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PORTSIDE  March 2011, Week 4

PORTSIDE March 2011, Week 4

Subject:

Libya Intervention Threatens The Arab Spring

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Date:

Sat, 26 Mar 2011 11:33:45 -0400

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text/plain (214 lines)

Libya Intervention Threatens The Arab Spring

    Despite its official UN-granted legality, the
    credibility of Western military action in Libya is rapidly dwindling.

By Phyllis Bennis
Al Jazeera
March 24, 2011

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/03/20113227357222118.html

Ironically, one of the reasons many people supported
the call for a no-fly zone was the fear that if Gaddafi
managed to crush the Libyan people's uprising and
remain in power, it would send a devastating message to
other Arab dictators: Use enough military force and you
will keep your job.

Instead, it turns out that just the opposite may be the
result: It was after the UN passed its no-fly zone and
use-of-force resolution, and just as US, British,
French and other warplanes and warships launched their
attacks against Libya, that other Arab regimes
escalated their crack-down on their own democratic
movements.

In Yemen, 52 unarmed protesters were killed and more
than 200 wounded on Friday by forces of the US-backed
and US-armed government of Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was
the bloodiest day of the month-long Yemeni uprising.
President Obama "strongly condemned" the attacks and
called on Saleh to "allow demonstrations to take place
peacefully".

But while a number of Saleh's government officials
resigned in protest, there was no talk from Saleh's US
backers of real accountability, of a travel ban or
asset freeze, not even of slowing the financial and
military aid flowing into Yemen in the name of fighting
terrorism.

Similarly in US-allied Bahrain, home of the US Navy's
Fifth Fleet, at least 13 civilians have been killed by
government forces. Since the March 15 arrival of 1,500
foreign troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, brought
in to protect the absolute power of the king of
Bahrain, 63 people have been reported missing.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said: "We
have made clear that security alone cannot resolve the
challenges facing Bahrain. Violence is not the answer,
a political process is."

But she never demanded that foreign troops leave
Bahrain, let alone threatened a no-fly zone or targeted
air strikes to stop their attacks.

Legality vs. legitimacy

Despite its official UN-granted legality, the
credibility and legitimacy of Western military action
is dwindling rapidly, even in key diplomatic circles.
For the Western alliance, and most especially for the
Obama administration, support from the Arab League was
a critical prerequisite to approving the military
intervention in Libya.

The League's actual resolution, passed just a couple of
days before the UN Security Council vote, approved a
far narrower military option - essentially only a no-
fly zone, with a number of stated cautions against any
direct foreign intervention.

Of course, a no-fly zone is foreign intervention,
whether one wants to acknowledge it or not, but it is
not surprising that the Arab League's approval was
hesitant - it is, after all, composed of the exact same
leaders who are facing inchoate or massive challenges
to their ruling power at home. Supporting the attack on
a fellow dictator - oops, sorry, a fellow Arab ruler -
was never going to be easy.

And as soon as the air strikes began in Libya, Arab
League chief Amr Moussa immediately criticised the
Western military assault. Some commentators noted the
likelihood that Arab governments were pressuring Moussa
out of fear of Libyan terror attacks in their country;
I believe it is more likely that Arab leaders fear
popular opposition, already challenging their rule,
will escalate as Libyan deaths rise.

Overlooking the African Union

Early on, the US had also identified support from the
African Union (AU) as a critical component. But as it
became clear that the AU would not sign on to the kind
of attack on Libya contemplated in the UN resolution,
the need for that support (indeed the AU itself)
disappeared from Western discourse on the issue.

Shortly after the bombing began, the five-member AU
committee on the Libya crisis called for an "immediate
stop" to all the attacks and "restraint" from the
international community.

It went further, calling for the protection of foreign
workers with a particular reference to African
expatriates in Libya (responding to reports of attacks
on African workers by opposition forces), as well as
"necessary political reforms to eliminate the cause of
the present crisis".

So within 48 hours of the bombing campaign's opening
salvos, the US and its allies have lost the support of
the Arab and African institutions the Obama
administration had identified as crucial for going
ahead.

Other countries turned against the attacks as well; the
Indian government, which had abstained on the Security
Council vote, toughened its stance, saying that it
"regrets the air strikes that are taking place" and
that implementation of the UN resolution "should
mitigate and not exacerbate an already difficult
situation for the people of Libya".

The question remains, what is the end game? The UN
resolution says force may only be used to protect
Libyan civilians, but top US, British and French
officials have stated repeatedly that "Gaddafi must go"
and that he has "lost legitimacy to rule". They clearly
want regime change.

The military commanders insist that regime change is
not on their military agenda, that Gaddafi is not "on a
target list," but there is a wink-and-a-nod at ''what
if'' questions about a possible bombing "if he is
inspecting a surface-to-air missile site, and we do not
have any idea if he is there or not".

What you ask for ain't always what you get

There is no question Libya's opposition, like most of
the democratic movements shaping this year's Arab
Spring, wants an end to the dictatorial regime in their
country.

Unlike the democratic movements in neighbouring
countries, the Libyan movement is fighting an armed
military battle, something approaching a civil war,
against the regime's forces.

That movement, facing a ruthless military assault, has
paid a far higher price in lost and broken lives than
the non-violent activists in the other democratic
uprisings, and even with components of the military
joining them, they were out-gunned and desperate. So it
is not surprising that they pleaded for international
support from the powerful countries and institutions
most able to provide immediate military aid, even if
that aid ultimately threatened their own independence.

But, what they got was probably way more than even the
Libyan opposition itself anticipated. And despite the
exultation over the first downed tanks, questions loom.

What if some kind of stalemate leaves Libya divided and
military attacks continuing? What if the opposition
realises that negotiations (perhaps under the auspices
of newly democratising Egypt and Tunisia) are urgently
needed, but cannot be convened because the US and
French presidents have announced that the Libyan leader
has no legitimacy and cannot be trusted?

And what if, as earlier US-imposed no-fly zones (both
unilateral and UN-endorsed) have experienced, the
attack leads to rising numbers of civilian casualties,
killed by Western coalition bombs and an escalating,
rather than diminishing, civil war? What then?

The UN resolution clearly is looking ahead to just such
an eventuality. It calls on the secretary-general to
inform the UN Security Council of all military actions,
instructing him to "report to the Council within seven
days and every month thereafter".

The UN, at least, seems to be preparing for another
long war - that could last far longer than this year's
Arab spring.
_____________

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy
Studies and the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam.
Her books include Calling the Shots: How Washington
Dominates Today's UN.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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