March 2011, Week 4


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Mon, 28 Mar 2011 20:13:02 -0400
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Phyllis Bennis: Attack on Libya May Unleash a Long War

Institute for Policy Studies March 28, 2011

Attack on Libya May Unleash a Long War

Libyan protesters asked for help, but the military
attacks they're getting may actually create a whole new
set of problems that could last a very long time.

by Phyllis Bennis

The United States and its allies launched the war
against Libya on the eighth anniversary of the 2003
invasion of Iraq. President Barack Obama says the U.S.
will transfer command authority very soon, that
military action should be over in "days, not weeks,"
and that he wants no boots on the ground. But the
parallels with other U.S. wars in the Middle East don't
bode well.

The Pentagon may indeed transfer its command to some
other military leadership. But what happens when London
and Paris decide they don't have sufficient weaponry,
or can't afford it any longer--what will President
Obama do then? And what about that "no U.S. troops on
the ground" line? Forget about it. When the first F-15
warplane went down on Sunday, one of the airmen was
picked up by Libyan opposition supporters and turned
over to unidentified "U.S. forces"--who must have been
on the ground as part of a rescue arrangement.

The people of Libya, like those in neighboring
countries who also rose up to challenge brutal
dictatorships, are paying a huge price for their
resistance. Unlike the others, the Libyan uprising
quickly became an armed battle, with Gaddafi's side far
more powerful. The need to support the out-gunned
protesters was very real.

Libyan activists themselves said they wanted
intervention by the international community. But what
they got may have far different results than they
sought. Despite their exultation over the first
destroyed tanks, questions loom. The United Nations'
intent is to protect civilians from those tanks. But
according to The New York Times, "many of the tanks
seemed to have been retreating"--just what the UN
resolution required. That happened in 1991, too, when a
column of retreating Iraqi tanks and troops leaving
Kuwait was attacked by U.S. warplanes whose pilots
called it "a turkey shoot."

Why do we think another U.S.-led western attack against
another Middle Eastern country will lead to democracy?
What's the end game? What if a stalemate leaves Libya
divided, with military attacks continuing? The UN
resolution is very clear that military force can only
be used to protect Libyan civilians, but the Western
powers have simultaneously made clear that their real
political goal is regime change--ousting Muammar
Gaddafi. Ironically, by stating Gaddafi has "lost his
legitimacy," western leaders are dramatically narrowing
the space for negotiations which could provide for a
more peaceful removal of the Libyan leader. And what if
these attacks lead to an escalating, rather than
diminishing, civil war?

The Pentagon's official position is that U.S. military
involvement in Libya matches the UN resolution--we're
only protecting civilians. How will that work if air
strikes continue against military targets that happen
to be located in the middle of Libyan cities? And how
is anyone supposed to believe that protecting civilians
is really the Pentagon's only goal when their Commander
in Chief says Gaddafi must go?

In Iraq, a protracted no-fly zone directly caused
hundreds of civilian casualties. What if that happens
in Libya? Already, during the pilot's rescue, at least
six Libyan civilians were shot by U.S. forces--one of
them a little boy who will probably lose his leg. If
such casualties continue, how long will Libyans
continue to support the western intervention?

Back here at home, there's the gnawing question of how
we can afford a third U.S. war in North Africa and the
Middle East. The first day, U.S. gunships fired 110
Tomahawk missiles. They cost $1 million each. That's
$110 million just for the missiles, not counting the
ships, the planes, the bombs, the pilots...We could
have used that $110 million to create 2,200 new green
jobs instead.

The UN itself acknowledged that this could be the
beginning of a very long war. The resolution asks the
secretary-general to report on military developments in
Libya "within seven days and every month thereafter."
So much for "days, not weeks."


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