Monday, March 28, 2011

Phyllis Bennis: Attack on Libya May Unleash a Long War

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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