Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why There is a No Fly Zone Over Libya

Is there any way to make sense of Canadian and US actions in Libya?

A few nights ago, I watched a panel of experts discussing Libya on TV Ontario, "The Agenda" with Steve Paikin. A serious question was asked. Why take the trouble to bomb Libyan forces and ground installations, when we are not doing the same in Yemen or Bahrain, where protesters also have been killed? And why do people who opposed the invasion of Iraq support this? From what I heard not one person on the panel had the obvious (to me anyway) answer.

If the question is "why are we bombing Libya, but not Yemen and Bahrain", the simple answer is "Because Libya is the only government using the air force to bomb their own cities." To me, it seems fair and even reasonable to deny the dictators the use of air space when it comes to bombing their own people. But that is only the first part of the answer. Second part, possibly even more important, is that the United Nations agreed to a no-fly zone to protect the Libyan people from their own air force. It is very difficult to get the UN to agree on taking forceful steps. In Iraq, the UN did not agree. For Libya, the UN agreed. Of course, if you hate the UN, as many conservatives do, this approval means nothing.

Now, if the uprising in Libya fails, it is at least going to fail on a more level playing field.

To summarise, the two main reasons are: 1. Libya is the only government bombing its own people using its air superiority. 2. Libya is the only country that the UN placed in a no-fly zone.

Both these reasons carry a huge amount of weight with me, I cannot understand why most commentators in the US and Canada downplay them. Even Jon Stewart, on the Daily Show, who I normally agree with, seemed to ignore these reasons for bombing Libyan facilities.

If only one country, or one isolated group of countries tries to attack another country despite widespread disapproval at home and internationally, that smells of warmongering. That's what happened with Iraq, and it was a big mistake, regardless of excuses.

If just about every country in the United Nations, (including in this case Libya, but that would not be typically necessary) agrees to use force on Libya, to establish a no-fly zone, this attack is not warmongering.

Now for the people who said Obama did not act fast enough. I never heard any mention of the many US and Canadian citizens working in Libya when this protest broke out. What do you think Gaddafi would do to those people if air strikes were called before they could be found and evacuated?

With this type of discussion going on on TV, its no wonder people can't make sense of anything.

Just another example of what I call mindless babble on TV. I saw an ABC news show this morning, with a picture of the downed US jet, and the News Anchor commenting that "when you see the pictures there, of just the damage from the crash, the fact that these two pilots are OK this morning, that's just incredible." Given that the crew bailed out, what does the condition of the plane after it hit the ground have to do with their survival? Then the expert, Martha Raddatz, talked about how the crew knew very well how to eject. Exactly how much training is it supposed to take to know how to hit the red eject button? I'm thinking the tricky part is knowing *when* to eject.


Once we used to say "You know it's bad when the Comedy Network does the best news reporting on TV." Now, "You know it's a lot worse when even the Comedy Network News can't get it right."

Picture: F15 from the Internet


  1. I believe there are several aspects of the intervention in Libya that merit more attention ...

    UN Security Council Resolution 1973 simply demands a cease fire and authorizes 'protection of civilians.' There is no authorization in that resolution for 'regime change.'

    So I find it discouraging hear our Prime Minister referring to this intervention as an 'act of war' intended to effect 'regime change.' And distressing to hear Minister Cannon so prepared to put 'boots on the ground' - in violation of Section 4 of Resolution 1973, which 'exclud[es] a foreign occupation force of any form.'

    Although Resolution 1973 was adopted, it was done so with China, Russia, India, Germany and Brazil abstaining. Without the ambivalent support of the Arab League, this intervention would have limited legitimacy. And with Arab support wavering, this may readily become perceived as another 'Western Crusade' against a Muslim nation.

    There is a crucial difference between Kuwait and Libya. Iraq committed a naked act of aggression against a small, relatively defenseless sovereign state. The situation in Libya is entirely different: it is civil war - an internal struggle for power.

    History clearly shows that foreign intervention in civil wars is always fraught with risks and seldom achieves its objectives; we need look no further than Afghanistan and Iraq - and, of course, Vietnam. The Libyan situation is especially problematic, because the objectives are so unclear.

    Although it is always distressing to witness civilian casualties, that is an inevitable consequence of internal conflict, and civilian casualties are not likely to be signficantly reduced by this UN intervention in Libya.

    But I find it even more distressing to witness Stephen Harper, on the eve of an inevitable general election, resorting to the cynical age-old tactic of 'talking tough' in order to indirectly garner popular support for his domestic political agenda - it is clear that when a nation is 'at war' (as Harper would have us believe), voters tend to support the incumbent.

    And, generally, isn't it curious that 'The West' seems prepared to intervene when the stakes include energy concerns (Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya) but seems to have little interest otherwise (Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Kosovo, Angola, &c., &c., &c.)?

  2. Here is how I see it, but obviously not everyone sees it the same way. Since WW2, we have gradually worked toward a new international moral standard where no country can invade another. (The main reason I think Bush is an idiot is because he violated this new morality). Unfortunatley that left a lot of governments more or less free to massacre people within their own arbitrary international boundary.

    Now I would like this post WW2 moral code to be extended a little. Let's add "No one-sided use of air power against people within borders", the punishment being "No-fly" zones. i.e your air force and supporting structures demolished by international air power. Nothing more.

    But since we seem to not even be able to really understand "do not invade other countries", what hope is there for any real understanding of "No air strikes against protesters in your own country", or even any understanding of a no-fly zone.

  3. A no-fly zone is, at best, a convenient political device, and in practice a chimera.

    Interdiction of air activity involves patrols; it does not, as in the current Libyan intervention, involve launching Tomahawk missiles and bomber attacks against ground targets at will.

    Conversely, a true no-fly zone, in and of itself, can do little to stop the killing on the ground. Sooner or later, the 'no-fly zone' involves attacking ground targets, with the inevitable 'collateral damage.'

    What is especially egregious in the case of Libya is that the coalition continues to spout cant about democracy and freedom, while turning a blind eye to its 'allies' - for example, Saudi Arabia, the leading member of the Arab League, which has sent its own forces to repress the uprising in Bahrain.

    In the end, it comes down to expediency and realpolitik ... and the hypocrisy about democratic ideals masking the real agenda of controlling supplies of those precious hydrocarbons.

  4. If by "at best" you mean the best that has been put in practice so far, I concede the point.

    I don't think the no fly zone will ever stop the killing on the ground, but killing from the air is potentially much more devastating, with greater range, and more impersonal than the ground struggle. I see it kind of like the existing moral disapproval on the use of poison gas, atomic weapons, germ warfare, (esp. against your own people.)

    But by nullifying governmental air superiority over its own people, it might eventually weed out (over a long period of time, like Darwin's natural selection) the "worst" governments. I was also trying to not make any moral judgments on who is right in the struggle in Libya. But I am assuming governments that need to use air power to put down popular uprisings are not very democratic, or at least do not respond to the peoples' needs very well. No fly zones like this are not democracy, but a small step closer.

    But as you said already, people have gone way overboard and are already thinking it is all out war where regime change is the goal.