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Libya: The Case Against Limitation

By   /  April 19, 2011  /  No Comments

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The U.S. is expected to hand over control of the Libya mission to NATO, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The handoff had been expected for a couple of days, and had recently been stalled becuase of Turkish intervention. Ankara was specifically worried that the bombing campaign would extend beyond its goal of “protecting civlians.” As a result, NATO members stated that the bombing campaign should be limited, and followed by a political campaign aimed at “bringing all sides together.” After these statements, Turkey agreed to the handoff while Germany withdrew, questioning the entire premise of the mission.

This expected handoff may come at the expense of victory in this war. Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizes “all necessary measures” for the purpose of “protecting civilians.” These measures are limited in one important respect: they must not constitute a “foreign occupation force.” This rejection of a foreign occuptation force, in combination with the goal of protecting cilvians, has lent credence to the claim that this is a “limited war.”

But that claim both is and should be rediculous. While French attacks have earned some headlines (like the first one above), American forces fired a total of 160 Tomahawk missles in the last couple of days in Libya. In addition, American shelling of the areas around Tripoli is intense, as is American attacks on ground forces in Misurata

and Ajadbiya. The mere fact that Benghazi has been freed from attacks and is no longer the center of the war indicates that American and French actions have been successful.

But in order to be more successful, they must extend their operations. The Pentagon has stressed that their actions are authorized by Resolution 1973, as they should be. But 1973 (ironically titled) gives the coalition nearly free reign to eliminate Col. Qaddafi. As long as the American forces do not constitute an occupation force, then they are allowed to act even on the ground. Since occupation is a term of intent, and not one that is easily proven, a temporary stay of minor American forces would not “occupy” Libya becuase President Obama has been clear in his intent to expedite this war.

A political solution, however noble, cannot take root in Libya without Qaddafi’s removal. Nothing in his 40 years as ruler of Libya suggests that Qaddafi would willingly give up power. Bombing enemies into submission only works if they are willing to submit. Mercenaries and dictators rarely do. When it happens, it’s becuase the armies and military forces of the country refuse to commit the humanitarian horrors required to save the regime (see Egypt). Qaddafi’s forces have already defected, as have his ambassadors. Yet he still remains. The only way to remove him is to use the leverage created by actual miltary force and force him out of his bunker.

Until that point, Libya will never see a political solution. The question is not military v. political action, but how the military and political forces should work together.


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