, an effort at regime change, with Qaddafi the ultimate target? Or is the objective, as Hillary Clinton claimed after the Paris meeting, only to protect civilians? For the moment, this is a distinction without a difference. Unless Qaddafi changes not just his tune but his behavior, he represents an imminent threat to civilians throughout Libya. It is up to him to convince the coalition that he is prepared to change his behavior, as he successfully did in 2003 when he gave up his nuclear weapons program.

But it seems Qaddafi won’t change: he appears as attached to the use of force against his people as Ratko Mladic was against thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia. Qaddafi rightly knows he can only stay in power if he can kill Libyans.

Srebrenica, not Iraq, is the right historical precedent for what is happening in Libya. In 1995 the West failed its declared intention to protect civilians in a Muslim-populated enclave in eastern Bosnia, declared a “safe area” by the UN. There weren’t enough Dutch peacekeepers in the area to defend the Muslims and, as a result, thousands of men and boys were massacred in cold blood.

Only a few weeks later NATO responded to Serb attack on another “safe area,” Sarajevo. NATO launched a bombing campaign that broke apart the Bosnian Serb Army and allowed Croat and Muslim Federation forces to advance on the Serb army. As the Serbs reeled from the air attack, they took hostages and used them as human shields. They also parked armored vehicles near mosques and schools. We should expect Qaddafi to do likewise.

When NATO stopped the war, the Muslim Federation had taken about 66 percent of Bosnian territory and might well have gotten to 80 percent within 10 days. At the Dayton Peace Accords, we rolled the federation forces back to 51 percent of the territory, because of a previous agreement between parties on how to bring peace to Bosnia. This decision to curb the federation made implementing peace the difficult task that it remains today, more than 15 years after the end of the conflict.

If history is a guide, then, the next big decision on Libya will be when to draw down the international military campaign. Does it stop when Qaddafi backs down, even if his forces still control a good part of Libya? That would be a hard peace to implement. Or do we wait a bit until his regime collapses and he flees or dies? This may be as important as the decision to launch the military strikes, as it will determine whether Libya remains a single state or suffers the kind of semi-dismemberment that still makes Bosnia, and Iraq, difficult places to govern.

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Actions now count more than words

While Tripoli’s Foreign Minister had initially announced acceptance of UN Security Council resolution 1973 and implementation of the ceasefire it called for, Colonel Gaddafi’s spokesman has rejected it:

Tripoli’s forces apparently continued to fight, entering Benghazi in tanks as well as activating “sleeper” cells in the still rebel-held city.

None of this should surprise:  Gaddafi’s penchant for duplicity is legendary.  What is disturbing is the lack of readiness on the part of those taking on the responsibility to enforce Resolution 1973 militarily.  President Obama set out explicit redlines in his speech yesterday that have already been crossed.  Militarily, it is much harder to do something about a tank in the streets of Benghazi than in the desert sands surrounding it. French and British planes are said to be beginning their efforts today–they need to make haste.

What should they do? We are past the point at which the no fly zone (NFZ) is an adequate response. Resolution 1973 authorizes all necessary means to protect civilians. I’ll leave it to the military planners–if they’ll work quickly–to decide what actions will have the biggest effects, but in addition to obvious targets like armored vehicles I would think taking out the supply convoys for Gaddafi’s force moving east would be both appropriate and effective. A tank doesn’t run long without fuel, and soldiers need water. And there shouldn’t be many civilians in a military supply convoy.

There is also the question of Tripoli’s command and control. So long as it is giving orders to attack civilians, it is a legitimate target. The responsibility to protect will mean little if Gaddafi continues to defy the Security Council. Taking out communications facilities can be amazingly effective–ask the Bosnian Serb Army, which turned and fled once its communications nodes were bombed by NATO in 1995. Even if Gaddafi is not there, it may be symbolically important to destroy his main bunker at Bab Al Aziziya. It might even be wise to give warning, if there is concern about collateral damage. Once Gaddafi is on the run, maintaining control of Tripoli is going to be very difficult for him. Saddam, remember, fell from power well before he was captured.

Of course none of this should take place without a parallel diplomatic effort to enforce the sanctions more vigorously and get Gaddafi out of Libya. The sooner he leaves, the better. Neither Libya nor those enforcing 1973 will benefit from extended military action.

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Thinking ahead to New Libya

Some will be surprised that Gaddafi’s Foreign Minister announced an immediate ceasefire in response to the UN Security Council resolution.  This is no surprise.  Gaddafi’s forces hold most of Libya–a ceasefire in place favors them, not the rebels.  Moreover, Gaddafi likely hopes to prevent strikes from taking down his air defenses, the necessary prelude to real enforcement of the “no fly, no drive” zone.

In the meanwhile, his forces continue to fire on rebels in Misrata.  That too should be no surprise.

What is surprising is that NATO is apparently behind the curve in getting organized for the air campaign.  The UK and France are expected to take the lead.  U.S. NATO Ambassador Ivo Daalder tweets:  “#NATO will meet this morning to discuss #UNSCR 1973 authorizing “all necessary means” to protect civilians in #Libya. Busy days.”  I should say so.  Why isn’t all this ready?

There is real peril here.  If Gaddafi perceives that there is a window of opportunity to advance further, he may well take it.  Anticipating negotiations, he’ll want to control as much territory as possible.

On the rebel side, the military effort is looking weak and exhausted.  Let’s hope they are better at the negotiating.

What they need is for Gaddafi to leave Libya.  This he will do if he sees a real threat in Tripoli, either from demonstrators or from those within his regime who are starting to see the handwriting on the wall.  Demonstrators who braved the streets this morning were shot for their courage.  I assume he’ll do the same to any of his inner circle who turn on him. This is a situation in which a few brave souls count for a lot.

President Obama is to speak on Libya at 2 pm.  He has reason to vaunt American diplomacy’s success at the Security Council last night.  But he likely also wants to make it clear that this is not a U.S. operation.  I won’t be surprised if he says UK, France and others will take the lead on military operations.

Who is working on the post-war efforts?  Libya is a country without a state.  It is going to need a lot of help–not money–once Gaddafi is gone.

Who is going to maintain law and order? How will revenge killings be prevented? How will accountability for past crimes be pursued? Are the Libyan courts and prisons functioning? How will state property be protected from regime elements who will try to walk away with it? Is there a social safety net that needs to be rescued quickly? How will a new constitution be written? Will foreign workers be invited back, or should Libyans fill their jobs? Lots of questions for a post-Gaddafi government.

The Benghazi Transitional Council looks like the best bet for a new government, but is it fully representative? Will Tripoli embrace it? How can it be made more so? What about local governance? Can the Gaddafi-era local committees be used, or reconstituted with different people?

Who will take the lead in supporting all this in the international community? The Americans and Europeans have clearly maxed out their state-building capacity. What about the Arab League? UN?

Of course there is also a possibility that a new dictator will emerge from the wreckage of the old regime or from the ranks of the rebels. But it is hard to see how Libyans who have tasted freedom are going to be stuffed back into an autocracy. Libya is going to need help getting it together after this war.



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Even good resolutions don’t suffice

The Libya Security Council resolution no. 1973 that passed this evening looks very good to me, though I confess I failed to notice that the arms embargo applied to the rebels when the last one passed (and I don’t think this one fixes that problem).  I guess the Egyptians are fixing it. I would also note that a cease-fire in place really favors Gaddafi’s forces, but I have my doubts it will take effect any time soon.

The important thing is that this resolution authorizes all necessary means, short of an occupation, to protect civilians.  It also tightens the arms embargo as well as the financial and other sanctions.  It passed, with five abstentions, including China, Russia, Brazil, India and Germany.  That is a remarkable achievement, and my hat is off to US Permanent Representative Ambassador Susan Rice.

The key thing now is implementation.  The Srebrenica UNSC resolution (no. 819 of 1993) looked pretty good to a lot of people too, and its purpose was remarkably similar to this one:  to protect civilians from murderous thugs.  But Colum Lynch listed it last year as among the 10 worse UN Security Council resolutions ever.

The difference, if there is to be one, has to come from implementation.  The problem with the resolution declaring Srebrenica a “safe area” was not the objective–it was the lack of ways and means to achieve the objective.  When the U.S. did eventually seek to protect the UN safe areas in Bosnia by bombing the Serb forces in response to an attack on Sarajevo, it quickly shifted the tide of war and led to a very rapid advance by the Croat and Bosniak forces.

Precious little has been said so far about implementation of no. 1973.  There are rumors the French will begin acting tonight, but there are also rumors that NATO is not yet ready.  Some Arab countries are said to be willing to participate in military action, but that is not confirmed.  It is not clear whether the U.S. will participate, or whether it will do so in stand-off fashion with cruise missiles and the like.

So the Benghazis do well to celebrate, but this fight isn’t over yet, and its outcome is still very much in doubt.


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