Fiddling While Libya Burns

Libyan rebels move anti-aircraft guns through the battlefield near smoke from a damaged oil facility, March 11, 2011.

From Anne-Marie Slaughter, the New York Times:  President Obama says the noose is tightening around Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. In fact, it is tightening around the Libyan rebels, as Colonel Qaddafi makes the most of the world’s dithering and steadily retakes rebel-held towns. The United States and Europe are temporizing on a no-flight zone while the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Gulf Cooperation Council and now the Arab League have all called on the United Nations Security Council to authorize one. …

The United States ambassador to NATO, Ivo H. Daalder, argues that stopping Colonel Qaddafi’s air force will not be decisive; he will continue to inflict damage with tanks and helicopters, bombing oil refineries and depots on his way to retaking key towns. But the potential effect of a no-flight zone must also be assessed in terms of Colonel Qaddafi’s own calculations about his future. Richard Downie of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues that although Colonel Qaddafi cultivates a mad-dictator image, he has been a canny survivor and political manipulator for 40 years. He is aware of debates with regard to a no-flight zone and is timing his military campaign accordingly; he is also capable of using his air force just enough to gain strategic advantage, but not enough to trigger a no-flight zone. If the international community lines up against him and is willing to crater his runways and take out his antiaircraft weapons, he might well renew his offer of a negotiated departure. …

The United States should immediately ask the Security Council to authorize a no-flight zone and make clear to Russia and China that if they block the resolution, the blood of the Libyan opposition will be on their hands. We should push them at least to abstain, and bring the issue to a vote as soon as possible. If we get a resolution, we should work with the Arab League to assemble an international coalition to impose the no-flight zone. If the Security Council fails to act, then we should recognize the opposition Libyan National Council as the legitimate government, as France has done, and work with the Arab League to give the council any assistance it requests.

Any use of force must be carefully and fully debated, but that debate has now been had. It’s been raging for a week, during which almost every Arab country has come on board calling for a no-flight zone and Colonel Qaddafi continues to gain ground. It is time to act. 

Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton.  (photo: Getty)

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