Thursday, March 17, 2011

France, Libya and a Call to Arms

This is becoming tiresome, but when France quickly recognized the Libyan rebels as the legitimate government in the country, my first point was “what next?” Now it is clear that the “next” was the military involvement of the US in the form of providing the logistics, communications and, last but not least, military aircraft to not only impose a no-fly zone over Libya, but to bomb airfields and who knows what else. As much as I hate to agree with Saif Qadaffi – has Sarkozy gone crazy?

The Washington Post reported today that “France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said Wednesday that there was still time for military intervention to turn the tide against embattled leader Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. All the United States and other major powers had to do, he suggested, was follow France’s lead to pass a quick Security Council resolution and then send warplanes to neutralize Qaddafi’s air force.”

Well, that’s nice. This is a civil war. Intervening on one side against the other is not likely to produce good results for the intervener. Although not on the same scale, the Vietnam War was a massive interference by a foreign power in what was essentially a civil war. How did that turn out? Libya is certainly not the same scale, but the idea is the same. The no-fly zones in Iraq and Kosovo did not work, but were intended to protect non-combatants (otherwise known as civilians) from being pounded from the air by their respective governments. What France and the UK are suggesting, however, now goes well beyond a no-fly zone and is expressly stated – to “turn the tide against…Muammar Qadhafi…”

The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, took it a step further. He said that “Only the threat of use of force can stop Qadhafi. The Libyan dictator has upset the battlefield balance by bombing his opponents’ positions with the several dozen airplanes and helicopters at his disposal. We can neutralize his air capacities by targeted strikes. That is what France and Britain have been proposing for two weeks.”

Upset the battlefield balance? Is that serious? First of all, that is what one battlefield commander is supposed to do to the other. It’s called winning. Second, what Juppe is suggesting is an act of war.

Look, the rebels seem like the good guys – and compared to the current regime probably are marginally better. But does anyone really know? Doesn’t the experience in Afghanistan and Iraq with supporting “the good guys” trigger some hesitation? The final point is that sometimes rebellions fail and sometimes those who are the good guys at that moment in time, lose. No one intervened in Sudan. I don’t see anyone rushing to intervene in CotĂȘ d’Ivoire or the Congo or Burma (France made noises there as well) all of which are arguably more important than the results in Libya where the West was happy with the regime until a few weeks ago.

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