Let’s Hope the No-fly Zone Won’t Fly
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
A significant number of US officials, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman among them, are pressing President Barack Obama to set up a no-fly zone in the airspace above Libya. A no-fly zone is an area in which aviation is prohibited, sort of a demilitarized zone in the sky.
The argument most often heard for taking this step is that it would be a humanitarian act, that we have a duty to protect the Libyan rebels, since the country’s government is using its air force against them. In this view, keeping Libya’s aircraft on the ground would simply be a way to create a more level battleground.
There’s a problem with that. Setting up a no-fly zone is an act of war. In a Congressional hearing last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the military would have to destroy Libya’s air defenses.
“Let’s just call a spade a spade,” Mr. Gates said. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya.”
Whoever sets up the zone (and who is more likely than the US?) would first have to knock out Libya’s air force. Nobody’s talking about this openly, but it would seem prudent to destroy runways at commercial airports so any stray aircraft couldn’t take off. Then there’s the matter of the country’s possible 200-plus surface-to-air missles. They may not have that many in good operating order, but even one would be too many. So bombs would fall, and bombs aren’t too good at differentiating between animate (as in living) and inanimate targets. If you don’t believe that, just ask the Pakistanis whose loved ones have been killed by our unmanned “smart” drones.
While American hawks are trying to persuade the United Nations to approve an air blockade and NATO to front for us, questions go unanswered. What is the purpose of the intervention? What are we trying to achieve? How long will it take? How will we know when we’re done?
We’ve been there, done that, you know. The no-fly zone over most of Iraq lasted from 1991 to 2003. And how did that work out? Well, for starters, if it had accomplished anything of value, the phrase “shock and awe” would not now be tattooed on our collective psyche.
Ideally, if this is to happen it will be backed by a resolution of the UN Security Council. Britain and France are all for it. Italy has revoked its non-aggression treaty with Libya. Fortunately for the United States, if the President cares to resist pressure in his own government, Russia and China, permanent members of the Security Council with veto power, do not favor such a move.
But what’s to prevent the US from persuading NATO to give us cover? Or to go it alone, perhaps assembling a Bush-like “coalition of the willing” from among the powerless little nations that depend heavily on our financial aid?
It’s hard to stand by and see rebels dying in Libya, but that’s what we must do. To do otherwise would be to give credence to Col. Qaddafi’s claim that this whole uprising is an American plot to gain control over the largest oil reserves in Africa.
We could, in one fell swoop, destroy the revolution underway in Arab nations by interfering there – and it would be the height of hypocrisy, to boot. We’ve played a negative role in the region for way too long.
The United States backed authoritarian governments in Egypt and Tunisia for decades because stability trumped democracy and freedom at every turn. That backing created a perfect breeding ground for violent, extremist groups.
We sold weapons to Qaddafi, too, until a few weeks ago. Before, that is, we instituted sanctions against him and his family, and referred him to the international criminal court that the US doesn’t even recognize.
The idea that states which are themselves responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in illegal wars, occupations and interventions in the last decade, along with mass imprisonment without trial, torture and kidnapping, should be authorised by international institutions to prevent killings in other countries is simply preposterous.
The US leadership must recognize that the rebellion in Libya is not just about democracy; it’s fueled by the desire for independence and self-determination. The rebels simply don’t want our help.
“As one of the rebel military leaders in Benghazi, General Ahmad Gatroni, said this week, the US should “take care of its own people, we can look after ourselves”.
Posted on March 9th, 2011 by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Filed under: Foreign Policy