Libya: What can and should outsiders do?

I’ve been following the news of the carnage in Libya with huge sorrow, and there seems little hope it can be ended soon. Anti-Qadhafi forces seem to have taken control of large portions of the east of the country, while the country’s dangerous and possibly deranged long-time leader has been reinforcing his positions in the capital, Tripoli.
There has been a lot of anguished discussion over what outside powers should “do” about Libya, with a lot of this focusing on imposing a “no-fly zone” over the whole country, presumably with the aim of preventing Qadhafi from rushing in any more reinforcements or resupplies from elsewhere, concentrating his forces within Libya, or using his air force once again to bomb the insurgents from the air. (One good critique of this idea came from Bob Dreyfuss, here.)
Realistically, the only bodies with the capability of enforcing a no-fly zone– in a country that is v. close to Europe’s southern shores– are those associated with NATO. And they are all currently tied up in Afghanistan (where one of the main things NATO’s air assets are doing is, um, bombing insurgents.) So it is unlikely that an internationally authorized no-fly zone as such will be declared or enforced any time soon– though there is a lot that African, European, Arab, and other governments can do to ensure that flights do not leave their countries bearing suspect cargoes or passengers, and bound for Libyan airspace.
There has also been some focus on the evacuations of their nationals that various outside powers have been trying to organize (along with more than a hint that until those evacuations have been completed, the governments concerned will hold off on doing anything to antagonize Qadhafi.)
I have grave doubts about the ethics of such evacuations, as well as the broader efficacy of making them any country’s top priority. If emergency missions are dispatched to save lives, should they not save the lives of all who need to be saved, regardless of citizenship?
Hillary Clinton was quoted in today’s WaPo as saying, “In any situation, our foremost concern has to be for the safety and security of our own citizens.” Why does she still talk like a domestic politician instead of a stateswoman? Also, it simply is not true that in “any” situation the foremost concern of the U.S. government is for the safety and security of its own citizens.
The always thoughtful Issandr Amrani, writing from Egypt, considers the various options open to non-Libyan powers and says,

    Another concept one hears about is a ground invasion by Egypt to restore order. While I kind of like this concept, the Egyptian military has a country to run at the moment and no appetite for adventurism. Let’s be satisfied at least that the Arab League two days ago actually issued a condemnation of what was happening in Libya, a historic first. Arab countries are unfortunately not able to address these kinds of crises, although they should certainly move towards being able to. Even then, I doubt Libyans would be thrilled at having Egyptians in their country, and to Egyptians it might be a very foreign territory considering Libya’s tribal make-up.

We should remember, too, that Libyans are even less likely to be thrilled by any lasting footprint from Italians, Europeans, or other non-Arab powers inside their country. Reports from the “liberated” zone of Benghazi have described the emergence of large Omar Mukhtar posters there, post-liberation.
Issandr continues:

    Another possibility is a decapitation mission against the Libyan leadership, particularly Muammar Qadhafi. I think that this mission with clearly defined and limited aims is the best choice if intervention of any kind is chosen. The only problem is that it might deprive Libyans of the pleasure of doing it themselves (although perhaps those defector pilots could be put to good use). It would obviously rely either [on] an aerial bombing mission (hard to verify success) or a special forces operation (difficult to pull off without good intelligence).

I guess I would just tweak his proposal by changing “decapitation mission” to “incapacitation mission.” I think it’s both wrong and unwise to plan outright to kill anyone, even someone who’s done such heinous things as Muammar Qadhafi. But incapacitating him– and also, crucially, the command-and-control networks through which he exercises his power– is another matter completely.
It is of course possible that he would resist an incapacitation attempt with a bloody use of force, in which context he and others may end up getting killed. I just don’t think that should be the goal.
Another consideration: If Qadhafi himself is the victim of yet another assassination attempt launched by outside powers but his network of repression and brutality still survives, his death could end up simply hardening the resolve of the its members, led perhaps after his demise by his dreadful son Saif. Thus, the goal should be a lasting incapacitation of the network, not just the killing of the man who currently heads it.
Incapacitation could consist of a range of different actions. Qadhafi’s communications networks are an evident part of this. I imagine there are more than a few outside powers who know how these work, including maybe the Chinese and Russians.
Stopping him getting any reinforcements from outside the areas he still controls is another part of it.
Anyway, I am sure that the many defectors from the high levels of the regime– including the interior minister, for goodness’ sake!– must all have good ideas for how to incapacitate what remains of it, along with much of the information that such an effort would require. Let us not imagine for a moment that this needs to be planned or implemented by outsiders! But the Libyan oppositionists themselves need to be given all the support they need.
Issandr ends with this very important note:

    Finally, we should consider the possibility of a prolonged civil war in Libya, with or without the Qadhafis, and no foreign intervention. Someone will be selling weapons to one side or the other. Perhaps some are even considering arming one side, at least so they can defend themselves. I doubt many people want more weapons in Libya, but this is the way things are likely to head if there is no decisive victory by one side or the other. And the best way to avoid that would be to start the political contacts between former Qadhafi regime members, opposition figures and tribal leaders as soon as possible. And that’s something that Egypt and Tunisia, with their familiarity with this little-known country, might be in the best position to offer.

Actually, prolonged civil war or not, the kind of political contacts Issandr is urging are surely a key both to the speedy success of the campaign to oust Qadhafi, and to maximizing the chances that a stable and accountable successor regime can be be established in that long-traumatized country, as soon as possible after his departure. And he’s right that in helping to orchestrate such contacts, Egypt and Tunisia both have a lot to offer. Except that, um, those countries do also have some other urgent challenges of their own right now…
The very best of luck to the peoples of all three of these countries as they deal with the huge challenges they now face.

27 thoughts on “Libya: What can and should outsiders do?”

  1. the west can stay out. it has interfered for decades by helping the regime imprison the people.
    if the outsiders are arabs: eg, egyptians, tunisians, yemenis, intent to help remove gaddahfi, this is ok.
    blood has been shed. more is to be lost. violence can be good.
    drag MQ through the streets to a meat hook.

  2. It is good to hear of Hillary’s concern for her own citizens, as long as they are not Muslims, drug users, illegal immigrants, peace activists, union members, poor people, ……
    I hope NATO will not interfere. Its record is not impeccable.

  3. what should outsiders do? youd better ask what have the done and are doing?
    How many are aware of that one of the groups behind the uprising, the NFSL, was trained by the US in assasination?
    Libya, 84 In may 84 15 gunmen attacked the residence of col. Qadhafi. A
    Sudan-based group called the national libya salvation front claimed
    Responsibility for the attack. Nair, k. (1986). Devil and his dart 98
    Libya, 84 The cia backed, trained and continues to support the exile
    Group that tried to assassinate qaddafi in 84. The plot failed and qaddafi
    Executed a number of the group. The cia-backed group is called the national
    Front for the salvation of libya (nfsl) and is led by gen youssef
    Magarieff. The saudis have provided $7 million to the nfsl. Cia agents
    Advised nfsl leaders and trained their recruits in western europe, sudan
    And morocco. Jack anderson washington post 6/12/85
    and that its stil run from the US:
    or that Gadaffi has a different lifestyle to Mubarak:
    l-Ahmed: Unlike other leaders, Gaddafi, himself, did not live a life of luxury. He lives, at least publicly, a simple life. He lives in a small place. He does not have massive palaces. His children yes, but himself, no. He basically lives a fairly simple life and until a month and a half ago he was walking in Tripoli among the people without fear of anybody attacking him. So, he has support within the Libyan society. It is not maybe over 50 percent; I would say maybe 40 percent – for some because he distributed money among them and for some because he was the only person they knew and they think this is the best thing that could happen to Libya. But the majority of the people do not like him, because he could have done better. To be honest, I do not understand why he could not use that oil money to make his country better; maybe it is because of his own incapacity to understand the need to build
    and finally what do you know about Libya? really…
    because the story your being told has little to do with realities in Libya: east and west, or the world of covet ops

  4. an intersting article on Libya which asks a series of pertinent questions eg:
    Question nine is why the mainstream media announced loud and clear that Colonel Gathafi had fled the country, while he was all the time in Tripoli, and a lot of it in the streets among crowds of cheering supporters.
    Question ten is why the same media did not report on Gathafi’s direct appeal to the parents and elders to make sure their children were not caught up in a wave of vandalism, taking them off the streets and warning that the country has a penal code which includes the death penalty for acts of treason and terrorism against the State.
    Question eleven is what happened to the Libyan Ambassador in Washington, apparently blocked from attending the UN building while a carefully prepared aide took his place and gave a version of events which the Ambassador later denied.

  5. Thank you Brian.
    This kind of media stampede has a half-life of about two weeks.
    The media stampede over Libya is a big one so it may take another three weeks before intelligent life emerges from under the racket and begins to be heard.
    Al Jazeera was yesterday running a headline that said “Pro-democracy protesters take over eastern part of the country”. Have you ever heard of anything like that?
    When part of a country is taken over it’s not a “pro-democracy protest”. It’s rebellion, war or invasion.
    Or, it’s not true.
    But if it is true that a part of the territory has been captured, then we have to see fairly soon what kind of force it is that captured the territory. I would expect that when Libyans see who those new pretenders are, they are very likely to reject them.
    The story with Al Jazeera and Libya right now is one of the withholding of news, not of giving good information. This is something to remember about Al Jazeera.
    Al Jazeera is not reliable. Today, there is a waffly think-piece on their web site from a Joffe guy muttering about tribes in Libya. It just shows up their lack of had info. Why are Al Jazeera reporters not in Benghazi the way they were in Tahrir, Suez and Alexandria? Because they would have to report another story to the one that Al Jaz wants to report, that’s why.

  6. Whose heard te story of jets firing on civilians(2011 version of incubator babies)…well theres no verifiable evidence these events took place, or so we read:
    The Politics of Al Jazeera
    The Libyan government has shut down the internet and phone lines and an information war is underway. Although one of the most professional news networks in the world, it has to be cautioned that Al Jazeera is not a neutral actor. It is subordinate to the Emir of Qatar and the Qatari government, which is also an autocracy. By picking and choosing what to report, Al Jazeera’s coverage of Libya is biased. This is evident when one studies Al Jazeera’s coverage of Bahrain, which has been restrained due to political ties between the leaders of Bahrain and Qatar.
    Reports by Al Jazeera about Libyan jets firing on protesters in Tripoli and the major cities are unverified and questionable. [9] Hereto, the reports that Libyan jets have been attacking people in the streets have not been verified. No visual evidence of the jet attacks has been shown, while visual confirmation about other events have been coming out of Libya.
    Al Jazeera is not alone in its biased reporting from Libya. The Saudi media is also relishing the events in Libya. Asharq Al-Awsat is a Saudi-owned paper that is strictly aligned to U.S. interests in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region. Its editor-in-chief is now running editorials glorifying the Arab League for their decision to suspend Libya, because of the use of force by Tripoli against Libyans protesters – why were such steps not taken for Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, or Yemen? Inside and outside the Arab World, the mainstream media is now creating the conditions for some sort of intervention in Libya.

  7. Sorry, Brian, You can’t trust that Global Research site, either.
    Who says: “The Libyan government has shut down the internet and phone lines and an information war is underway.” Where does Global Research get that idea? On Al Jazeera there are photos and there have been phone calls and all sorts of communications. On BBC you can watch a video of a press conference, just posted, given by one of Gaddafi’s sons. Clearly there is no shut-down.
    The news is not selective because of shut-downs. These sites and news agencies are all doing limited hangout, including your Global Research. Information is laced with disinformation and there are big gaps.
    It’s no use to abandon one unreliable source only to cling to another unreliable source.

  8. Here’s a choice headline from the Los Angeles Times:
    “Kadafi using civilian supporters to clear away Libyan protesters.”
    The fiend!

  9. Bloomberg says: “UN Debates Libya Sanctions as Qaddafi Arms Supporters.”
    The ultimate defence of any revolution is the Armed People. This is true for Libya as much as it is for the USA.
    NATO will hesitate to invade a country that is defended by an Armed People.
    In Benghazi a royalist flag is raised.
    Which side are you on?

  10. I don’t know what is going on in Libya but it looks to me very much like a revolution. Gaddafi threw in his lot with Blair and Bush and joined the War on Terror six years ago. He has been pursuing neo-liberal economic policies and, as in the case of Sheik al Libi, cooperating with Egypt to carry out the Empire’s dirty work.
    As to ‘arming the people.’ The report says that he was ‘arming his supporters’ which is a very different thing.
    I do not doubt that the Libyan revolution, which appears to be coinciding with a,perhaps more significant, political sea change in Yemen is not what either the US or its allies, particularly those in the mahgreb and the Arabian peninsula, want to see.
    They rather hope that the gallant Colonel will come up with a new way of putting down a revolting populace. As to the Green Book and forty years of pretentious posing, at the expense of his countrymen, the politicians, dumb though they may be, who run the “west” care no more for that than they do for Jefferson’s thoughts on the Tree of Liberty.
    Live ammunition is their motto and anyone who uses it has their respect and gratitude, at least until it becomes quite clear, even to the Frank Wismer’s of this world, that, ruthless or not, he’s going down. Then they will say it was their idea all along. Which of course, in a sense it was, though it made no difference.
    The truth is that the people are in the saddle, wherever Arabic is spoken. How long they remain there before being unseated, and where Prince Lvov is hiding and what Kerensky is up to, we shall see.
    In the meantime may the revolution roll on because it has a long way to go. And a helluva lot to do.

  11. Please, this is about the Libyans acting to establish the inalienable freedoms all humans possess. Let them do this themselves. Never in history has a people had their version of our 1776 revolution, including us, without a lot of casualties. Same with Tunisia and Egypt. Let them alone, they will do it. If they don’t do it on their own it will not be authentic, widespread and comprehensive.
    This is eventually going to spread world wide. Let it happen.

  12. yes..royalist revolutionaries:
    The National Conference for the Libyan Opposition is an umbrella group of seven smaller organisations, these include:
    * Libyan Constitutional Union led by Muhammad as-Senussi a pretender to the Libyan Throne
    * Libyan League for Human Rights (page in Arabic)
    * Libyan Tmazight Congress (page in Arabic)
    * National Front for the Salvation of Libya
    a ‘revolution’ witha royal pretender….how have we been duped!
    also this is very helpful:
    Gadaffi as weve not been shown:

  13. Nobody either here or at the Nation has made the point that unless the no-fly zone were imposed by the UN Security Council (not NATO), it would be flagrant violation of international law, just as the one in Iraq was.

  14. Flagrant violations on international law….YAWN…JK…since when has that stopped the US and its supporters? just ask the iraqis..they know all about US made illegal no-fly zones…
    i dont see the US govt in jail in the Hague

  15. Helena,
    Does anyone know if Said Aburish has written anything about the recent populist uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East? He has a wonderful historic knowledge of national movements in the Middle East and I thought that he may be a good individual to put some context to what is happening now.
    It has been a little while since I have read anything that he has written and I don’t know if he is still writing or even still alive.

  16. Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba
    Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla
    On the situation in Libya
    We follow, with much attention, the internal events that are taking place in Libya and their international repercussion. News being circulated is numerous and, on many occasions, contradictory. Some US politicians and press media are encouraging violence, military aggression and foreign intervention. Feelings are running high and I am afraid that they might lead to serious international and internal mistakes.
    We wish that the Libyan people achieve a prompt pacific and sovereign solution to the situation created there, without any kind of foreign interference or intervention, which ensures the integrity of the Libyan Nation.

  17. Fears of civil war in divided Libya
    Gaye Davis, The Star, Johannesburg, 2 March 2011
    Libya was a “state turning upon itself” and heading for civil war, South Africa’s ambassador to the country, Mohammed Dangor, said yesterday.
    “Libya has essentially been split into two… there are people loyal to both sides. This is moving towards a civil war – that’s a real danger.”
    South Africa and the African Union needed to try to broker peace in the region, he said. “To push one side or the other is not going to facilitate peace.”
    Dangor, who arrived on Monday after being evacuated from Tripoli for security reasons, said the South African Embassy in Tripoli had been closed, but “not shut down”.
    He believed it was wrong to characterise what was happening in Libya as similar to what occurred in Tunisia and Egypt, where people revolts were ignited by hunger and unemployment and where armed forces had stood aside.
    In Libya – the country with the “highest GDP in Africa” – it was a “power struggle”.
    Dangor described a situation where there were “generals… (and) tanks on both sides”, where cities were captured and then retaken, “almost as if a medieval war is taking place”.
    Muammar Gaddafi had “a very heavy-handed influence” in the situation, but Dangor said the Libyan leader had been “technically correct” when he told the BBC in an interview that he was not the country’s president, as legally he was not head of state, his position being an honorary one.
    “In Libya there is no president, there’s no monarch and no emir,” Dangor said.
    Referring to reports that African mercenaries were “assisting one or other side”, Dangor warned of the potential for xenophobic violence.
    “Libya is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society, white people… Ugandan, Kenyan and Nigerian expatriate workers are living in real fear that the Libyan population will turn xenophobic and attack them. It is important not to turn this into a racial thing,” he said.
    Transcribed from the hard copy, 2 March 2011, DT

  18. I completely agree with JK’s comment re the absolute need for a UN resolution to authorize any imposition of a no-fly zone. The fact that just about the whole of the discussion inside the US on the issue treats this as either irrelevant or a minor, simply technical step that needs to be taken is an extremely disturbing indicator of just how solipsistic and out-of-it most Americans, even those on the so-called “left, have become.
    My own view on what’s happening in Libya is that it is extremely complicated, NOT simply a narrative of good side vs. bad side. But the struggle for political power and control there is one that Libyans alone have the right to engage in. What others can do is use all possible influence to urge them to resolve their very deep differences through peaceful means.
    For western nations to inject their own military power into the situation would be highly counter-productive to this effort; and of course, absent a UNSC resolution authorizing this, quite illegal.
    My mantra these days is that we all need to support and strengthen the rule of law both in nations’ own domestic affairs and internationally.

  19. I hope y’all saw Mrs Clinton and Mr Gates explaining themselves yesterday to (I think) the US Senate yesterday?
    They are not in a rush, as Mr Cameron seems to be, to establish a “no-fly zone”.
    Mr Gates “called a spade a spade”. He said that a no-fly zone has to begin with an attack on Libya to destroy all airfields and all anti-aircraft capabilities. Then it has to be maintianed over a huge area.
    Maybe saner voices are being heard in the corridors of power?
    Meanwhile the British are already at war creating “facts on the ground” in Libya.

  20. ‘I completely agree with JK’s comment re the absolute need for a UN resolution to authorize any imposition of a no-fly zone.’
    if theres no no-fly zone in Iraq and Afghanistanm, where US planes bomb wedding parties, there should NOT be a no-fly zone in Libya, where people are not being bombed…a no-fly zone serves US interests, who as in Iraq WILL bomb the libyans:
    but FYI
    Russian military: “Airstrikes in Libya did not take place”
    If there was no bombing of civilians, the no-fly zone loses its justification…
    meanwhile a NO-FLY zoner in US VERY good idea

  21. ‘I completely agree with JK’s comment re the absolute need for a UN resolution to authorize any imposition of a no-fly zone’ is quite an ambiguous statement, by the way.
    It could be read as if Helena would be quite happy with a “no-fly zone” over Libya so long as the UNSC had rubber-stamped it. Clarification would be nice.
    Thanks for putting out that link, Brian. I saw the report when it was aired on RT.
    The “bombed his own people” smear has to fall away now, but the “he killed a thousand peaceful pro-democracy protesters” canard is still limping through the air, unfortunately.
    No who, where, how, when or anything like that of course, leaving “Gaddafi supporters” to prove a negative.
    But we’ll get there.

  22. “Foreign policy – including the increasing threat of military intervention – is being driven by what the media is reporting from Libya, and that is being driven largely by reports from the opposition, some of which are true, some of them dubious. The Libyan government says that. But for once, in the midst of all the regime’s evasions, lies and fantastical notions, it may just have a point.” – The Guardian

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