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UN Security Council Meeting on Ivory Coast

According to CNN, the UN Security Council will convene tonight starting at 5pm ET to vote on a resolution on the situation in Ivory Coast. There aren’t any further details at this time.

This resolution, whatever it is, comes at an interesting time. Ivory Coast has slipped into a low-level civil war that has simmered for months, since Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the Presidential election in December. And there have been a series of provocative actions by Gbagbo, including signing up thousands of recruits for an army, in the past several days. The largest city, Abidjan, has been credibly called pre-genocidal. At least 400 have already been killed, and reports of up to a million displaced from their homes, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

But concurrent with that, rebel forces loyal to the rightful winner of the election, Alassane Ouattara, have been advancing:

Militias loyal to presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara have taken control of Sinfra and Bouafle , according to his defence spokesman, Captain Leon Alla. Both are west of the capital city, Yamoussoukro. Earlier this week the rebels took three towns further to the west.

Ally Coulibaly, Ouattara’s ambassador to Paris, claimed that rebel forces now control three quarters of the country. He said the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, had been given every chance to step down following his defeat in last November’s election but Ivorians eventually had to take up arms to avoid a massacre of the civilian population.

A spokesman for Gbagbo called for a ceasefire and mediation but warned that the battle was far from over. Spokesman Don Mello told Radio France International: “We call for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of talks under the mediation of the African Union high representative. Failing which, we will use our legitimate right of defence.

“We have adopted a strategy of tactical withdrawal. We hope that dialogue will open very shortly. It is useless to head into conflict and increase the number of victims.”

This is unique, because it’s been Ouattara calling for a cease-fire and Gbagbo aggressively pressing for defeating the enemy, until very recently. Today Ouattara’s forces took Yamassoukro. That is the nominal capital, but Abidjan is the seat of power, so I would expect a very bloody battle there if it comes to that. And that’s what’s next; Yamassoukro opens up the road to Abidjan. Gbagbo’s youth minister is rallying kids to fight in Gbagbo’s name. The head of Ouattara’s government (there are two parallel governments right now) said that Gbagbo has “hours” to leave peacefully.

The UN resolution could simply call for mediation, or more. It’s hard to say. There is a UN mission in Ivory Coast, UNOCI, and peacekeeping troops could be sent out to protect civilian populations. But Gbagbo’s youth forces have been burning UN trucks almost every time they leave the base, and on occasion kidnapping UN personnel.

Marc Lynch’s comment that the fighting in Ivory Coast shouldn’t bother Americans as much as Libya represents a very Muslim-centric mindset:

The centrality of Libya to the Arab narrative about regional transformation is the main reason why I am unmoved by the “double standards” argument that we are not intervening in Cote D’Ivoire. It did matter more to core U.S. national interests because the outcome would affect the entire Middle East. Thanks to al-Jazeera’s intense focus on Libya, literally the whole Arab world was watching, dictators and publics alike. Not acting would have been a powerful action which would have haunted America’s standing in the region for a decade. And many of the same people now denouncing the intervention would have been up in arms at America’s indifference to Arab life — it is all too easy to imagine denunciations such as “the dream of the Cairo speech died in the streets of Benghazi as Barack Obama proved that he does not care about Muslim lives.”

There was an election in Ivory Coast and the loser defied it. This has been a disturbing pattern in African democracies. The leaders have, by and large, not occasioned a peaceful transition of power. Failure to do anything in Gbagbo’s case will teach every leader in Africa that they can remain in power until the day they die.

But more than that, it’s not that we have to intervene in one place or the other. It’s the selling of the Libyan operation in explicitly moral terms that grates. President Obama said that “some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries but the United States of America is different. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” But that’s not true at all, in Ivory Coast or dozens of other places. And such rhetoric, marginalizing critics, has no place in a serious discussion about foreign policy and interventions.

It could be that the learned behavior from the Ivory Coast situation is that the international community has to act there as well. But with Ouattara advancing the situation may be quite different than Libya.

UPDATE: The draft resolution looks merely like sanctions, so the double standard continues.

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David Dayen

David Dayen