A "No Fly" in the Ointment in Libya

News Abroad

Daniel Martin Varisco is professor of anthropology at Hofstra University. This piece originally appeared at his blog Tabsir on March 18.

For days we have been watching the ebb and flow of frustration protests in Libya, echoing but not matching the overthrow of long-time despots in Tunis and Egypt, but seemingly less capable of driving the longest terminator of all into an exilic tent (though probably outside one of Berlusconi’s mansions rather than above a madrasa in Saudi Arabia). A week ago it looked like “rebel” forces might march on Tripoli; such was the rhetoric of liberation on the lips of those who took back the streets east and west of the capital and rattled the very tent pegs of the leader’s Tripoli holdout.

Last night, amidst reports of an escalating disaster alert at a Japanese nuclear reactor, the U.N. Security Council met to deal with Qaddadi, the colonel not known for fried chicken wings but with a distinct love of his female guard’s hidden charms. To no-fly or not to no-fly: that was the dramatic question debated. Would Russia and China resort to Cold War negativism or embrace pragmatic realpolitic and let French planes scramble to destroy the older planes the French probably supplied Qaddadi with at some point? Would international involvement lead to a land invasion? Another Iraq or Afghanistan? The pundits were all over the map. Many had their predictions; none of the crystal balls seemed very trustworthy.

April 4, 1941: a day that is not particularly associated with infamy, but it is the day the Nazi tank commander Rommel captured Benghazi, now the second largest city in Libya. At the time the Allies could not yet mount a no-fly zone, although the North African campaign did end in their favor. To my knowledge, the Nazi newsreel scenes of Rommel’s tanks and Luftwaffe planes strafing Libya were not shown at the U.N. last night. Simply colorizing the film might have speeded up the decision. Rommel or Qaddafi: the bad guy had to be routed by the good guys. In this case, however, the Libyans were actually front and center, not simply the Risk board for a world war not of their choosing.

And the result? Libya declares immediate ceasefire. A reality check for the mad non-mullah? As the deliberation was being made Qaddafi went on the airwaves warning of bloodshed and doom for all who oppose him. Was it a bluff? I suppose that depends on exactly how “mad” one thinks he is. How long before he falls off that bluff for good, indeed for the good of all? A stalling tactic? Not very likely, unless he is really crazed, since this would allow the forces that would be needed to enforce such a no-fly zone more time to be ready.

The questions are legion, greater than the number of tanks Rommel needed to roll over Libya in the 1940s. Are there secret negotiations with Qaddafi to spirit him and his bevy of female guards out of Tripoli to a safe haven in Caracas (why not Las Vegas for a show of shows)? And if an assassin’s bullet does pierce his security, is he expecting 72 virgins in Paradise? Could such a madman even be expecting paradise? I suppose he might be allotted a room with Idi Amin, if such despots are ever saved from the hell they make for their own people here on earth.

I make no predictions, not even in mirth. My hopes are with the vast majority of Libyans, who want to taste some semblance of freedom, to speak their minds, to afford a family, to raise their children, to have a decent job in their own country. Will these hopes fly now that the U.N. has weighed in? Time will tell, the easiest of all intellectually concocted copouts; but what will it tell us? Stay tuned.

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Arnold Shcherban - 3/23/2011

The Western media, going along (without any verification) with governmental statements, reported "hundreds of civilians" had been killed by Colonel Qaddafi's forces, the killings that served as an exclusive justification for military assault on Libyan regime.
However, we yet to get any proof of those statements and reports. (What we heard up to now is just hearsay.)
The whole Libyan affair looks more and more like Kosovo one, when greatly exaggerated number of Albanians, allegedly killed by Serb security forces (not already mentioning the number of Serbs killed by terrorist KLA, and Albanians in general), was used by the "usual suspects" (Western powers) as a justification for the similar "humanitarian mission"; in reality - taking away native Serbian territory to form illegal and ridiculous independent Kosovo state.
Which, of course, created unprecedented, in modern history, situation: ONE nation and ethnic group - Albanians - having TWO independent states (Albania, and Kosovo) bordering each other...

Arnold Shcherban - 3/23/2011

Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution of the USA says "Congress shall have power to ... declare War".
Therefore, President Obama violated his country's Supreme Law by engaging in the
military campaign/war against Libya.
Clear and simple.

Arnold Shcherban - 3/23/2011

Sorry, should be "February", instead of "November."

james joseph butler - 3/22/2011

Those Libyans actually attacked Americans going about their maritime business. Stephen Decatur is a hero because of a rescue mission not a bombing mission.

Keep it simple.

Arnold Shcherban - 3/22/2011

<Would Russia and China resort to Cold War negativism...>
The US alone negated (by using its veto power; the last time in November 2011), acting directly against the majority opinion, much more submitted SC resolutions than Russia and China combined, during Cold War and after, but... if not for that damn negativism of Russia and China...(?!)

Leopard, never changes his spots, indeed.

Arnold Shcherban - 3/21/2011

One of the America's core problems is the ABSOLUTISM with which it treats US constitution and the liturgies of its Founding Fathers.
The faster this country recognizes that ALL ancient moral, ideological, socio-economic, etc. ideals/principles are gradually becoming obsolete and inapplicable to ever changing world, the better off it will be.

Joseph E. Cavalli - 3/21/2011

I did! I did channel the founding fathers, Presidents Jefferson & Madison to be precise. They were busy planning US Naval operations against the forefathers today's Libyans in the Mediterranean near Tripoli...Obama might be wrong but the Founding Fathers have been there -done that.

james joseph butler - 3/21/2011

Once upon a time Colonel Quadaffi was loved by all but the most compromised Libyans and wasn't General Rommel everyone's only favorite Nazi?

There's one small problem with the No-Fly Zone; history, naturally Mr Loony Tune Ghadaffi exploits this. America, the West, the Crusaders, have never stopped using the Middle East for their own most self-interested and ignorant of reasons.

Decades after America used the Middle East to fill 57 Chevys and Billy Graham's dreams we find ourselves pariahs and saviors, the fullfillment of foreigners and oligarchs. Please, tell me, why the hell am I here?!

My sweet Libyan, or Toledoan,(Ohio), you are there because because there are times when then are discontinuties between this narrative, 2011, and the preceding 59 years.

When President Obama and the United States of America can stop embodying contradictions the whole world can start believing all the hoo hah that our founding fathers believed in.

If I was to channel those founding fathers they would say mind your own business and take care of Planet America. Obama wrong. Founding Fathers right.

Joseph Mutik - 3/21/2011

Libya has about 140 tribes, most of them against Qaddafi but part of them support Qaddafi. If Qaddafi is defeated, are the western powers going to intervene if rebel tribes, in the great Muslim tradition, begin to slaughter the tribes that support Qaddafi now?
A similar question about Syria. In 1982 Assad the father ordered his army to put down an upheaval in Hamah. About 20000 people were killed and the town almost erased. Are the western powers going to intervene if Assad the son will do the same as his father?
The road to democracy is a long process of learning and understanding. For example, in France after the French revolution took about 100 years till France became a real democracy. The only hope is that the Arabs will be able to learn faster?!

Arnold Shcherban - 3/20/2011

The so-called international coalition of the billing - oops, sorry - willing, has already violated the same SC resolution it has fully endorsed: instead of protecting "civilians" (really supporting armed rebels, whether they are right or wrong), they launched, essentially, indiscriminate bombing attacks that already caused civilian casualties, and supplied arms to the rebels,... to enforced the ceasefire.
Turkey alone, of all NATO members, rejected the support for the military attack on Libya, and rightfully so.
Only "a mad dog" observer would claim
that the purpose of that no-fly zone operation is not the regime change, as
the US and its partners stubbornly and ludicrously claim.
I bet anyone that as the result of the operation in question it will be regime change in Libya.
Any takers among "usual suspects"?