Libya News Update

Lots of Libya news is breaking today, so I thought I’d post an afternoon update.

First up, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that she plans to meet with Libyan rebels.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that she would meet with Libyan rebel leaders in the United States and during travels next week to France, Tunisia and Egypt.

Mrs. Clinton did not identify the Libyan rebel leaders she intended to meet.

American officials have reached out to members of the rebel’s provisional council in eastern Libya, directly and through intermediaries, but Mrs. Clinton’s meetings will be the administration’s highest-level contacts with those who hope to replace Colonel Qaddafi’s government.

“We are standing with the Libyan people as they brave bombs and bullets to demand that Qaddafi must go — now, ” Mrs. Clinton said in remarks to a House panel.

Earlier, France became the first country to recognize the opposition government in Libya. Unfortunately, I’m afraid this, and Clinton’s efforts could turn out to be too little, too late. From the LA Times:

France became the first nation to recognize the opposition government in eastern Libya on Thursday, even as rebel fighters protecting a key oil complex on the Mediterranean coast were reported to be retreating under a fierce assault by government forces.

In the coastal oil city of Ras Lanuf, captured Friday by rebel fighters, reports from the front said troops loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi had forced rebels to begin a retreat from the city. Rebel positions there were pounded by airstrikes, artillery and rockets, according to news accounts.

If pro-Kadafi forces are able to seize the petrochemical complex, port and airport in Ras Lanuf, it would give the regime in Tripoli control over one of Libya’s largest oil facilities. Ras Lanuf is 225 miles by road southwest of Benghazi, the rebel stronghold.

The apparent rebel setback in eastern Libya came after Kadafi’s government claimed Wednesday it had regained control of the contested city of Zawiya, 30 miles west of the capital, Tripoli. Residents reached by phone said Zawiya was under siege.

A tank shell explodes outside Ras Lanuf

Nicholas Kristof made “the case for a no-fly zone” today:

“This is a pretty easy problem, for crying out loud.”

For all the hand-wringing in Washington about a no-fly zone over Libya, that’s the verdict of Gen. Merrill McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff. He flew more than 6,000 hours, half in fighter aircraft, and helped oversee no-fly zones in Iraq and the Adriatic, and he’s currently mystified by what he calls the “wailing and gnashing of teeth” about imposing such a zone on Libya.

“I can’t imagine an easier military problem,” he said. “If we can’t impose a no-fly zone over a not even third-rate military power like Libya, then we ought to take a hell of a lot of our military budget and spend it on something usable.”

He continued: “Just flying a few jets across the top of the friendlies would probably be enough to ground the Libyan Air Force, which is the objective.” …. “If we can’t do this, what can we do?” he asked, adding: “I think it would have a real impact. It might change their calculation of who might come out on top. Just the mere announcement of this might have an impact.”

I guess the problem is that we have an inexperienced, indecisive Commander-in-Chief who is waiting for his aides to tell him what to do. As our President dithers and NATO “squabbles” Gaddafi is succeeding in crushing the courageous, ragtag opposition fighters.

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Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!! There is a lot of news breaking this morning about Libya. The Guardian just posted this story: Barack Obama raises pressure on Gaddafi as no-fly zone gains support

Barack Obama has stepped up pressure on Colonel Gaddafi, saying the US and Nato allies were considering a military response to violence in Libya, with the list of options including arming the rebels.

Obama’s remarks came as Britain and France made progress in drafting a resolution at the UN calling for a no-fly zone triggered by specific conditions, rather than timelines. Downing Street is hopeful that a resolution with clear triggers such as the bombing of civilians would not be subject to a Russian veto at the security council.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, told the Commons a no-fly zone would have to be supported by north African countries and rebel leaders and would also need an appropriate legal basis.

There is concern by Western governments that Gadhafi may succeed in defeating the opposition forces if they don’t get more international support soon. Obama is getting pressure from Senator John Kerry who has been pushing for the no-fly zone for some time now.

Kerry, chairman of the foreign relations committee, argued at the weekend that a no-fly zone would not amount to military intervention, adding: “One could crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time.” ….Obama is believed to oppose US military intervention in Libya, partly because it could boost Gaddafi’s standing. But if civilian deaths mount and the humanitarian crisis worsens, his hand may be forced.

The New York Times says discord is growing in DC over the Libya situation.

Of most concern to the president himself, one high-level aide said, is the perception that the United States would once again be meddling in the Middle East, where it has overturned many a leader, including Saddam Hussein. Some critics of the United States in the region — as well as some leaders — have already claimed that a Western conspiracy is stoking the revolutions that have overtaken the Middle East.

“He keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic,” the senior official said, quoting the president.

At the same time, there are persistent voices — in Congress and even inside the administration — arguing that Mr. Obama is moving too slowly. They contend that there is too much concern about perceptions, and that the White House is too squeamish because of Iraq.

Furthermore, they say a military caught up in two difficult wars has exaggerated the risks of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, the tactic discussed most often.

The American military is also privately skeptical of humanitarian gestures that put the lives of troops at risk for the cause of the moment, while being of only tenuous national interest.

It really makes me angry that our government had no problem going into Iraq to take out Saddam Hussein over weapons that didn’t exist, but now that we have a humanitarian crisis with people being slaughtered by a vicious tyrant, our President is dithering and the military doesn’t want to help because our own selfish interests aren’t involved. What about doing something because it’s the right thing to do? For once we actually have a chance to be the good guy. Yeah, I know that’s crazy talk…

According to Reuters, Gadhafi is “looking for [an] exit deal.”

Two Arab newspapers and al Jazeera television said on Monday Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was looking for an agreement allowing him to step down, but there was no official confirmation of the reports.

Al Jazeera said Gaddafi had proposed to Libyan rebels to hold a meeting of parliament to pave the way for him to step down with certain guarantees.

It said Gaddafi made the proposal to the interim council, which speaks for mostly eastern areas controlled by his opponents. It quoted sources in the council as saying Gaddafi wanted guarantees of personal safety for him and his family and a pledge that they not be put on trial.

Al Jazeera said sources from the council told its correspondent in Benghazi that the offer was rejected because it would have amounted to an “honourable” exit for Gaddafi and would offend his victims.

So, while Western leaders argue and Libyan rebels hold out for a better deal with the madman, Gadhafi’s forces continue to attack the ragtag opposition from the air. I think our indecisive President needs to think about how he is going to look if Gaddafi manages to crush the opposition and stay in power.

In other news, Alan Simpson is out in public making a fool of himself again.

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Saturday Reads

Good Morning!!

President Obama has left the country again. He was in Lisbon today for a NATO meeting, at which the organization agreed to build a missile shield, and they hope that Russia will go along with it too.

In general, senior NATO officials note a welcoming Russian tone under President Dmitri A. Medvedev to the idea of cooperation with NATO on missile defense and European security, and they also note the general silence of Mr. Putin, now prime minister.

On Saturday, Russia will be formally invited to take part in the missile defense system, especially with intelligence and radar sharing. Moscow has indicated that it is interested but has questions, and wants to ensure that the system is not aimed at countering Russian missiles.

The missile defense system approved Friday is different from the fixed-missile defense that President George W. Bush initiated and that proved controversial. The idea is to have a phased system of radars and antimissile missiles that would be less expensive than the Bush system. The NATO spokesman, James Appathurai, said the nearly $1.5 billion cost could be managed over 10 years.

Plenty of money for missile defense that probably won’t work, but nothing for the desperate long-term unemployed.

In one of his many bad decisions, President Obama invited Skeltor Alan Simpson back out of obscurity, and we may never get rid of him. With his latest pronouncement, he has moved way beyond inappropriate to sociopathic.

He predicted a government that approaches shutdown in April of next year.

“This is going to be beautiful politics – The brutal kind,” he told reporters in Washington at a forum put on by the Christian Science Monitor. “I love those,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye and a jokester tinge to his voice.

“The debt limit, when it comes in April or May, will prove who’s a hero and who’s a jerk and who’s a charlatan and who’s a faqir,” said Simpson. “And there it will be right there. Because they’re going to say, these new guys, some of them, and I’ve met a good deal of them and boy they’re sharp cookies,” he said, adding a message to new Congressmen.

“Compromise is not a filthy word,” said Simpson. “It doesn’t mean you’re a wimp when you learn to compromise. You either learn to compromise and legislate or go home – my personal view – anyway there they are and they’re going to say I will not vote for the debt limit extension until you cut this. Say, you can’t do that. you can’t possibly do that. well, then I’m not voting for it. and they’ll say well the government will close. Which they’ll say that’s what I came here for. Oh, I can’t wait. It’ll be something and I’ll be watching.”

You can watch it at the Christian Science Monitor site.

If only there really were a hell so Alan Simpson could spend eternity there.

Ezra Klein is thinking along the same lines as Simpson, but makes more of an effort to sound reasonable. He says Democrats should trade an extension of the Bush tax cuts to the rich for Republican votes to extend unemployment benefits and increase the debt ceiling when the time comes.

Ezra must have learned bargaining strategy from that great bipartisan choker compromiser Barack Obama.

Elsewhere in The Washington Post is the story of “one family’s plunge from the middle class into poverty.”

Walker used to make $100,000 a year as a nursing home executive until she lost her job a year and a half ago. Unable to find a new one, she shed her business suits and high heels and put on an apron and soft-soled shoes. This year, she and her daughter are living on $11,000: her unemployment benefits plus whatever she can earn selling home-cooked dinners for $10 apiece….

The Census Bureau recently reported that the poverty rate in the United States rose to 14.3 percent last year, the highest level in more than 50 years.

Texas and Florida saw the most people fall below the line. In Florida alone, 323,000 people became newly poor last year, bringing the state’s poverty total to 2.7 million.

The numbers tell another tale as well: Nationwide, in black households such as Walker’s, income plunged an average of 4.4 percent in 2009, almost three times the drop among whites. The number of blacks living below the official poverty line – $21,756 for a family of four – increased by 7 percent in just one year.

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the Catfood Commission, should be forced to read this article, memorize it, and then write on a blackboard 1,000 times, “I am a damn fool who knows nothing about economics.”

At Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn thinks “it’s time for a real mutiny.”

So much for 2010 as the year of mutiny, when the American people rose up and said, “Enough! Throw the bums out!” As the dust finally clears after the midterm elections, and the bodies are hauled from the field of battle, guess what? It was all so predictable. The safest thing to be in 2010 was an incumbent.

Out of 435 seats, 351 incumbents will be returning to the House in January. In the Senate, out of 100 seats, 77 incumbents will return in January. As the libertarian Joel Hirschorn puts it, “Welcome back to the reality of America’s delusional democracy where career politicians will continue to foster a corrupt, inefficient and dysfunctional government because that is what the two-party plutocracy and its supporters want for their own selfish reasons.”

What will Dear Leader do next?

Already there are the omens of a steady stream of concessions by Obama to the right.

There’s hardly any countervailing pressure for him to do otherwise. The president has no fixed principles of political economy, and who is at his elbow in the White House? Not the Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis. Not that splendid radical Elizabeth Warren, whose Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the Republicans are already scheduling for destruction. Next to Obama is Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the bankers’ lapdog, whom the president holds in high esteem….

Two more years, of the same downward slide, courtesy of bipartisanship and “working together”? No way. Enough of dreary predictability. Let’s have a real mutiny against Obamian rightward drift. The time is not six months or a year down the road. The time is now.

But who will lead the charge?

Dakinikat turned me on to this article about Obama’s Asian trip: Asia After Obama, by Brahma Chellaney

Significantly, Obama restricted his tour to Asia’s leading democracies – India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea – which surround China and are central to managing its rise. Yet he spent all of last year assiduously courting the government in Beijing in the hope that he could make China a global partner on issues ranging from climate change to trade and financial regulation. The catchphrase coined by US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg in relation to China, “strategic reassurance,” actually signaled America’s intent to be more accommodating toward China’s ambitions.

Now, with his China strategy falling apart, Obama is seeking to do exactly what his predecessor attempted – to line up partners as an insurance policy in case China’s rising power slides into arrogance. Other players on the grand chessboard of Asian geopolitics also are seeking to formulate new equations, as they concurrently pursue strategies of hedging, balancing, and bandwagoning.

Once again, Obama plays the role of Bush III.

At Truthdig, I learned that David Sirota has found a new hero to replace his now tarnished idol Barack Obama. These days Sirota is bragging about hanging with cut rate Rolling Stone gonzo writer Matt Taibbi.

Sirota reminds me of that little dog Chester in the Looney Tunes cartoons–the one that idolizes the big bulldog Spike. Chester jumps around Butch, trying to get his attention, praising him, agreeing with him; and when Spike brushes him aside, he just keeps coming back for more. Sirota:

Over drinks in my living room, Taibbi and I pondered the financial Masters of the Universe and their maddening infallibility. I asked him why they never fear facing legal consequences. Do they believe they’re untouchable? Or do they know law enforcement won’t pursue them?

“They’re not afraid because other than Bernie Madoff, when was the last time someone on Wall Street faced any real punishment?” he responded. “Sure, a few go to jail once in a while, but they’re usually out in a few months and then on the speaking circuit. That’s not exactly a deterrent against bad behavior that’s making you millions.”

Deterrence—it’s the vaunted idea behind “tough on crime” sentences for violent offenses. Lock the door, throw away the key, and the theory says that heinous acts will be prevented.

Duh! I think Sirota wrote this piece just so everyone would know he’s pals with Taibbi.

Since it’s Saturday Morning….

What’s on your reading menu this morning?