March 18, 2011

Libya - Is UNSCR 1973 too little, too late?

Libyans celebrate in Benghazi

After almost a month of what some pundits have called "dithering," U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have now hailed a diplomatic victory, the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. The resolution establishes a no-fly zone over Libya and requires member states to take all necessary action to prevent Libyan leader Mu'amar al-Qadhafi from continuing to slaughter his own people. It remains to be seen if the lack of American leadership in the form of Obama and Clinton is too late for the people of Libya.

The good news is that the resolution was passed pursuant to Chapter VII of the United Nations charter. That chapter authorizes and requires member states to enforce the resolution. Already, a coalition is forming around France and Great Britain, whose leaders were among those with the foresight and courage to call for action weeks ago. It appears that the United States will be an unwilling, but necessary, participant.

A Chapter VII resolution theoretically has teeth. That is what drove Qadhafi to announce a ceasefire and halt to military operations almost immediately after the resolution was passed. However, Al-Jazeera television has reported that Libyan forces continued their push towards the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. That push was accompanied by artillery fire, a violation of the Qadhafi-declared ceasefire, not to mention the UN resolution.

Now the test. There is a Chapter VII resolution in force, and a ceasefire declared by the Libyan government. If the UN resolution is violated, as it surely will be if it has not been already, there must be consequences. Those consequences must be swift and punishing, such as a wave of airstrikes against key Libyan military command and control facilities.

Unfortunately, President Obama has taken many of the best options off the table. As it stands now, American strike aircraft will not participate; the role of American cruise missiles and naval gunfire support is still in question. One might ask why the United States is bothering to show up. Hopefully, the nations that have the courage to participate in a meaningful way can mount a significant enough attack to convince Qadhafi to change his ways and abide by international demands.

There is a problem. If Qadhafi can take Benghazi in the next day or so, he may just be able to once again declare a ceasefire, which at that time will hold since he will have crushed the rebellion. It is doubtfuul whether the coalition will attack Libya if there is no fighting left to stop, no rebels left to protect.

It did not have to come to this. Had the United States in the persons of the President and Secretary of State acted forcefully when it might have made a difference, Qadhafi might have been driven from power. After all, that was the outcome called for by President Obama. Now, the consequences of that failure to act reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The President is a fan of "March Madness" (the NCAA basketball tournament). Unfortunately, he has caused some March Madness of his own. He makes statements such as, "Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable... If [Qadhafi] does not comply ... the resolution will be enforced through military action." Whose military action? It seems the President is ready to commit military force, just not his.

Instead of the possibility of quick and rather bloodless regime change - that ship has sailed - we are now likely heading for a long stalemate in which Qadhafi stays in power.

Of course, the President doesn't care what I have to say - he's too busy filling out his NCAA brackets while packing for a trip to Brazil, when he should be in the White House - he is about to send young Americans into harm's way. I said it in an earlier piece, what a disgrace.