The Unfolding ‘Strategic Stalemate’ in Libya

David Szydloski

And the true meaning of 'humanitarian intervention' By David Szydloski Last week found Operation Unified Protector in a tough spot. On the political front, there are a few hazy diplomatic solutions on the table: one from Ghaddafi's son Saif and another proposed by Turkey, both of which might stop the fighting and introduce democratic reforms. But neither would require Ghaddafi to step down. In the meantime, Ghaddafi’s forces continue to push back rebel advances and hold onto strategic towns by remaining in heavily populated areas to avoid NATO bombing. As a result, removing Ghaddafi from power seems less and less likely. As AFRICOM Commander Gen. Carter Ham said to the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, April 5: Although this humanitarian intervention is motivated by a noble impulse, there's a strong possibility of a strategic stalemate emerging in Libya. I fear we may find ourselves committed to an open-ended obligation through our participation in NATO operations, and that poses real opportunity costs, given the volatility of other unstable, more strategically important countries in the region. On Thursday, before a closed session of the Senate Armed Services, General Ham added that because of the stalemate, it might even be necessary to deploy U.S. and international ground forces to Libya. The disorganization of the Libyan anti-Ghaddafi forces doesn't help the situation. Though united by a hatred for Ghaddafi’s regime, the rebels represent several different interests which are sometimes at odds with each other. As one journalist put it, "The rebels - whose 'pro-democratic' government, dominated by former regime officials, Central Intelligence Agency assets and freelance opportunists, is arguably the greatest mystification of all - maintained until a few days ago that their only Western adviser was 'Google Earth.'" This division is particularly clear when trying find out who leaders of the rebellion are. Some articles point to Abdul Fattah Younes, a former interior minister and friend of Ghaddafi, as the leader of the rebel military, while others state that that position is held by Khalifah Haftar, a former army commander under Ghaddafi who recently returned to Libya from the United States. On the political front, one leader who has negotiated with western countries, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, revealed that he had signed an official apology on behalf of the Libyan government for its material support for the IRA during the Troubles and its role in the Lockerbie bombing, much to the chagrin of other civilian leaders. And if all these internal struggles weren’t enough, some leaders, like Younes, are criticizing NATO for not doing enough to help the rebel army defeat Ghaddafi’s forces. The complications of Unified Protector reveal the problems inherent in the idea of “humanitarian intervention.” To begin, such interventions are not truly based in humanitarian concerns, because if members of the "international community" were actually serious about wanting to avoid the kind of bloodshed seen in Libya, they would have consistently taken the side of the Libyan people rather than Ghaddafi in order to uphold their own interests. Thus, a “humanitarian intervention” usually indicates a prior history of diplomatic engagement in which humanitarian concerns have taken a back seat to economic or strategic concerns. Also, such supposedly humanitarian actions aren't really proper interventions because, by the time it is decided to intervene, it's already too late to change the course of events in any meaningful way. Libya is an excellent example of this, as the various options to end the conflict currently on the table—Saif's suggestions, Turkey's proposal, or the rule of various rebel leaders—would all either keep Ghaddafi or officials who were once a part of Ghaddafi's regime in power.

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