Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows, to judge from those calling for a no-fly zone over Libya. I am generally a strong opponent of US military action abroad, but I think a no-fly zone is justified in this case, to prevent further massacres. One recent evacuee from Libya claimed a single bombing session in Tripoli had killed 590 people, and overall casualty estimates have already mounted into the thousands. As noted in an earlier post, the great complication with respect to a no-fly zone is the astonishing number of foreign workers in Libya. If Qaddafi is ready to massacre his own people, we can only assume he’ll gladly do the same to foreigners. Workers from poor countries, like Bangladesh (a reported 30,000), run particular risks, because they have no effective governmental protection. To the extent that a no-fly zone will help limit Qaddafi’s forces to a much smaller geographic space, the advantages of no-fly for people like these Bangladeshis likely outweigh the risks of doing nothing.
If one accepts the need for a no-fly zone, how to get one over Libya? First, all those Libyan diplomats who have resigned or, like the delegate to the UN Human Rights Council, have declared they now represent the Libyan people, and not the Qaddafi regime, could band together and demand that the international community protect Libyans from Qaddafi and his hired murderers. Libyan Ambassador to the US, Ali Aujali, could speak for his colleagues and make such a demand, aimed specifically at NATO. Second, a delegation from the liberated Libyan cities like Benghazi could demand protection from the international community and place itself under the UN’s aegis.
Thumbs up to the UN HR Council for creating a committee to look into human rights violations in Libya.
Sitting in Paris, March 19th, first day of the no-fly zone. The sad part is that taking so long has meant the air attack will be far more substantial than it would have been three weeks ago. Based on previous no-fly zones, we can expect bombings of airports, air defense systems, command and control centers, and, in this case, perhaps naval resources, too. This attack will also hit ground forces, given their proximity to (and shelling of) Benghazi. Hard to know how precisely it will work, without far more detailed military knowledge of Libyan capabilities (and damage already done to them). It’s easy to forget, when thinking about how large conventional armies are ill suited to occupation of hostile areas, how efficient the major power militaries are in conventional conflict: Libyan forces are unlikely to be any more successful than Iraqi ones were in 2003. That said, the direct military efficiency, vis-a-vis the opposition military, does not mean efficiency in avoiding civilian casualties. The truly awful part of the need for a much broader attack now than would have been needed three weeks ago is that civilian casualties will surely be much more substantial. These bombings, accurate though they might be in historical terms, still create widespread carnage.
Surely everyone wishes for it all to end as quickly and as peacefully as possible, so that the sufferings of the Libyan people, which seem to have been largely ignored in all the geopolitical machinations, can come to a merciful end. Alas, it seems that will happen only when Qaddafi is gone: at this point, after all that has been said and done, no compromise is possible with him or with his sons. The West has now committed itself to regime change. Given the widespread desertions by high-ranking members of the old Q regime (for example, among diplomats), one might expect in the next week to see some sort of coup d’etat, followed by a ceasefire and negotiations. Given the situation in Libya, the most likely scenario is the death of the Qaddafis: it’s hard to see them surrendering.
The good part is that the charade of the cease fire has brought so many more countries on board; even Chancellor Merkel is here in Paris today. One can only wonder if Saudi support for the bombing of Libya comes with the quid pro quo of doing nothing about Bahrain.