Libya: The Misdirected War

Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security.


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Reasonable people can disagree about the merits of intervening in Libya. Indeed, conservatives are divided over the war, with some arguing that intervention was unnecessary because Libya poses no threat to U.S. interests, others arguing that supporting the rebels is very much in the American tradition of assisting pro-freedom movements, others arguing that the U.S. has a special role in the world and can’t sit by while civilians are being butchered, and still others citing the need to help longtime allies in France, Italy and Britain, whose security could be threatened by the fallout. Setting aside that debate, which will go on as long as the war lasts, let’s stipulate that intervention prevented Moammar Qaddafi from turning Benghazi into another Srebrenica and the rest of eastern Libya into another Rwanda. The U.S. in specific and NATO in general deserve credit for preventing such a massacre. However, after trying to do the right thing, NATO and the U.S. are going about it the wrong way.

As before—in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan—NATO’s latest war by committee is producing its share of headaches. Dubbed “Unified Protector,” the NATO operation above and around Libya is not exactly living up to its name.

First, the allies are anything but unified. Italy, for example, threatened to block the use of its airbases if NATO didn’t take full control of the operation. Germany warned NATO not to try to do too much. France, which wanted to bypass NATO altogether and develop a Franco-Anglo-American command, is pursuing regime change. Turkey lectured the rest of the alliance about “pointing a gun” at Libya and is now freelancing a ceasefire deal. And the U.S. was always more focused on handing off the operation than on carrying out the objectives of the operation. Early on, the White House talked about a “time-limited, scope-limited” mission. In fact, the U.S. was so eager to step back from the lead role it played in the first week of Unified Protector that NATO now has to request assistance from U.S. aircraft before they will be deployed on strike missions.

Not surprisingly, as soon as the U.S. receded into the “supporting role” promised by President Barack Obama, the intensity and effectiveness of the air war diminished:

  • “NATO has disappointed us,” rebel military commander Abdul Fatah Younis said after NATO failed to provide adequate air support to rebel forces in the port city of Misrata. “If NATO wanted to remove the siege on Misrata, they would have done so days ago,” he added.
  • Similarly, Ali al-Essawi, the foreign policy director for Libya’s Transitional National Council, blamed “bureaucratic delays” within NATO for “putting civilians’ lives at risk,” according to The New York Times.
  • The Financial Times notes that “Britain and France are straining to fill the gap left by Washington’s decision to pull back.”

In fact, although 17 nations are contributing air assets to Unified Protector, only France and Britain are allowing their planes to fly without restrictions, The Washington Post reports.

Hence, French foreign minister Alaine Juppe has called on NATO to “play its role in full…which means preventing Qaddafi from using heavy weapons to bomb populations.” Juppe describes NATO’s current tempo and tactics as “not sufficient.”

Likewise, his British counterpart, William Hague, recently urged nations participating in the Libya intervention to “expand our efforts in NATO,” pointedly adding, “That is why the United Kingdom in the last weeks supplied additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets that threaten the civilian population. Of course, it would be welcome if other countries did the same.”

Hague is politely directing his message at Washington. The U.S. accounted for 90 of the 206 NATO planes initially deployed in support of Unified Protector, and an even higher percentage of the planes capable of carrying out precision ground-attack missions. However, according to Air Force Magazine, the U.S. Air Force contribution to Unified Protector has plummeted to just 39 planes.

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  • Jim

    They think it is a war to far.

  • Bamaguje

    "let’s stipulate that intervention prevented Moammar Qaddafi from turning Benghazi into another Srebrenica and the rest of eastern Libya into another Rwanda. The U.S. in specific and NATO in general deserve credit for preventing such a massacre." – Alan Dowd

    This crap about "protecting civilians" and "preventing massacre" is all bull. In the cities (Ras Lanuf, Misrata etc) Ghaddafi retook before NATO's ill-thought intervention, there were no reported massacres by any of the major news media.

    On the contrary NATO's idiotic intervention together with the ongoing arming of the Islamist rebels by outside powers has unnecessarily prolonged and escalated the conflict which should have been over 3 weeks ago had Ghaddafi been allowed to unify the country…and Libyans would have started rebuilding.

    Instead the prolonged and escalated war has increased the suffering and fatalities among the Libyan people whom UN/NATO purportedly intervened to protect.

  • Bamaguje

    Why isn't NATO bombing Syria where hundreds of anti-Assad supporters were gunned down in Daraa?
    Where was Obama when Ahmedinajad/Khamenei's Basij goons mowed down and incarcerated hundreds of Iranians protesting the rigged 2009 election?

    We are still waiting for NATO intervention to "protect" the protesting Bahraini Shiite majority from the brutal crackdown by Sheik Hamad Khalifa ruling Sunni minority and Saudi mercenary troops.
    America duplicitously condones the killing of Shiite protesters in Bahrain, because Sheik Hamad Khalifa hosts the US Navy 5th fleet that polices the Persian gulf.

  • BS77

    Situaiton in Libya is a total chaotic mess now….another billion dollars up in smoke. How many elderly, men, women and children are now refugees in that poor country???

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Reasonable people can disagree about the merits of intervening in Libya. Indeed, conservatives are divided over the war, with some arguing that intervention was unnecessary because Libya poses no threat to U.S. interests, others arguing that supporting the rebels is very much in the American tradition of assisting pro-freedom movements,

    Those that called for intervening in Libya, like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and others aren’t true conservatives, they are RINO neo-cons. RINO neo-cons are like leftists, in that they have extremely hard times learning from past mistakes. They are also incredibility blinded by political correctness and multiculturalism too, and they believe in deploying America’s power for what they consider to be the collective good of the world as opposed to what is good for America and in America’s interests. In other words, they are loons.

    For instance, if they weren’t so blinded by political correctness and multiculturalism, they would know already that the only freedom that Islam allows is the freedom for Muhammadans to become more devout slaves of Allah. Hence, in that regard all Muhammadans without exception are the enemies of the West, as Islam is an ideology of submission, whereby a Muhammadan is either the devout slave of Allah or otherwise a blasphemous apostate that must be executed. Hence, a Muhammadan must accept the dictates of Islam without question or otherwise be executed, and Islam commands all Muhammadans to wage jihad against unbelievers for the spread of Islam, which makes all devout Muhammadans our enemies and the enemies of all unbelievers.

    Hence, our insane humanitarian mission in Libya was to intervene to stop the alleged slaughter of our enemies. The USA should not be intervening to stop Muhammadan on Muhammadan violence because they are our enemies, it should instead be fomenting and inciting Muhammadan on Muhammadan violence.

    let’s stipulate that intervention prevented Moammar Qaddafi from turning Benghazi into another Srebrenica and the rest of eastern Libya into another Rwanda. The U.S. in specific and NATO in general deserve credit for preventing such a massacre.

    I’m sorry but that is complete and utter BS! That assumes the rebels were too stupid to retreat and get out of harms way, and I dare you cite the faked Srebrenica massacre that was concocted by Muhammadans in cooperation with the leftwing media to invert reality and to dupe US and NATO forces to fight a jihad for Islamic supremacism against the Christian Serbs. If ever there is a sad chapter in American history, American betrayal of our Christian Serb allies in Bosnia and Kosovo is it, and the author of this pathetic article is obviously one of those RINO neo-cons I described above.

    Moreover, if ever there was an opportunity to give the French a big fat bird for its opposition to the Iraq war, this was it. Nonetheless, the USA like France’s poodle jumped to attention just like a loyal lapdog.

    In addition, the same loons that called for the intervention in Libya are the same loons that called for pursuing endless fantasy based nation-building missions in Afghanistan and Iraq to win the hearts and minds of Muhammadans who are obligated to have nothing but enmity in their hearts for unbelievers, which is why we are still stuck in the muck in Afghanistan and Iraq after all these many years in missions that have already failed because they never had a chance for success from the very beginning, since they were based on political correct myths.

    Libya’s former ambassador to the U.S. recently warned that, if left in power, Qadaffi would plot terrorist attacks against the United States.

    How ironic, since it was a RINO neo-con administration that took Qaddafi off the State Department’s terrorist sponsoring list and normalized relations with that terrorist!

    which explains why NATO appears to be failing at the crucial part of this mission: protecting the Libyan people from Qaddafi and his henchmen.

    The Libyan people are Muhammadans and as such our enemies you loon!

    • Mohamed -cairo

      thanks to john mc cain and joe liberman, for supporting the insurgents in lybia and the Arab revolution

      • ObamaYoMoma

        Yeah right…you love gullible useful idiots.

  • Wesley69

    If we are not there to win and US our full power, we need to get out, just as we should In Afghanistan.

    Obama took us to war under a UN mandate. He did not notifiy Congress or ask for authorization. This action is illegal and constitutes abuse of power.

    Congress should demand an immediate withdrawal and cut off funds.

  • socal

    Americans assisting in pro- freedom movements? A tradition unlike any other! Has a sort of altruistic ring to it dont it. I hardly think assisting a movement that allows them the FREEDOM to one day become your enemy exchanging one Dictator for another ie SHARIA LAW and birthing a radical islamic government at the same time should bring to mind the American Revolution!

    • Mohamed -cairo

      i love your john macain and joe lieberman lol

  • morris wise

    Investors need rulers that do not not tax them. The removal of Gadhafi will help investors keeps their profits. The new rulers will be investors elected by people who need jobs.

  • UCSPanther

    My prediction of what will likely happen in Libya: NATO will pull out, Gadaffi will launch a massive offensive, paint Benghazi and other rebel strongholds red, and then brag that he has survived 46 challenges to his over 40 year-old reign.

  • jewdog

    The only thing about Libya that should interest the US is its oil. We should go in and take it, thereby neutralizing that barbaric Islamic hellhole for good. The charmimg yutzes of Libya can then, as Cato once put it, be left with snakes, heat, thirst and sand.