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Arab League Shifts, Criticizes Libya Intervention

(photo: Defence Images)

As French jets continue to run sorties against Libyan targets, they claim that Qatar will soon deploy four planes into the region. The contention from the coalition enforcing UN resolution 1973 is that they have Arab League buy-in on the operation, and the inclusion of Qatar in the coalition would seem to confirm it. But the Arab League has actually criticized the effort after only one day:

Western forces pounded Libya’s air defenses and patrolled its skies on Sunday, but their day-old intervention hit a diplomatic setback as the Arab League chief condemned the “bombardment of civilians.” […]

Arab League chief Amr Moussa called for an emergency meeting of the group of 22 states to discuss Libya. He requested a report into the bombardment, which he said had “led to the deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians.”

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” Egypt’s state news agency quoted Moussa as saying.

Libya has claimed 64 civilian deaths in the bombing, but that could not be independently verified.

There is no way that a no-fly zone could be enforced without taking out Libya’s air defenses. The Pentagon said as much weeks ago. It’s also clear that keeping Libyan planes out of the skies, on its own, will not stop the attacks on Libyan cities by pro-Gadhafi forces. In Misurata, Gadhafi’s minions are using tanks and rocket launchers, as well as snipers on the ground. So if anything, this bombardment would have to escalate, not reduce, in order to have the desired impact of protecting civilians. The Western powers see this as allowable under the UN mandate.

So this conflict is only going to widen. Joe Biden is making calls around the region to try and keep support. But as the scenes of bombardment continue, instead of seeing Arab countries enter the coalition with military support, I think it’s more likely that you’ll see the Arab League revoke its endorsement of the operation.

This shows how ridiculous it was to lean so heavily on Arab League support. There was no way to wall this action off from the larger dynamic of invasion and occupation in recent years. Marc Ambinder’s thumbnail sketch of Obama’s point of view on military interventions includes a statement from UN Ambassador Susan Rice that “Arab countries must participate” in any action. And Ambinder described a “new doctrine” in the Middle East, including the direct participation of the Arab world. So what happens when they don’t participate?

Meanwhile, you cannot explain France’s lead role in this action without understanding the political dynamic for Nicolas Sarkozy. His party is literally removing the party logo from their election materials and begging party leaders not to campaign on their behalf. Sarkozy was criticized for France’s weak response to uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. The dog is wagging.

UPDATE: See Salon’s Justin Elliott on how this is basically a US mission, as much as they want to hide it. France certainly has a lead role, but it’s more rhetorical.

UPDATE II: More good thoughts from Michael Cohen.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Arab League Shifts, Criticizes Libya Intervention

As French jets continue to run sorties against Libyan targets, they claim that Qatar will soon deploy four planes into the region. The contention from the coalition enforcing UN resolution 1973 is that they have Arab League buy-in on the operation, and the inclusion of Qatar in the coalition would seem to confirm it. But the Arab League has actually criticized the effort after only one day:

Western forces pounded Libya’s air defenses and patrolled its skies on Sunday, but their day-old intervention hit a diplomatic setback as the Arab League chief condemned the “bombardment of civilians.” […]

Arab League chief Amr Moussa called for an emergency meeting of the group of 22 states to discuss Libya. He requested a report into the bombardment, which he said had “led to the deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians.”

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” Egypt’s state news agency quoted Moussa as saying.

Libya has claimed 64 civilian deaths in the bombing, but that could not be independently verified.

There is no way that a no-fly zone could be enforced without taking out Libya’s air defenses. The Pentagon said as much weeks ago. It’s also clear that keeping Libyan planes out of the skies, on its own, will not stop the attacks on Libyan cities by pro-Gadhafi forces. In Misurata, Gadhafi’s minions are using tanks and rocket launchers, as well as snipers on the ground. So if anything, this bombardment would have to escalate, not reduce, in order to have the desired impact of protecting civilians. The Western powers see this as allowable under the UN mandate.

So this conflict is only going to widen. Joe Biden is making calls around the region to try and keep support. But as the scenes of bombardment continue, instead of seeing Arab countries enter the coalition with military support, I think it’s more likely that you’ll see the Arab League revoke its endorsement of the operation.

This shows how ridiculous it was to lean so heavily on Arab League support. There was no way to wall this action off from the larger dynamic of invasion and occupation in recent years. Marc Ambinder’s thumbnail sketch of Obama’s point of view on military interventions includes a statement from UN Ambassador Susan Rice that “Arab countries must participate” in any action. And Ambinder described a “new doctrine” in the Middle East, including the direct participation of the Arab world. So what happens when they don’t participate?

Meanwhile, you cannot explain France’s lead role in this action without understanding the political dynamic for Nicolas Sarkozy. His party is literally removing the party logo from their election materials and begging party leaders not to campaign on their behalf. Sarkozy was criticized for France’s weak response to uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. The dog is wagging.

UPDATE: See Salon’s Justin Elliott on how this is basically a US mission, as much as they want to hide it. France certainly has a lead role, but it’s more rhetorical.

UPDATE II: More good thoughts from Michael Cohen.

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David Dayen

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