Late Night Update: Libya

The “allied forces” have been bombing targets in Libya for a second day. Gaddafi is outraged and has issued multiple threats. Meanwhile, here at home there is quite a bit of criticism of the President’s decision to participate in the UN action.

The Guardian has a pretty detailed description of events in Libya over the past couple of days: “Coalition attacks wreak havoc on ground troops.” I’m leaving out the bloodthirsty-sounding paragraphs–you can read them if you choose.

The barrage of attacks led by France, Britain and the US on Libya’s army, air bases and other military targets drew threats of a prolonged war from Gaddafi himself. But on the ground many of his forces were in disarray and fleeing in fear of further attacks from a new and unseen enemy.

The air assault halted and then reversed the advances by Gaddafi’s army on Benghazi and other rebel-held towns. But the revolutionary leadership wanted more. On Sunday it appealed for an intensification of the air assault to destroy the Libyan ruler’s forces and open the way for the rebels to drive him from power.

The air bombardment is regarded among rebel military commanders as creating a more level battle field by removing Gaddafi’s advantage of heavy armour.

“There must be more attacks, to destroy his forces and heavy weapons,” said Kamal Mustafa Mahmoud, a rebel soldier on the edge of Benghazi. “Then they can leave Gaddafi to us. We know how to fight him but we are afraid of his heavy weapons. I want them to destroy the ground forces of Gaddafi.”

Quite a few people in the US have problems with that notion. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has opposed the U.S. getting involved in the Libyan uprising had a few words of warning today.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. military campaign against Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi should be limited to the terms of a United Nations resolution rather than being broadened to target the leader directly.

The coalition with the U.K., France and Arab countries relies on the terms laid out in the UN Security Council resolution adopted last week, Gates told reporters traveling with him to Russia today on a trip he delayed yesterday so he could monitor the start of “Operation Odyssey Dawn.” The resolution backed military action to prevent Qaddafi from using his forces to attack fellow Libyans.

“If we start adding additional objectives, then I think we create a problem in that respect,” Gates said. “I also think that it is unwise to set as specific goals things that you may or may not be able to achieve.”

Here’s a bit more from Gates:

Gates said the mission is backed by a diverse coalition, and adding additional objectives to the mission “create a problem in that respect.” He also said “it’s unwise to set as specific goals things that you may or may not be able to achieve.”

Gates said most nations in the region want to see Libya remain a unified state, and “having states in the region begin to break up because of internal differences, I think, is a formula for real instability in the future.”

The Pentagon chief also cautioned against getting too involved in the internal conflict of that country, saying the internal conflict should be left to be resolved by Libyans themselves.

After Gates made these remarks, Pentagon spokesman Navy Vice Adm. Bill Gortney said that there is no plan to directly attempt to oust Gaddafi. Gortney:

“I can guarantee that he’s not on the targeting list.”

Gortney said Khadafy’s forces were already beginning to crumble, but stressed that the focus of the campaign remains protecting civilians, not taking out the despot.

In addition,

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen acknowledged that Khadafy might remain in power when the mission is over.

“It’s hard to know exactly how this turns out,” Mullen said on CBS. “I recognise that’s a possibility.”

Today French and British forces did “expand” the bombing campaign, and actually targeted a building within Gaddafi’s private compound. Read more below the fold.

From the LA Times:

Late Sunday, smoke billowed from Kadafi’s massive Bab Azizia residential compound shortly after an earth-shaking explosion. Rounds of antiaircraft and tracer fire lit up the night for the third time in less than 24 hours.

Immediately afterward, the streets of the capital erupted with car horns and chanting and celebratory gunfire in a show of support for Kadafi, whose armed loyalists retain a tight grip on the streets.

[….]

After focusing on air defenses in the first hours of the campaign, U.S. and coalition forces expanded their strikes to include attacks on Libyan ground forces that threaten civilians or are able to shoot down planes enforcing a no-fly zone, a senior U.S. military official said.

[….]

The assault cheered the rebels, who had seized control of large areas of the country as they sought to build on months of discontent across the Arab world but in recent days found themselves retreating in the face of Kadafi’s superior firepower.

Liberal Democrats in the House are “in an uproar,” according to Politico:

A hard-core group of liberal House Democrats is questioning the constitutionality of U.S. missile strikes against Libya, with one lawmaker raising the prospect of impeachment during a Democratic Caucus conference call on Saturday.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Mike Capuano (Mass.), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Rob Andrews (N.J.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions” during that call, said two Democratic lawmakers who took part.

Kucinich even suggested that Obama had committed an impeachable offense. And he’s not alone. Ralf Nader says Obama should be impeached for war crimes–although he focused mainly on Obama actions in Afghanistan.

Michael Moore is very upset at the President’s decision to go along with the UN resolution regarding Libya. The Hill published several tweets in which Moore criticized Obama.

Moore also suggested that Obama should return the Nobel Peace Prize he won in 2009:

May I suggest a 50-mile evacuation zone around Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize? #returnspolicy

Moore’s comments came after the U.S. launched 110 Tomahawk missiles at military targets in Libya as part of an allied effort to prevent forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi from overtaking the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

The strikes on Libya began on the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War.

And get this: Josh Marshall, formerly a strong supporter of Bush’s war in Iraq thinks Obama’s decision was a really “bad, bad idea.” I must admit he makes some good points.

First, insurrections like these by poorly organized rebel forces depend hugely on momentum and the perceived weakness of the leader. Not long ago Qaddafi’s authority appeared to be crumbling. Numerous members of the regime were defecting to the inchoate rebel forces. It seemed like only a matter of days. Perhaps hours. The turning point came when Qaddafi stabilized the front moving into western Libya. Once that happened, once he’d halted the momentum toward collapse, it was very bad news for the rebels because as we’ve seen Qaddafi had all the heavy weapons and command and control on his side. By this weekend, without massive outside intervention, it’s pretty clear Qaddafi had already won.

A week ago a relatively limited intervention probably could have sealed the rebels’ victory, preventing a reeling Qaddafi from fully mobilizing his heavy armaments. But where do we expect to get from this now? It’s not clear to me how the best case scenario can be anything more than our maintaining a safe haven in Benghazi for the people who were about to be crushed because they’d participated in a failed rebellion. So Qaddafi reclaims his rule over all of Libya except this one city which has no government or apparent hope of anything better than permanent limbo. Where do we go with that?

We’re calling a time out on a really ugly situation the fundamental dynamics of which we aren’t in any position to change. That sounds like a mess.

Republicans John Boehner and John McCain have also made critical remarks. Even Minister Farrakhan joined the chorus of boos. (Warning, link to right wing blog).

I think most of us are uneasy about the U.S. getting involved in another country, and some of us are really upset about it. So go ahead and vent if you wish. I admit I thought the no-fly zone was a good idea. But I understand that comes with other risks. I’m just waiting to see what happens, and hoping I don’t have to wait very long to find out.


11 Comments on “Late Night Update: Libya”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Syria is in chaos now, with police shooting into crowds and killing protesters who are demanding an end to 48 years of a supposed state of emergency. The revolutionary contagion is spreading again.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/21/world/middleeast/21syria.html

  2. paper doll says:

    I was for a no fly zone to support the Libyan people in their uprising…Which I took to mean : his jets don’t fly …. if it was done three weeks ago it would have helped….but the problem is we won’t do anything unless there’s an oil pay day at the end …so now we are in a mess?

    I’d like to know arguments behind the scene about the oil…if we knew that, we’d know what was going on

    It seems all we know now is the cable news specialty : spin de jour.

    • Seriously says:

      Who knows what will happen, but at least it’s gratifying to see the reunion tour of the Congressional kabuki comedy club. I’m saving up my $30,000 for the combined Obama campaign rally/call for impeachment, can’t wait.

      • Minkoff Minx says:

        Why can’t these Dems get more vocal…like they are now…about the war against Women’s Rights and Worker Rights? It makes me mad that they are stirring the pot now…on this…yet we hear crickets on the issues of women and workers.

      • Seriously says:

        I know, they can’t even make a pretense of caring about women’s rights. Maybe a few care a little about worker’s rights, not enough to take a stand when it matters, though of course, but with women’s rights it’s so blantantly a political football and completely expendable. As Capuano so blatantly said of Stupak, “”I have never once, or almost never, voted on a major piece of legislation that was all good or all bad…Do you think that when they voted on Medicare that it was a perfect bill? Or Social Security? Or the Civil Rights Act? Every one of those bills was major progress with flaws in the bill.” Thanks for being so flexible, there, Mikey. Small price to pay.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I’m starting to think Capuano is a bit of a clown.

    • janicen says:

      I know what you mean. I’m incredibly mistrustful, and I can’t help but wonder what’s driving all of this sudden passion for democracy in the middle east. I can’t shake something I remember reading in the Shock Doctrine about corporations wanting to topple governments in countries where some or all of the business is government controlled and that the middle east was a bastion of government controlled business (oil) that the corporatists wanted to get at. If we can continue to feed the war machine and end government control of the oil, it would be a win-win for the corporatists.

  3. Adrienne in CA says:

    Not sure why Josh Marshall’s argument is convincing. So it’s all natural selection and freedom from oppression goes to the fittest? What about Bosnia, was that a “bad, bad idea” too? Those victims had an even less “momentum.”

    Yes it sucks to be in a third country, but the very good reason not to start unwinable wars based on lies and continue to wage them for years is that when the time comes to use military force in the service of a noble cause, the public is too fed up to believe you.

    *****A

    • bostonboomer says:

      I don’t think it’s convincing, but he has a point that this might have been more effective if it had been done before Gaddafi regained much of the territory that had been held by the opposition.

      Frankly, I think people like Marshall are against this because the U.S. *doesn’t* have much to gain strategically. We don’t get much oil from Libya. On the other hand, European countries do.

      I think the potential gain for us is mostly because Libya is *not* important for our national interest. It makes us look better in the eyes of the world because it appears to be a humanitarian gesture.

  4. paper doll says:

    It’s not an accident Obama is out of town at this point. Hillary is the face of the US involvement in Libya…in case it blows up in her face….and if it becomes enduring odyssey dawn freedom, the movie … then HE’LL be taking the credit for it in the Rose garden.

    He gave her what she wanted, but of course late and now she’s holding the bag, but won’t get the credit…Hillary still doesn’t hold back from what she thinks should be done…at least she trusts Gates…. and since the Arab league wants it too, she has a chance.

    But her ability to stand there and put it all on the line as the roulette while spinds is amazing.

  5. Peggy Sue says:

    I have to say I’m mystifyed by what’s going on. Obama and Biden are missing in action and Hillary only a few short weeks ago testified before Congress that a ‘no-fly’ alone would not defeat the Q-man. She also complained that there was no discernible leadership inside the rebel forces.

    Something changed her mind. Possibly information we’re not privvy to or maybe that student rebuff in Egypt. But she joined forces with Hillary-is-a-monster Powers and Susan Rice in finessing the Arab League nod and UN resolution. And she is the one dealing with Sarkozy and Cameron. HRC is definitely our President aboard.

    I give her credit–she took the bull by the horns. She won’t get kudos if it goes well but if it goes bad, she’ll get the lion’s share of blame. I worry this action was initiated too late, what with all the hand-wringing from the WH. I also worry about unintended consequences because Qadaffi is such a wild card. But in scanning the blogs over the weekend, some people are referring to Clinton as Jeanne d’Arc.

    Amazing!