FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
The U.S. Senate flails about in an effort to save face as the coalition in charge of bombing Libya begins to crack
In an apparent effort to save face via the provision of ex post facto permission, the U.S. Senate is considering a bipartisan resolution that would authorize Obama to continue prosecuting his war in Libya for up to a year, albeit with a specific prohibition against the employment of ground troops. The sponsors of this resolution are, as may be expected, John McCain (R-AZ) and John Kerry (D-MA). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said the bill likely has enough votes to succeed in the Senate.
If passed, this milquetoast authorization would be yet another example of a governing body trying to have it both ways. First, the attempt by the Senate to “reassert its authority” over the president’s engagement in hostilities amounts in essence to giving the horse permission to go for a stroll weeks after the barn door has been left open; and second, the authorization of continued air operations while specifically prohibiting the use of ground troops all but ensures the continuation what has already been a lackluster, impotent military effort which unduly endangers civilians, doesn’t have a clear goal, and seems as far as Qaddafi is concerned to be accomplishing little other than giving this tinpot dictator increasing confidence that the coalition is unwilling or incapable of unseating or killing him.
Further, as the Obama administration is doubling down on the war in Libya, thumbing its nose at Congress’s efforts to exert some form of authority and oversight while continuing to engage in directionless hostilities with the North African nation, cracks are beginning to appear in the NATO coalition that Obama has claimed to be “leading from behind.” Following on the heels of Norway’s decision to withdraw from military operations, Italy has now become the first participant in the military coalition waging war on Libya to call for a cease-fire, as well as for the consideration of a political settlement that would likely leave dictator Mohmar Qaddafi in power.
Though it was one of the first nations to join the coalition against Libya, Italy dis so “reluctantly,” due to its dependence on Libyan natural gas and and its 2008 treaty with Qaddafi’s government. Despite this fact, and despite Silvio Berlusconi’s declaration that “the mission was limited to enforcing a no-fly zone and protecting civilians” and that “Italian planes flying over Libya were not shooting and would not shoot” (begging the question just how they would be able to help “enforce” a No-Fly Zone), Italian participation has been critical to the air mission due to the proximity of its air bases to the North African state.
According to Reuters:
Italy’s ceasefire call exposed the strain on the NATO alliance, nearly 14 weeks into a bombing campaign that has so far failed to dislodge Gaddafi but is causing mounting concerns about its cost and about civilian casualties.Qadhafi himself sounded a fresh note of defiance with an audio recording, broadcast on Libyan television, in which he called NATO states murderers of innocent civilians and vowed to avenge their deaths.
It is worth noting that Qaddafi didn’t just “vow to avenge [civilians'] deaths”; he threatened terrorist reprisals against the West for its actions, saying, “You said, ‘we hit our targets with precision’, you murderers! One day we will respond to you likewise and your homes will be legitimate targets.” It is also worth noting that the Italian ceasefire call is being made in the name of “humanitarianism,” for the purpose of reducing civilian casualties and “opening corridors for humanitarian aid.” As was mentioned in the comments here yesterday, this purpose runs ironically parallel to the reason for the hostilities in the first place, which were somehow intended — from 10,000 feet and above — to successfully reduce civilian casualties and open corridors for humanitarian aid.
Now, as Qaddafi’s retrenchment continues, the ever-weakening NATO alliance is showing its lack of unity and resolve, and even more importantly is providing an object lesson in why specific goals and measures of success, completion, and victory must be determined before a shooting war is engaged in, particularly if one side (the opposition in this case) has a far greater stake in, for lack of a better term, not losing than the other side does.
“The alliance is coming unstuck,” Natalino Ronzitti from the Rome-based International Affairs Institute, told AFP.
“There’s an air of dissent from some members, not only because of the huge cost but also because it’s not clear the recent air attacks are entirely legitimate under the United Nations resolution,” he said.
As NATO admitted to bombing errors in recent days which killed 24 civilians, including five children, Italy — a cautious partner in the Libyan mission from the beginning — said the alliance’s credibility was at risk.
On June 1 NATO decided to extend its three-month mission until the end of September, despite warnings from US Defence Secretary Robert Gates that the alliance lacked assets and was over-reliant on American help.
The 28-nation alliance responded to doubts about the sustainability of the mission on Tuesday, insisting that all allies and partners had agreed to provide the necessary assets for “as long as it takes.”
NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen dismissed the Italian ceasefire request out of hand, declaring that “We will take the time needed until the military objective is reached: end all attacks against Libyan civilians, return armed forces to barracks and freedom of movement for humanitarian aid.” It bears repeating that two out of three of these objectives are being presented as the reason for Italy’s request to stop the bombing in Libya.
Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokeswoman, unsurprisingly echoed Rasmussen’s declaration, claiming that “There is the commitment, there are the assets in place and time is not on Kadhafi’s side.” As the “commitment” appears to crumble before our very eyes, it appears that “time” is much more “on Qaddafi’s side” than it is on NATO’s, whatever Rasumssen, Lungescu, Obama, or the post-barn-door U.S. Senate may say to the contrary.