The Global Report

Attack on Libya may unleash a long war

Added under Analysis

The United States and its allies launched the war against Libya on the eighth anniversary of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. President Barack Obama says the U.S. will transfer command authority very soon, that military action should be over in "days, not weeks," and that he wants no boots on the ground. But the parallels with other U.S. wars in the Middle East don't bode well.

The Pentagon may indeed transfer its command to some other military leadership. But what happens when London and Paris decide they don't have sufficient weaponry, or can't afford it any longer--what will President Obama do then? And what about that "no U.S. troops on the ground" line? Forget about it. When the first F-15 warplane went down on Sunday, one of the airmen was picked up by Libyan opposition supporters and turned over to unidentified "U.S. forces"--who must have been on the ground as part of a rescue arrangement.

The people of Libya, like those in neighboring countries who also rose up to challenge brutal dictatorships, are paying a huge price for their resistance. Unlike the others, the Libyan uprising quickly became an armed battle, with Gaddafi's side far more powerful. The need to support the out-gunned protesters was very real.

Libyan activists themselves said they wanted intervention by the international community. But what they got may have far different results than they sought. Despite their exultation over the first destroyed tanks, questions loom. The United Nations' intent is to protect civilians from those tanks. But according to The New York Times, "many of the tanks seemed to have been retreating"--just what the UN resolution required. That happened in 1991, too, when a column of retreating Iraqi tanks and troops leaving Kuwait was attacked by U.S. warplanes whose pilots called it "a turkey shoot."

Why do we think another U.S.-led western attack against another Middle Eastern country will lead to democracy? What's the end game? What if a stalemate leaves Libya divided, with military attacks continuing? The UN resolution is very clear that military force can only be used to protect Libyan civilians, but the Western powers have simultaneously made clear that their real political goal is regime change--ousting Muammar Gaddafi. Ironically, by stating Gaddafi has "lost his legitimacy," western leaders are dramatically narrowing the space for negotiations which could provide for a more peaceful removal of the Libyan leader. And what if these attacks lead to an escalating, rather than diminishing, civil war?

Sources: Institute for Policy Studies

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