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France, Britain Call for Escalation Amid Libyan Stalemate

Royal Air Force personnel prepare a Tornado GR4 ahead of operations in support of UN Resolution 1973 to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. (photo: SAC Lisa Conway, K Ministry of Defence)

France and Britain are getting impatient with the NATO mission in Libya. I guess France now thinks, in the aftermath of their conquest in Ivory Coast, that they can snap their fingers and bring down a government. But Libya is a different animal altogether. What they’re asking for is unrealistic.

France and Britain urged NATO on Tuesday to intensify airstrikes against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces and called on the alliance to do more to shield noncombatants from loyalist attacks.

NATO rejected the French and British criticism.

“NATO is conducting its military operations in Libya with vigor within the current mandate. The pace of the operations is determined by the need to protect the population,” it said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

The French and British comments coincided with a swirl of diplomatic activity as the battlefield situation offered neither the rebels nor their adversaries little immediate prospect of a definitive outcome.

Unlike Ivory Coast, you have an untrained, ill-equipped rebel fighting force in Libya, up against a well-stocked military built up by decades of trading with the West, which has only been partially degraded. Even with air support, we’ve reached basically a stalemate.

As for the diplomatic activity, I think the emphasis is on the word “activity.” That does not equal results. African Union leaders met with Moammar Gadhafi and proposed a peace offer, but the Libyan rebels rejected it, saying it didn’t include any provision to force Gadhafi or his sons to leave the country. Many African leaders have a debt of gratitude to Gadhafi for his generous funding for their countries over the years. Moussa Koussa, the ex-Libyan foreign minister who defected to Britain, called for a negotiation among all parties to prevent a “new Somalia” in Libya. But those negotiations have not begun. You have what amounts to a partition on the eastern front, with Gadhafi and the opposition almost in separate countries, but the presence of Misrata in the west, under rebel control but constant Gadhafi bombardment, complicates that. As Robert Farley says, “It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the intervention designed to prevent a massacre in Benghazi set the stage for one in Misrata.” [cont’d.]

What’s clear is that there will not be any quick solution in Libya. And this leads to troubling questions for the leaders who made the decision to intervene.

Now with the Qaddafi forces weathering episodic attacks, and sometimes even gaining, the question in Washington has boiled down to this: Can Mr. Obama live with a stalemate?

Asked on Monday whether the United States could accept a cease-fire proposed by the African Union that would effectively leave Colonel Qaddafi in control of part of the country, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hedged. First, she said, the Libyan government would have to allow food, water and electricity into cities it has cut off and allow in humanitarian assistance. Then, she added, “These terms are nonnegotiable.”

But she immediately reiterated that ultimately nothing could be resolved without “the departure of Qaddafi from power, and from Libya.” The statement seemed to underscore the limbo the administration finds itself in, with the rebels unable to achieve regime change on their own, and Washington and its NATO allies hesitant to leap deeper into a civil war.

You’re going to hear a lot of Monday morning-quarterbacking, suggestions that Obama waited too long to intervene, or overestimated the rebel force without proper intelligence. The truth seems to be that the problems with intervention were ignored as the President threw in his lot with the fantasists who think they can remake the world through force of will. The foreign ministers in Britain and France are showing this bias, sometimes called the “Green Lantern theory of geopolitics.” They come in overconfident and assured that mere will can move mountains. Reality is messier. And what they’re really calling for is escalation.

But Professor Bass added that the risks were high. “Modern civil wars last years,” he said, “and this could go on for a very long time. And when you intervene, people tend to say you have to intervene more.”

CommunityThe Bullpen

France, Britain Call for Escalation Amid Libyan Stalemate

France and Britain are getting impatient with the NATO mission in Libya. I guess France now thinks, in the aftermath of their conquest in Ivory Coast, that they can snap their fingers and bring down a government. But Libya is a different animal altogether. What they’re asking for is unrealistic.

France and Britain urged NATO on Tuesday to intensify airstrikes against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces and called on the alliance to do more to shield noncombatants from loyalist attacks.

NATO rejected the French and British criticism.

“NATO is conducting its military operations in Libya with vigor within the current mandate. The pace of the operations is determined by the need to protect the population,” it said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

The French and British comments coincided with a swirl of diplomatic activity as the battlefield situation offered neither the rebels nor their adversaries little immediate prospect of a definitive outcome.

Unlike Ivory Coast, you have an untrained, ill-equipped rebel fighting force in Libya, up against a well-stocked military built up by decades of trading with the West, which has only been partially degraded. Even with air support, we’ve reached basically a stalemate.

As for the diplomatic activity, I think the emphasis is on the word “activity.” That does not equal results. African Union leaders met with Moammar Gadhafi and proposed a peace offer, but the Libyan rebels rejected it, saying it didn’t include any provision to force Gadhafi or his sons to leave the country. Many African leaders have a debt of gratitude to Gadhafi for his generous funding for their countries over the years. Moussa Koussa, the ex-Libyan foreign minister who defected to Britain, called for a negotiation among all parties to prevent a “new Somalia” in Libya. But those negotiations have not begun. You have what amounts to a partition on the eastern front, with Gadhafi and the opposition almost in separate countries, but the presence of Misrata in the west, under rebel control but constant Gadhafi bombardment, complicates that. As Robert Farley says, “It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the intervention designed to prevent a massacre in Benghazi set the stage for one in Misrata.”

What’s clear is that there will not be any quick solution in Libya. And this leads to troubling questions for the leaders who made the decision to intervene.

Now with the Qaddafi forces weathering episodic attacks, and sometimes even gaining, the question in Washington has boiled down to this: Can Mr. Obama live with a stalemate?

Asked on Monday whether the United States could accept a cease-fire proposed by the African Union that would effectively leave Colonel Qaddafi in control of part of the country, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hedged. First, she said, the Libyan government would have to allow food, water and electricity into cities it has cut off and allow in humanitarian assistance. Then, she added, “These terms are nonnegotiable.”

But she immediately reiterated that ultimately nothing could be resolved without “the departure of Qaddafi from power, and from Libya.” The statement seemed to underscore the limbo the administration finds itself in, with the rebels unable to achieve regime change on their own, and Washington and its NATO allies hesitant to leap deeper into a civil war.

You’re going to hear a lot of Monday morning-quarterbacking, suggestions that Obama waited too long to intervene, or overestimated the rebel force without proper intelligence. The truth seems to be that the problems with intervention were ignored as the President threw in his lot with the fantasists who think they can remake the world through force of will. The foreign ministers in Britain and France are showing this bias, sometimes called the “Green Lantern theory of geopolitics.” They come in overconfident and assured that mere will can move mountains. Reality is messier. And what they’re really calling for is escalation.

But Professor Bass added that the risks were high. “Modern civil wars last years,” he said, “and this could go on for a very long time. And when you intervene, people tend to say you have to intervene more.”

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David Dayen

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