Action At Last: What is at Stake in Libya?

Just as Western hesitancy, dithering, and some bad judgment appeared to have  destroyed what promised to be a historic alignment of the Arab Spring and of the Western democracies’ values and interests, the French and British resolution in the U.N. Security Council, with the support of America, has turned the crisis of despair into an opportunity of achievement. 

The Security Council resolution not only authorized a “no-fly” zone over Libya, but it also authorized the use of force to protect civilian populations.  The vote was 10 in favor and 5 abstentions, which included Germany, China, India, and Russia.  It was a major diplomatic success for France, Britain and America which supported the key addition of action to protect populations. However, the resolution banned the use of troops on the ground, and did not specify authority for “regime change” as an objective.  Secretary Hillary Clinton in Tunisia has been talking strong about Gaddafi going. What remains in question is if and how the combined forces of the Libyan rebels, Arab nations, and the Western nations participating will rid the world of Gaddafi and his regime from power.

Today I am in London and heard the live announcement of British actions by the U.K. government in the House of Commons by Prime Minister David Cameron.  It was a stirring statement, and was supported by the Labor opposition. The government announced a European and Arab League Summit on the Libyan situation for Saturday, and a vote in the Commons on Monday. 

Just after the Common’s meeting on the issue Britain announced with France the creation of a “no-fly zone almost immediately. Also, it was said the Arab League critically would help with the sanctions and no-fly resolutions, which they supported before the Security Council vote.

In Tripoli the government took two contradictory moves. Gaddafi and his son made a belligerent statement including threats against the rebels, while the Foreign Ministry called for a “cease fire” on all sides, which the Western powers are largely seeing as a divergency tactic.  

As this is written, Britain and other powers are moving their forces into position to enforce the “no fly” zone.”  There are reports of arms and supplies being sent to the rebels through Egypt and possibly other means.

This action may have turned the Arab street from enmity against the West for its inaction into commonality with Western nations. A historic moment between the West and Islamic world perhaps. But the question must be asked what next and what should be done to set in train a more peaceful, democratic, and stable region.

What is needed after violence stops in a new Libya and in the other nations of the Arab Spring such as Egypt and Tunisia is a international strategy to support the new hopefully democratic and popular governments.  But unrest continues in other countries of the Arab world and beyond. One tool has to be an effort to create an economic condition for growth, employment of especially the young and creation of a civic society that will help stabilize the still fragile societies. The question is will the global community which is in a severe economic downturn, and with European nations by its cuts on spending, be able to carry out the kind of new “Marshall Plan” that is likely needed.

One thought on “Action At Last: What is at Stake in Libya?

  1. Harry C. Blaney March 20, 2011 / 9:47 AM

    Libya Up-Date from London: Second Day of Action: Again the Question What Next?


    Harry C. Blaney III

    UP-DATE Sunday 20th

    It is mid-day Sunday in London and the British have said that the strikes overnight were “successful.” The U.S. remains in command of the coalition operations but with an integrated staff with full UK and likely French integration and participation. This leadership will be turned over to the Europeans shortly.

    More attacks tonight are likely.

    The French have announced that their aircraft carrier has left Toulon for waters near Libya. This action was taken after the U.S. said that the “no-fly” zone had been established. This means t hat the Libyan air force would not likely be able to undertake an effective attack.

    The British planes have flown from British bases some 3,000 total miles last night in a series of attacks and their ships are on station near Libya. British planes Typhoon and Tornado planes are moving to Southern Italian bases. But Italian forces have not joined in providing forces only bases.

    The U.S. sent some 19 fighter planes in night raids and attacked with Tomahawk missiles aimed at defense systems. The morning evaluation of those attacks was positive. Fresh attacks are being undertaken as I write this mid-day in London.

    However report this morning of heavy gunfire and shelling against the rebel held city of Misrata which appears to be under concerted attack by Gaddafi forces with much killing. Reports are coming from that city of widespread destruction and killing. Some report says the city has largely fallen to Gaddafi forces.

    Pictures are being shown of much destruction of Gaddafi’s forces outside the city but with also much battle going on between the rebels and government forces. The pictures show destroyed tanks and trucks.

    It is likely that a wider range of NATO and perhaps non-NATO nations will join in some from in this operation.

    The Russians are now asking the coalition forces to stop non-selective use of force. This is indeed a strange action on their part and clearly will only anger not only the allies but also many Arab countries and Libyan rebels and citizens.


    Attention here is starting to focus on the immediate question of how to protect and provide assistance to the rebel forces and the need for those forces to be able on their own to not only protect their present bases but also take the offensive given that the U.N. resolution said there should not be an “occupation” of Libya.

    Officials and experts here in Europe are asking what should be the next stage and especially the recognition that no matter what the immediate actions that Gaddafi and his regime can’t remain in power in the end of the operation if it is to be fully successful in establishing a stable and representative new government. The coalition leaders and the media here are asking what is the best path for not only defeating Gaddafi but also of putting in place a new government. The French have given a kind of recognition of the National Council in Benghazi and the question is whether other nations will follow.

    The other question is how to arm the rebel forces and how this can be done under the terms of the U.N. resolution. The other question is the role of the Arab nations. The Western coalition forces would like to see Arab forces involved and especially playing some kind of role on the ground. This is perhaps the most opaque element in the strategy. Also given the control over some cities Gaddafi has taken and his stronghold in Tripoli. Military experts here are hoping that Gaddafi’s military will turn against him and speed up the end game.

    Yet many others are very concerned, given Gaddafi’s stance and his statement that this will be “a long, drawn-out war” that conflict could go on for months even years. Also everyone here is talking about the cost of the operation given the budget crisis in most European governments.

    Already the Right has tried to belittle the UN action with Amb.John Bolton saying we should have acted without U.N.endorsement. How silly can one get….we now have the backing of the global community and other coalition nations would not have joined wihtout U.N. backing.

    One question is the implication of this action for other nations in the Arab world and indeed the implications for other situations in which dictators start a process of killing their citizens on a massive scale.

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