Global Watercooler: Capture and Try Qadhafi?

Global Watercooler

Around the watercooler today: Senator McCain calls for no fly zone over Libya; the US may be embracing the Responsibility to Protect; and tensions rise in the Ivory Coast.

No Fly Zones and Capturing Qadhafi

At the Atlantic Council’s annual Bronislaw Geremek lecture last night, Senator John McCain strongly called for the U.S. and its allies to immediately enforce a no fly zone over Libya. Fresh from a twelve-day trip through the Mideast, his arguments were clear. First, he wanted to pre-empt another Srebenica, referring to the massacre of Bosnian civilians in 1995. Second, he thought the very act of announcing such a measure would ground Qadhafi’s pilots and send a message to his remaining allies that the game was up.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski delivered one of the most brilliant statements I’ve heard on freedom since all the Mideast upheavals began, drawing upon his country’s own history as he talked about “the long journey” to democracy. He said that Poland has branded Colonel Qadhafi “as an outlaw, which might have practical consequences.” The suggestion was clear: the Libyan leader should, at the very least, be captured and tried for his crimes against his people.

Sikorski went one further. He compared Poland’s neighbor, Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko to Qadhafi. He lamented that Lukashenko had missed the chance Poland’s authoritarian leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski had taken to facilitate a democratic transition despite the fact that he had blood on his hands.

He did caution that though it was clear what protesters in the Mideast didn’t want, it was less clear what they did want—or whether it would be to our liking. During Poland’s Solidarity days, he said, a High Noon poster with film star Gary Cooper was a rallying point for Polish posters. In the Mideast, the U.S. has a different reputation due to his tepid support for change initially and its long-time backing of authoritarian leaders. McCain, however, offered up that the young Arabs he met did have their American Gary Cooper, but that, "In Tunisia, the number one hero is Mark Zuckerberg."

A Responsibility to Protect

After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed yesterday that Libya’s destiny would lie either in “peaceful democracy” or “protracted civil war,” the chatter in Washington is escalating over what might tip the scales to a non-war outcome—and how the U.S. and its friends can best influence the outcome without owning another international mess.

Momentum has been shifting in Europe and the U.S. toward considering tough measures that would be allowed under the United Nations relatively new approach to international security and human rights, in response to Rwanda and Bosnia, known as the “Responsibility to Protect.” This being the UN, there is also a nifty acronym to go with it: R2P.

Vice President Joe Biden summed it up last week when he said, “When a state engages in atrocity, it forfeits its sovereignty.”  However, the world community is no more unified this time than it has been previously when facing such options. Voicing their alarm at this possibility, both Turkey and Russia spoke up against the use of force in Libya today, including any no-fly zone.

So although it’s clear who needs the protection, the Libyan people, it isn’t yet clear who will do the protecting and under what mandate.

Meanwhile, in the Ivory Coast…

So where does R2P begin and end? In the Ivory Coast, several UN weapons inspectors were dodging bullets while trying to check whether Belarus did actually send military equipment to Laurent Gbagbo, the current President-by-force.  More alarmingly, the country looks headed toward its own civil war, with Liberian mercenaries playing a role.

The tests for U.S. and European policy makers in the Mideast and Africa are growing.  What Minister Sikorski said last night was that the regions needed a democratic success story that others could rally around, just as the post-Soviet Central Europe had Poland. His vote goes to Tunisia.

Fred Kempe is president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. His latest book, Berlin 1961, will be available May 10.   Borjan Zic assisted in the compilation of this post. 

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