Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mary Lynn Cramer: Bombs Away Over Libya

Bombs Away Over Libya
By Mary Lynn Cramer

On the eve of the UN Security Council vote for a resolution authorizing the no-fly zone over Libya, I was overwhelmed by colorful visions of rebel flag wavers and warnings of catastrophic consequences that have taken over the media and bombarded the minds of many Americans for the past four weeks. In anticipation of an even more intense campaign to win the hearts and wipe out the memories of US citizens, I am recording here some recent memorable efforts, by the corporate and “alternative” news programs, of both waving and warnings:

Anjali Kamat, reporter for Democracy Now (3/10/11), had just finished an interview with a handsome and amiable field member of the 17th Coalition in Benghazi. Against a lovely backdrop of waves rolling in from the Mediterranean Sea onto the beach, and scenes of energetic, uniformed “rebels” demonstrating and drilling in parts of this Libyan port city, Field Member Essam Gheirani, gently assured the Democracy Now correspondent that there was no chance of civil war in Libya; and expressed repeatedly his hope that the international community would meet its moral obligation, and respond to his Coalition's pleas for (1) a no-fly zone over Libya, (2) bombardment of the certain locations including government troop barracks, (3) bombardment of Qaddafi's Bab al-Azizza compound, (4) bombardment around Tripoli and Sabha of government security forces barracks, and (5) no intervention by foreign land troops.

Next up: Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara who has authored over 50 books on war and human rights, and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades, including the volume International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice (Routledge, 2008). He is currently serving his third year of a six year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. Dr. Falk has made his position regarding the illegality of imposing a no-fly zone in Libya clear to all. In an article that appeared in Al Jazeera (3/10/11), entitled “Kicking the Intervention Habit: Should Talks of Intervention Turn Into Action, It Would Be Illegal, Immoral and Hypocritical,” the professor begins his article with the following statement:

“ What is immediately striking about the bipartisan call in Washington for a no-fly zone and air strikes designed to help rebel forces in Libya is the absence of any concern with the relevance of international law or the authority of the United Nations.”

And, I might add, the absence of any concern for the lives of the thousands of Libyans who live in crowded residential areas adjacent to the Libyan government's anti-aircraft installations. During an interview with the BBC (3/9/11), Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, explained that due to the US bombing raids on Libyan cities in the 1980's, Qaddafi has built extensive anti-aircraft installations everywhere, especially near crowded urban areas.

Democracy Now apparently felt that the lengthy testimony of the attractive and articulate Libyan Coalition member would not hold up to skillful examination by the distinguished Dr. Falk. For whatever reason, the producers had planned to use the remaining few minutes of the program for a debate between Richard Falk and another Libyan, a novelist, who supports the imposition of a no-fly zone, but whom producers had not been able to reach. Ms Goodman was very disappointed that the pro-interventionist had not been able to be on the show, but moved ahead with an interview with Richard Falk by himself. She first asked him how he would respond to the rebel leader just interviewed who had said "We are going through a massacre. We need international help. We need a no-fly zone imposed." Some of Professor Falk's relatively brief comments are well worth quoting here:

“ I think is a very tragic and difficult case. But I feel that the record of intervention has been so bad, and the motivations to undertake it in a particular case and to ignore similarly tragic situations in other cases makes me very suspicious of any push for military intervention under Western auspices with no consideration of whether this kind of use of force violates international law and the U.N. Charter. None whatsoever. The only call for U.N. participation is based on the idea that it would be perceived as less Western, but it would basically be an American operation, because only the U.S., under NATO auspices, would have the logistical capabilities to do it in an effective way.”

“ ...I think, on balance and given the flow of history, it's better to trust in the dynamics of self-determination than to rely on great-power intervention in order to alleviate the situation. So, in that sense, I would affirm the notion that Libya is a sovereign state at this stage and that the only exceptions to the non-intervention rule should be by way of the U.N. Security Council, where the prospect of a Russian and Chinese veto make that not politically viable.”

No backdrop of white-capped surf rolling in beneath a deep blue sky and puffy white clouds for Dr. Falk's interview. As he talked, Democracy Now rolled video of a bloodied and wounded rebel agonizing in a hospital bed, together with scenes of rebels climbing trees, firing missiles, and others participating in opposition protests. At one point, Amy Goodman interrupted him, shouting, “Professor Falk, Professor Falk!” And challenged him to come up with an historical example of when a no-fly zone didn't work.

Dr. Falk responded with an obvious recent example, Iraq:

“ Well, I think in Iraq, it set the stage for both the greater suffering of the Iraqi civilian population and led to a situation that eventuated in an unlawful, aggressive and terribly destructive war. It's a relatively rare mechanism that's been used. And, for instance, it was never even contemplated when Israel attacked Gaza at the end of 2008, where the population was completely vulnerable to a massacre from the air, on the ground and from the sea. So, it's very selective in the way this kind of discourse is carried on internationally.”

He concluded with the following words:

“ ...I think it's imprudent, as well as probably unlawful, to conceive of this option. It's a very unpredictable act of war. And it, as [US Secretary of Defense] Gates indicated, it has to be preceded by an actual military attack to remove the threat to the planes enforcing the no-fly zone. And so, I think the U.S. is already dramatically overextended. It can't deal with its domestic social demands. And it would be a real example of imperial overstretch to think that the U.S. is in a position to carry out a uncertain mission of this sort, which almost certainly would expand in the process of it being executed.”

Steven Zunes arrives at the same conclusion. In his BBC interview, he emphasized that it would take a great deal of bombing to destroy the Libyan government's defensive installations, with a high probability there would be large numbers of civilian causalities. Although Zunes, like Richard Falk, is not a supporter of Qaddafi, he points out that the recent self-appointed Council of rebels does not represent the whole of the opposition, nor the whole of Libyan society, and certainly not the large number of Qaddafi supporters and government armed forces. “Right now it is a civil war.” He says it would have to get a lot worse before he could accept justification for “humanitarian intervention” in the form of bombing Libya and imposing a no-fly zone. Zunes is explicit about his support for anti-Qaddafi forces, but he reminds the idealistic BBC reporter that “supporting an armed faction usually doesn't result in a democratic government” and that “martial law is not a good way to bring about representative government.”

To Read the Rest of the Essay

No comments: