Intervention in Libya May Lead to More Deaths, Not Fewer

By Stephen Gowans

In explaining why his government supported the UN Security Council resolution authorizing all necessary measures to protect Libyan civilians, US president Barack Obama explained: “The U.S. doesn’t want a war. But we want to prevent a slaughter.”

Noble sentiments, but the Security Council resolution could lead to more deaths, not fewer.

Libyan government forces were well on their way to defeating the rebel forces (which may have been the trigger for the resolution.) Had they done so, the conflict would have ended.

Intervention may prevent a slaughter of rebel forces, but it could lead to a prolonged civil war, with more bodies piling up than would have, had the conflict been allowed to quickly culminate in a resolution. Among the corpses will be the civilian collateral damage that Western bombers are so proficient at producing.

Another possible outcome (perhaps more likely) is that Western military intervention tips the scales overwhelmingly in the rebels’ favor. Others have noted the similarities with Kosovo, where NATO signed on as the KLA’s air force in the guerrilla army’s fight with Serb forces. This time, however, the intervention has UN authorization, though whether it does or doesn’t hardly makes a difference. This one is no more defensible than the Kosovo intervention and is no less motivated by Western geo-political and elite economic interests.

Membership has its privileges

Meanwhile, the firing of live ammunition at protesters by Bahraini forces, backed by Saudi troops and tanks, has drawn no calls for all necessary measures to protect Bahraini citizens. There haven’t even been calls for mild measures. The best Washington can do is “express distress” and urge “the government (in Bahrain) to negotiate with the opposition and pursue change.”

Why the double standard?

As the New York Time’s Helene Cooper and Mark Landler explain, “Bahrain is an American ally. The Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based here and the Khalifa royal family has warm relations with Washington.”

Libya, of course, is neither a US ally (though it has in recent years cooperated with Washington on some matters), isn’t the site of US military bases, and its leader hasn’t had warm relations with Washington.

Had any of these things been true, we can take it that Qaddafi would now be free to slaughter as many Libyans as he pleased (though Washington would publically profess distress, while sitting on its hands.)

For bloodthirsty leaders, membership in the club of US allies has its privileges. The same can’t be said for the people who live under them.

Postscript, March 21, 2011.

From today’s Wall Street Journal (“Leaders struggle to define next moves”):

Security analysts fear Western airpower could decapitate Tripoli’s military command but not swing the balance of power firmly in the rebels’ favor, leading to protracted civil strife and a splintering of the Mediterranean country. Ungoverned areas, meanwhile, could provide sanctuary for al Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups that are active in northern Africa.

“The risk is that the no-fly zone became a cover for a widening civil war,” said Emile El-Hokayem, a Bahrain-based Mideast analyst for the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It’s not clear if the Obama administration has firmly grasped this.”

8 thoughts on “Intervention in Libya May Lead to More Deaths, Not Fewer

  1. and on alqaeda in north africa:
    WASHINGTON — In 2007, when American combat casualties were spiking in the bloodbath of the Iraq War, an 18-year-old laborer traveled from his home in eastern Libya through Egypt and Syria to join an al Qaeda terrorist cell in Iraq. He gave his name to al Qaeda operatives as Ashraf Ahmad Abu-Bakr al-Hasri. Occupation, he wrote: “Martyr.’’

    Abu-Bakr was one of hundreds of foreign fighters who flocked into the killing zones of Iraq to wage war against the “infidels.” They came from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Oman, Algeria and other Islamic states. But on a per capita basis, no country sent more young fighters into Iraq to kill Americans than Libya — and almost all of them came from eastern Libya, the center of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion that the United States and others now have vowed to protect, according to internal al Qaeda documents uncovered by U.S. intelligence.

  2. i wish people would stop calling the NFSL or LIFG(aka Jihdaists) ‘rebels’ they are armed insurgents.

    ‘In explaining why his government supported the UN Security Council resolution authorizing all necessary measures to protect Libyan civilians, US president Barack Obama explained: “The U.S. doesn’t want a war. But we want to prevent a slaughter.”’

    the belgians are more honest:
    ‘Brussels – The international military mission against Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi’s forces will extend for a long period and result in many casualties, the Belgian government said Sunday.

    ‘We can’t exclude a large number of casualties in this operation,’ Defence Minister Pieter De Crem told Belgian radio. ‘There are of course going to be risks associated with this mission.’

    France, the United States and Britain attacked Gaddafi’s forces as Western powers on Saturday began enforcing a United Nations-mandated no-fly zone.

    Belgian’s contribution will be in the form of F16 bombers and minesweepers. The troops will be ready for combat on Monday, according to government information.

    De Crem said it would be necessary to maintain a military presence in Libya even after Gaddafi’s exit. ‘The goal is the departure of the Gaddafi regime and the establishment of a dignified society for the Libyan people,’ he said. This requires a Western presence even after the military strikes end ‘so that the operation was not in vain.’

  3. Pathological fear of putting too much firepower into the hands of insufficiently predictable forces was the main point of my comment. As for training, I don’t dismiss the point you make but would propose that off-the-shelf ‘point and shoot’ field weapons such as Stingers, RPGs and heavy machine guns, can all be quite effective in the hands of a novice with one hour’s training focused on the limitations of the weapon – such as effective range etc.

    There was a counterintuitive eagerness on the part of the Americans to bomb Libya. The Coalition sat on its hands when the rebels had control of sufficient territory to make weapons-delivery and distribution (and training) feasible and practical. It waited until the spectre of a Gaddafi victory emerged. There was never any doubt, in my mind, that Libya would be bombed.

    In matters of warfare, America is a very predictable one-trick pony. It’s wars are all mendacious and cowardly attacks on soft targets over which it has overwhelming superiority of firepower. Its deliberate targeting of civilians is legendary and very similar, in fact, to the policies of the excrescent and incompetent IOF.


  4. “…if the Americans really wanted the rebels to prevail, and to avoid direct Western military intervention, they could have supplied them with Stinger Missiles (or the 2011 equivalent) and let them establish their own no-fly zone.”
    But was there enough time? You would have to acquire the weapons, then distribute them, then train the rebels in their use. I would imagine this would take weeks, if not longer. Since the defeat of the rebels by loyalist forces was imminent, I’m not sure this was, from the viewpoint of Washington, Paris and London, a workable option.
    I do, however, take your point that the West is probably chary about putting too much firepower in the hands of a rebel force that is not completely under its control.

  5. “An imbalanced conflict – where weak rebel forces now face stronger government forces—will be transformed into a more evenly balanced one. The government’s wings will be clipped and the opposition will become more robust.”

    This is the key to the “International Community” (of 20 or so Western Governments) plan for the military occupation of a Libya bombed and sanctioned into a dysfunctional condition. The compliant sector of the media has conveniently forgotten that the “humanitarian” intervention in Libya had the stated aim of establishing a basic, no frills, no-fly zone with the aim of giving the rebels/insurgents a fighting chance.

    But if the Americans really wanted the rebels to prevail, and to avoid direct Western military intervention, they could have supplied them with Stinger Missiles (or the 2011 equivalent) and let them establish their own no-fly zone.

    With anti-tank weapons, heavy machine guns, military grade communications equipment, some military defections, more popular support than Gaddafi and some backbone, the rebels would eventually have prevailed over the nothing-to-write-home-about Libyan armed forces.

    The rebels weren’t supplied with the means to independently create and defend their own no-fly zone for the obvious reason that it would be just as effective against a Coalition air force (if necessary) as any other. And that would never do.

  6. More sickening cowardice from America and its re-engineered Coalition Of The Willing. And it’s not just the plight of the Bahrainis this pantomime is drawing attention from. The perennial victims of The Perpetual Victims in Occupied Palestine don’t even rate a mention. Deployment of the “stealth” B2 is pretty good proof that Libya is just another soft target for the Pentagon’s superpower vs Iran fantasists.

  7. UNSC Res 1973 apparently does not rule out the possibility of foreign troops on the ground.
    Invading but not occupying [sic].
    Reports are that US and/or UK special forces are on the ground now “assisting” rebels.
    Yes I’m aware that SAS were there before and left never to return?!
    Does US imperialism ever think long term about the possibilities when taking this type of action?
    I know they employ all kinds of “think tanks” and military strategists that prepare studies but besides knowing that it wants a compliant (client) stable government do you (Stephen) believe or think they have any idea how and/or where this will end?

  8. The US will seek to break the country in half, with the oil sites under rebel control. To that end they will be funded and supplied by surrogates most likely saudi arabia, the zionists and probably egypt. So much for “democratic” change.

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