On Sunday, the British Observer newspaper remarked editorially, “Without calls to action by the Arab League, it is doubtful President Obama would have shifted his initial stance of wary caution. But that consensus might not hold in the event of prolonged confrontation.” Prolonged? Hey, it didn’t last three days.
By midday, while U.S. Tomahawk missiles were raining down around Tripoli, the Associated Press was reporting that the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, had criticized international strikes on Libya, saying the attacks had gone beyond what the league had endorsed. Moussa told reporters that “what happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives.” He says “what we want is civilians’ protection not shelling more civilians.” Moussa said the UN resolution also agreed to protect civilians, which it has failed to do.
Up until that point the Arab League support story and its cover for the White House had been repeated far and wide.
On Sunday morning, Peter Bergen, a “CNN National Security Analyst” was on the air saying, “First, the Obama administration was handed a gift by the Arab League, which in its more than six-decade history has garnered a well-earned reputation as a feckless talking shop, but unusually took a stand one week ago by endorsing a no-fly zone over Libya. That endorsement put the Arab League way out in front of the Obama administration, which was then dithering about whether to do anything of substance to help the rebels fighting Gadhafi.”
“On March 14, the Arab League called for imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. What welcome, but largely overlooked, news,” wrote Stanley Kutler, author of The Wars of Watergate on Truth Dig. “Remembering the political adage watch their feet, not their mouths,” we know there is no substance to the Arab League position. What the Arabs really were asking is that the United States, now the world’s foremost mercenary, do something about their despised Arab colleague, and perhaps incidentally aid the Libyan rebels.
“The Arab League behaved as a mouthpiece for the seemingly discredited Paul Wolfowitz and his band of merry neocons (the Arab League and Wolfowitz – there is irony for you!), now anxious to wade into Libya with guns blazing and with what available troops, ordinance and airplanes can be mustered. For them, the march for empire is inevitable, inexorable and withal indubitably beneficial to us and the world. Wolfowitz defies F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dictum, as unfortunately there are bad second acts in American life.
“Until the passage of the U.N. resolution, President Barack Obama seemingly ignored and deflected the war chants and gratuitous advice of the Wolfowitz crowd. Perhaps Obama recognizes the limits not only for our capacity for war, but for mobilizing the energy and will to conduct – and finish – one.”
Moussa’s statement should be taken with a handful of salt. Nobody involved in the United Nations Security Council deliberations that produced the “no fly” resolution had any doubt that more than securing the skies over Libya was all that was involved. It was clear what the “all necessary measures” to protect civilians clause could – and most likely would – mean, in fact. What more likely happened is that the league, having responded to the U.S. appeal for political cover, had second thoughts when it became clear that, as the Libyan government claimed, in a matter of hours scores of civilians had lost their lives in the bombardment. Inevitably, that would cause problems for some Arab governments. One report suggested that it was “pictures of charred bodies” that caused Moussa’s demur. On the other hand, some powerhouses in the league had every reason to go along with the “no fly” resolution, as it might distract attention from the carnage being carried out by the pro-U.S. autocrats in Bahrain with the heavy-handed assistance from the princes of Saudi Arabia and others in the Arab Gulf.
I’ve been asked a number of times about the attitude of the political left to the unfolding events in the region around Libya. As nearly as I can ascertain, it is pretty unanimous: identification with the aspiration of the opposition forces in Libya and total rejection of U.S. and European armed intervention and its backing from the members of the Arab League.
Another important response has been that of India. On Sunday the Indian government said officially it regretted the air attacks carried out by NATO against Libya, and called on the warring parties to resolve their differences peacefully. Like Germany, Brazil, China and Russia, India abstained during the Security Council resolution vote. Any measures to be taken should mitigate, not exacerbate, the situation of the Libyan population, Indian officials said.
Nassan Nasrallah, general secretary of the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah, condemned the NATO bombing warning it could set the stage for interference in “all Arab countries”. He told a Beirut television channel that certain Arab governments would feel repercussions in the future for their complicity in the anti-Libya actions. According to Prensa Latina, at a rally in the Lebanese capital, Nasrallah expressed solidarity with the popular revolts in several Arab countries, and strongly criticized the attitude of various governments to suppress domestic expressions and yield to foreign pressures.
The predictable on-time expert commentator, Phyllis Bennis, of the Institute for Policy Studies had this to say at the beginning of the week:
The legitimacy of the Libyan protesters’ demand does not mean that the decision by the United Nations and the powerful countries behind it was legitimate as well. The Libyan opposition, or at least those speaking for it, asked for a no-fly zone, for protection from the Qaddafi regime’s air force, to allow them to take on and defeat their dictatorship on their own terms. Many of us opposed that idea, for a host of reasons including the dangers of escalation and the threat of a new U.S. war in the Middle East. But whatever one thinks about that demand, the Security Council resolution went far beyond a no-fly zone. Instead, the United Nations has essentially declared war on Libya.
There continues to be breathtaking hypocrisy from the U.S. and its allies in responding to the disparate Arab movements. The U.S. demanded not only that the Arab League endorse any authorization to use force in Libya, but also that Arab countries agree to actually participate in any UN-authorized or NATO-led military action. Apparently, at least two governments from Arab Gulf states have agreed. Qatar is one of them. The other likely one is United Arab Emirates who, along with Saudi Arabia, just sent hundreds of troops into democracy-shaken Bahrain, to help the king there keep his monarchy’s hold on absolute power.
The U.S., fearful of losing Bahrain’s strategic port as home for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has yet to condemn the foreign troops imported to Bahrain to suppress the democracy protesters. So far, the Obama administration’s only response to the soldiers pouring into Bahrain has been to urge the heavily armed foreign troops to support dialogue between the Bahraini people and their discredited king.
The Libyan opposition, or at least much of it, has made a legitimate demand for international support, for all the right humanitarian reasons. Many people in many parts of the world have supported their right to some kind of assistance. Governments, however, are not people, and do not make strategic decisions for humanitarian reasons. Governments do not use scarce resources and most especially do not deploy military force, to achieve humanitarian goals. So the cold strategic calculations of powerful governments cannot be viewed as a legitimate response to the humanitarian needs of Libya’s people or the humanitarian impulses of international civil society.
On Sunday, the African Union panel on Libya called for an “immediate stop” to all attacks by United States, France and Britain. The group also asked Libyan authorities to ensure “humanitarian aid to those in need,” as well as the “protection of foreigners, including African expatriates living in Libya.” In their statement the African leaders stressed need for “necessary political reforms to eliminate the causes of the present crisis” but at the same time called for “restraint” from the international community to avoid “serious humanitarian consequences.” According to AFP, the gathering also announced that a special meeting will be held in the Addis Ababa March 25, involving representatives from the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the European Union and the United Nations to “put in place a mechanism for consultation and concerted action” to resolve the Libyan crisis.
The demise of the Gadhafi regime would benefit the people of Libya, the Middle East and Africa. No doubt about it. But it cannot be avoided that the present military assault is hypocritical in the extreme, and has imperial motives related to the country’s oil reserves. The last thing the planet needs today is another attempt by major powers to extract “regime change” under the cover of a cartoonish “coalition,” in this cause one that cannot survive a week and the inevitable slaughter of the innocents with the excuse of morally repugnant “collateral damage.”