Update on Military Operations in Libya Juan Miguel Muñoz of El País (Madrid) continues to provide perhaps the best reporting on what is actually going on in Libya on the ground. His reports in Spanish may be translated using the Google translate button at the bottom of this page.
By U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 (17 March 2011), the Security Council
4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi…
Is Qadaffi a legitimate military target?
Muammar Qaddafi continues to head and direct a command structure which, implementing his orders, employs sharpshooters to assassinate innocent civilians in cities like Misurata which have been under siege, to conduct artillery and other heavy weapons strikes against civilian areas of cities such as Misurata, and to detain and torture and assassinate other individuals in violation of the laws of war.
Looking back over the last several weeks, it seems clear that this command structure, and the man who leads it, have systematically ordered and implemented a strategy of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in order to retain power.
A key question which has not been answered by the Allies is:
On what rationale is Qaddafi, the commander of this military and state apparatus that is killing civilians and committing war crimes, not considered to be a legitimate military target in order to protect the civilian population of Libya?
Of course, even if he is a legitimate military target, there may be other practical and political considerations that militate against attacking him directly.
Still, the clarification of the fact that Qaddafi is a legitimate military target could help concentrate his mind on departure options.
President Obama, NATO, and Comand of Military Operations by Consensus
The bravery of French, U.K. and U.S. pilots in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya and attacking Qadaffi’s military forces on the ground turned back the tide of Qaddafi’s advance on Benghazi, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives.
Securing the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1973 was the product of brilliant diplomacy by the U.S. and other nations. But there are disturbing signs of growing confusion between the concepts of coalition-building to produce Security Council authorization, and the use of coalition-building to implement its terms by the use of military force.
The decision to hand over the control of military operations to NATO, at a very early date in this military campaign, has resulted in a cessation of allied air strikes against Qaddafi’s mechanized forces, superior firepower, and trained military units.
By asking NATO to command military operations and taking a backseat role in the leadership of NATO, Obama and the U.S. have in effect chosen to weaken the use of military force against Qaddafi, while simultaneously introducing a cause of dissension within NATO that could cause grievous damage to the alliance.
NATO’s Secretary General, for example, now takes a position contrary to that of the U.S. with regard to arming the rebels in Libya. Such action is clearly permitted by Resolution 1973. Here we see a political difference regarding the resolution’s implementation.
NATO takes decisions by consensus. That constrains NATO’s freedom of action in the military sphere by giving great influence to its weakest links on the Libyan question, Germany and Turkey.
Moreover, by giving operational command to NATO, the U.S. has further constrained the freedom of action of France, the U.K. and the U.S. itself to take independent military action, as authorized by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.
To what effect?
Without access to information on the government’s inner deliberations and consultations with allies, one can pose the obvious questions but not, not immediately at least, provide definitive answers to them.
The questions include:
1. Do the U.S., its allies and NATO believe that, by halting close ground support by airstrikes against Qaddafi’s military as it proceeds to retake the cities on the road to Benghazi, they are strengthening the prospects for divisions within the Libyan military that could bring Qaddafi down? If so, is this belief based on a reasonable assessment of the facts?
2. Can the battle be fought and won inside Qaddafi’s head or those of his inner circle, while allowing his military to regain momentum in its push to retake the cities in the east, and perhaps even Benghazi?
3. Does the halt in close air support help the prospects for defections from Qaddafi’s regime? Is the talk of arming the civilian opposition an effective substitute for close ground support against Qaddafi’s armies?
The Observer is reminded of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous dictum that if you strike at a king, you must strike to kill. In this case, that would mean at a minimum that Qaddafi departs Libya and takes up residence in a country that would guarantee that he could not direct international terrorist strikes from his new home.
Obama’s Approach to International Affairs
Obama’s approach to international affairs, including the use of force, even when authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution, appears to be fundamentally intellectual and political in nature. The task is an intellectual challenge, resolved by brilliant analysis and decision on a policy. Implementation is left to others, as when the president traveled to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador on the eve of the military strikes against Libya.
It seems to be an intellectual approach where the major action points are viewed as policy decisions, not winning territory on the ground in an armed conflict, though that is to be sure the hoped-for outcome. The president’s role is to focus on the policy decisions. And then he disengages and takes up another intellectual challenge.
One recalls that between his apeech on Afghanistan at West Point on December 1, 2009 and his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo on December 10, 2009, the president turned his atention to an economic and jobs summit midway through this period, and then had to pull an all-nighter on Air Force One to try to pull his Nobel Prize Speech together.
When one looks hard at the decisions he has made, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the president’s primary objective is “to manage” international conflicts and affairs, as domestic affairs, in a manner that will enable him to be reelected in 2012.
Reelection is probably a goal of almost all politicians. Certainly there are exceptions. Winston Churchill comes to mind. But with Presdent Obama, it appears to be the primary and overriding goal.
It is perhaps the prism through which the president’s actions can best be understood. In this sense, Obama’s current policy towards Libya seems to be succeeding.
This hypothesis helps us understand, for example, why the president tolerates Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ repeated statements at odds with administration policy, or aimed at publicly pressuring the president in a manner that limits his freedom of action.
If apparently successful in electoral terms, at least so far, the only things missing from the president’s approach are strategy, and attention to the details of implementation and the results they are producing, such as the advance of Qaddafi’s forces on the ground, once again, toward Benghazi.
The Trenchant Observer
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