Back in mid-March NATO forces — at that time, led by the United States — began air strikes on Libyan targets to “protect the civilian population”. Two months later, what was supposed to be a brief intervention is still dragging on.
From the very beginning it was clear that the “responsibility to protect” was really just a cover story for a blatant attempt to oust Colonel Muammar Qaddafi from power. The longer the war dragged on, the more obvious it became that the real goal was to unseat the Man of Many Spellings. Hitting Kheddafi’s compound in Tripoli repeatedly is billed as attempt to take out his command center, rather than as an attempt to knock off the strongman, but no one is fooled by the charade.
Up until now NATO has failed to nail the Colonel, but it just keeps on trying. Here’s the latest from The New York Times:
NATO Bombs Libyan Capital in Heaviest Strikes Yet
Tripoli, Libya — In the heaviest attack yet on the capital since the start of the two-month-old NATO bombing campaign, alliance aircraft struck at least 15 targets in central Tripoli early Tuesday, with most of the airstrikes concentrated on an area around Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s command compound.
The strikes, within a 30-minute period around 1 a.m., caused thunderous explosions and fireballs that leapt high into the night sky, causing people in neighborhoods a mile or more away to cry out in alarm.
Just as one strike ended, the sound of jet engines from low-flying aircraft in the stormy skies above the capital signaled the imminence of another. Huge plumes of black smoke rose and converged over the darkened cityscape.
“We thought it was the day of judgment,” one enraged Libyan said.
As long as Qhedafi’s hide remains intact, there will be no definitive conclusion, so the air war must continue. After six weeks or so reporters began invoking the Q-word — “quagmire” — even though this was a war launched by President Obama and approved by the U.N., which postponed the quagmire, but only for a while.
According to the Associated Press:
Analysis: No End in Sight for NATO in Libya
BRUSSELS (AP) — The military campaign in Libya began with what seemed a narrowly defined mission: to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians from attack.
Two months later, the campaign has evolved into a ferocious pounding of the country’s capital, Tripoli, in what appears an all-out effort to oust Moammar Gadhafi. But that goal remains elusive, raising the prospect of a quagmire in the desert. And the political will of the countries involved is being sorely tested.
Even if the NATO partners want to extend the action to a ground war — which would seem utter madness, but you never can tell — they’ve got a niggling little problem, namely that the U.N. didn’t give them permission for a ground offensive:
Part of the challenge lies in the original U.N. resolution: It authorized the use of air power but forbade ground troops, even as it authorized “all necessary means” to protect civilians following Gadhafi’s brutal suppression of the popular uprising against his rule.
A lot of civilians have died in the air attacks “protecting” them, but who’s counting?
The French are obviously feeling the pinch, and are adamant that this thing must end soon:
“I can assure you that our will is to ensure that the mission in Libya does not last longer than a few months,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said during a question-and-answer session at the French parliament Tuesday.
He said the action “may take days, weeks in my opinion (but) certainly not months.”
NATO may require a new U.N. resolution authorizing the use of “all means necessary” if they intend to reach their goals within that time frame.
In contemplating the current war in North Africa, the obvious question is “Why Libya?” Of all the “Arab Spring” revolts, why pick on Col. Khadafi?
Syria, being an Iranian proxy, is out, even though Bashar al-Assad is at least as worthy a target as Ghadaffi. Yemen and Egypt have no significant amount of oil, so they can safely be ignored. The Gulf Emirates have both oil and uprisings, but they are our bulwark against Iranian ambitions, so that probably gives them a free pass.
That leaves Libya as a prime target.
France was the driving force behind the attempt to oust Gheddafi. The British have been enthusiastic junior partners — possibly motivated by a desire to keep a lid on further revelations from defectors about London’s complicity in the release of the Lockerbie bomber — but the French were the ones pushing most strongly for war. Mr. Obama rode into his new war on the coattails of the French.
What does France get out of it? The French are known to be cool calculators of their national interest, and not misty-eyed humanitarian idealists. So what was in it for France?
To get an idea what might have been at work, let’s look at the European power that was emphatically opposed to the Libyan adventure from the start: Italy.
The Italians had a number of reasons to be skittish about bearding Moamar Gadafi. The Colonel had warned the Italians in no uncertain terms that any interference with Libya would induce him to unleash a “Camp of the Saints” exodus of migrants — many of them non-Libyans — across the Mediterranean towards Italy. Thus the Italians refused involvement in the war when it began, but that made no difference to Col. Kadaffi — NATO started bombing him, Italy is a member of NATO, so the Colonel unleashed his hordes of refugees, exactly as promised.
The biggest reason for Italian opposition to the war, however, was probably commercial. The Italian state oil company ENI has long held the primary oil and natural gas concession in Libya. As soon as the rebellion got underway in earnest, ENI had to shut down its operations in Libya, and the flow of oil and gas to its terminals across the Med slowed to a trickle.
Could this have been what lured the French into the war? Did they see an opportunity to wrest the lucrative Libyan petroleum market from Italy? Since they were the primary supporters of a weak and inexperienced rebel alliance that they expected would eventually take power in Tripoli, they may have been counting on gaining contracts for French oil companies as part of their well-deserved reward.
This is all speculation on my part — I haven’t read anything that suggests this is what France was up to. However, take a look at the other major EU opponent of the Libyan adventure: Germany. Why has Germany been so adamantly opposed to the war in Libya from the very beginning? Do they see the French gaining a commercial advantage that would adversely affect German interests?
Then there’s Russia, which also expressed its stern disapproval of the war. The Russians are such sophisticated geopolitical chess players that it’s always hard to determine exactly what their moves signify. But one of their major long-term strategies is to exert control over Western Europe via a near-monopoly of natural gas through a pipeline that bypasses troublesome former Soviet satellites and runs supplies directly to Germany and points further west.
ENI is a sclerotic state-owned industry, and is reportedly out-of-date and inefficient in its production techniques. If the French wrested control of Libyan natural gas from Italy, and if they were able to exploit the supplies more effectively than the Italians, would that pose a competitive commercial threat to Russia?
This is also speculation. I have no idea whether there is any validity to these ideas.
But I can’t help but wonder: Why Libya? Why now?
Despite what the American press seems to think, this is not Obama’s war. It was obvious from the start that he was being dragged into it by the French, with the help of bleeding-heart journalists who focused relentlessly on the evils perpetrated on his own people by the Mad Bedouin Colonel.
And it’s not David Cameron’s war, either, no matter how whole-heartedly he has joined in. He has his reasons, but he is not the prime mover behind it.
This is a French operation. The French tail wagged the NATO dog.
So what’s really going on?