Libya is Becoming a Cluster Something

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 22, 2011

I am too polite to write what that something is–we do try to remain a family blog here–but I am sure that I don’t have to spell out what that something is. All I have to do is link:

In a stinging rebuke of U.S. policy in Libya, the Russian defense minister accused the U.S.-led coalition of killing Libyan civilians through errant air strikes and called for an immediate cease-fire on Tuesday. The comments drew a quick rebuke from visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said the Russian criticism was based on “outright lies.”

Speaking to reporters following an hourlong meeting with Gates, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Russia continued to support the United Nations resolution authorizing the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya but made clear that Moscow was increasingly uneasy about the escalating campaign.

“Unfortunately, recent developments in the country demonstrate that it is experiencing real hostilities, destroying civilian facilities, and the killing of civilians,” Serdyukov said. “This shouldn’t have been let to happen and we informed our U.S. counterparts of our opposition.”

Gates, in his own remarks, said the coalition was going out of its way to avoid civilian deaths, noting that most of the strikes have targeted Libyan defensive systems located far away from major population centers. Gates also said he expected major combat operations over Libya to taper off markedly within the next few days; he is the first senior American official to put any sort of timetable on the ongoing offensive there.

Gates fired back at the Russians shortly after departing the Ministry of Defense. Speaking to reporters in his hotel overlooking the Kremlin, the American defense chief said he was taken aback by the ferocity of the Russian criticism of the ongoing American-led military operations.

“I’m a little curious, frankly, about the tone that has been taken,” Gates said. “It’s perfectly evident that the vast majority, if not nearly all, civilian casualties have been inflicted by Qaddafi… and it’s almost as though some people here are taking at face value Qaddafi’s claims about the number of civilian casualties, which as far as I’m concerned are just outright lies.”

I am sure that Secretary Gates is right on the facts–and one feels badly for him; he warned against this entire operation in what were doubtless exceedingly strong terms, and got overruled by people who have no idea what they have gotten into–but irrespective of how right Secretary Gates is, so much for the broad coalition that the Obama Administration boasted about having. Thank heavens–from the standpoint of the United States–that President Medvedev came out swinging against Vladimir Putin, who was behind a great deal of the criticism Gates had to suffer through, but that doesn’t change the fact that as far as the United States is concerned, Russia is, at best, an unreliable partner in the “broad coalition” that is fast becoming anything but.

More on the lack of broadness in the coalition:

China called Tuesday for an immediate cease-fire in Libya where the U.S. and European nations have launched punishing airstrikes to enforce a United Nations endorsed no-fly zone.

“All parties must immediately cease fire and resolve issues through peaceful means,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regularly scheduled news conference, citing unconfirmed reports that the airstrikes had caused civilian deaths.

China was one of five countries that abstained from last week’s vote on the UN resolution to allow all necessary measures to stop Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi’s assault on rebel-held towns. It was approved with the backing of the United States, France and Britain.

Beijing has been sharply critical of the airstrikes that hit Libyan air defenses and forces for a third night Monday. The Foreign Ministry registered serious reservations about the resolution, and on Monday the country’s most important political newspaper compared the Western airstrikes against Libya to the U.S.-led invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In places such as Iraq the unspeakable suffering of its people are a mirror and a warning,” the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, said in a commentary.

Obviously, the objections of other countries should be weighed against American national security interests, and when those national security interests mandate going ahead with a particular action irrespective of the objections of other countries, then the United States must do what the United States must do. But that takes us to the main point, doesn’t it? We don’t have significant national security interests in this fight; certainly not enough to merit going to war.

And of course, the list of countries coming out against American action is growing, and now includes India and Brazil. As I have written before, many of these countries feel that they have to say one thing in public, while perhaps backing us in private. And as the article indicates, these countries hardly make for a united front against American action in Libya. But as I have also written before, if the Bush Administration were in office prosecuting this war, and if this same lack of public international support manifested itself, we would be hearing all sorts of horror stories about how the dreaded and evil neocons are taking us into yet another unilateralist, imperialist disaster, without the consent of Congress and the American people. Who knew that the Obama Administration would end up doing an almost perfect impression of the worst caricatures of the Bush Administration, given that we were promised “Change We Can Believe In” a mere 3 years ago?

Meanwhile, the state of affairs in NATO is nothing to write home about:

Deep divisions between allied forces currently bombing Libya worsened today as the German military announced it was pulling forces out of NATO over continued disagreement on who will lead the campaign.

A German military spokesman said it was recalling two frigates and AWACS surveillance plane crews from the Mediterranean, after fears they would be drawn into the conflict if NATO takes over control from the U.S.

The infighting comes as a heated meeting of NATO ambassadors yesterday failed to resolve whether the 28-nation alliance should run the operation to enforce a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone, diplomats said.

Yesterday a war of words erupted between the U.S. and Britain after the U.K. government claimed Muammar Gaddafi is a legitimate target for assassination.

U.K. government officials said killing the Libyan leader would be legal if it prevented civilian deaths as laid out in a U.N. resolution.

But U.S. defence secretary Robert Gates hit back at the suggestion, saying it would be ‘unwise’ to target the Libyan leader adding cryptically that the bombing campaign should stick to the ‘U.N. mandate’.

“Can’t anyone here play this game?”

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