What in the hell are we doing in Libya?

A rebel emptied the pockets of a dead African soldier who had been fighting with Qaddafi's forces. - Patrick Baz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Have we learned nothing? Eight years to the day (March 19, 2003) that we launched the failed Iraq War, we find ourselves drawn into yet another war in a Middle Eastern country with absolutely no idea of what we are getting ourselves into. Let’s look at our rock-solid preparation:

-No congressional declaration of war.
-No stated exit strategy.
-No discussion of how much this will cost. (Haha, and I thought people cared about the deficit!)
-No honest discussion of whether we can achieve our stated objectives (of course, if you have vague objectives, you can always bullshit this one. See: Iraq War, Afghan War, Vietnam War…etc. Or, you can just blindly trust that America can do no wrong. It works out great in Middle Eastern wars!)

I rounded up some of the best commentary I’ve seen on the Libyan war so far:

James Fallows – The Atlantic:

Launching air strikes is the easiest, most exciting, and most dependably successful stage of a modern war, from the US / Western perspective. TV coverage is wall-to-wall and awestruck. The tech advantages are all on our side. Few Americans, or none at all, are hurt. It takes a while to see who is hurt on the ground.

But after this spectacular first stage of air war, what happens then? If the airstrikes persuade Qaddafi and his forces just to quit, great! But what if they don’t? What happens when a bomb lands in the “wrong” place? As one inevitably will. When Arab League supporters of the effort see emerging “flaws” and “abuses” in its execution? As they will. When the fighting goes on and the casualties mount up and a commitment meant to be “days, not weeks” cannot “decently” be abandoned, after mere days, with so many lives newly at stake? When the French, the Brits, and other allies reach the end of their military resources — or their domestic support — and more of the work naturally shifts to the country with more weapons than the rest of the world combined?

The United States Navy destroyer Barry fired Tomahawk missiles from the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday. The Pentagon said more than 100 missiles were targeted at Libya's air-defense systems. - Fireman Roderick Eubanks/U.S. Navy

Josh Marshall – TPM:

It looks more like once we’ve closed down Qaddafi’s air forces we’ve basically taken custody of what is already a failed rebellion. We’ve accepted responsibility for protecting them. Once we recognize that, the logic of the situation will lead us to arming our new charges, helping them get out of the jam they’re in.

So let’s review: No clear national or even humanitarian interest for military intervention. Intervening well past the point where our intervention can have a decisive effect. And finally, intervening under circumstances in which the reviled autocrat seems to hold the strategic initiative against us. This all strikes me as a very bad footing to go in on.

And this doesn’t even get us to this being the third concurrent war in a Muslim nation and the second in an Arab one. Or the fact that the controversial baggage from those two wars we carry into this one, taking ownership of it, introducing a layer of ‘The West versus lands of Islam’ drama to this basically domestic situation and giving Qaddafi himself or perhaps one of his sons the ability to actually start mobilization some public or international opinion against us.

Andrew Sullivan – The Atlantic:

The regime is shooting unarmed civilians at will – killing scores. We must surely stop this. Oh, wait. It’s Yemen, and we support the regime. Meanwhile, the Bahrainian autocracy, backed by the Saudi theocracy, “cleanses” its capital city of the symbols of democratic hope, with the assistance of foreign troops. But we are somehow able to resist the impulse to intervene – and maintain diplomatic relations with the royal family there.

The trouble with intervening somewhere is that it begs the question of: why not somewhere else? If the motive is entirely humanitarian, and involves no “vital national interest”, then how can it be compatible with allowing, say, the Iranian dictatorship to kill, shoot dead, torture and disappear countless Iranians who peacefully sought real change?

Yes, the Obama administration has now interjected American power into what was a few days ago a revolution entirely for the Arab world to resolve itself. My fear is that this decision was made without a thorough public airing of all the unanswered questions about unintended consequences. I worry that the West’s involvement will merely reignite the paradigm in which the Arab world is incapable of reforming itself without meddling from the West, and revives the danger of changing the subject from the malfeasance and incompetence of the various regimes to the broader argument about the Arab world’s relationship with the outside world. I remain of the view that, for reasons of prudence and constitutional propriety.

An injured captured soldier loyal to Col. Qaddafi is interrogated by a rebel soldier at the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi. - Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press

Glenn Greenwald – Salon:

After George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama, New York Times correspondent R.W. Apple wrote that starting new military conflicts is “a Presidential initiation rite,” that “most American leaders since World War II have felt a need to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood,” and that Bush’s order to attack tiny, defenseless Panama “has shown him as a man capable of bold action.” Just as the Founders predicted, allowing Presidents to order military attacks without the approval of the citizenry (through their Congress) has engendered a whole slew of unnecessary wars that serve the political and ruling classes but not the people of the country.

The dangers from unilateral, presidential-decreed wars are highlighted in the Libya situation. There has been very little public discussion (and even less explanation from the President) about the reasons we should do this, what the costs would be on any level, what the end goal would be, how mission creep would be avoided, whether the “Pottery Barn” rule will apply, or virtually anything else. Public opinion is at best divided on the question if not opposed. Even if you’re someone who favors this intervention, what’s the rationale for not requiring a debate and vote in Congress over whether the President should be able to commit the nation to a new military conflict? Candidate Obama, candidate Clinton, and the Bush-era Democrats all recognized the constitutional impropriety of unilateral actions like this one; why shouldn’t they be held to that?

Alex Spillius – Telegraph:

Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the outcome of military action from the air was “very uncertain” and made it clear that Washington did not see the goal of Operation Odyssey Dawn as removing the Libyan leader from power.

Opening up the possibility of a rift between the US and Britain and France if the Gaddafi regime does not crumble quickly, he said: “The goals are limited. It’s not about seeing him go. It’s about supporting the United Nations resolution which talked about eliminating his ability to kill his own people.”

Adm Mullen said it was “certainly potentially one outcome” that the mission could succeed while leaving Col Gaddafi in power.

So basically, we can blow a couple hundred million dollars launching Tomahawks and aircraft into Libya, only to leave a pissed-off, wounded Qaddafi in power. The only way we win is if the rebels are able to recover, push all the way to Tripoli, and then seize power from Qaddafi in a relatively short amount of time. Every single other outcome is a failure for American and NATO forces and a propaganda victory for Qaddafi. If Qaddafi doesn’t fall, what then? Do we maintain a no-fly zone indefinitely while waiting for the rebels to gain strength? Do we send in ground troops? Do we start targeting Qaddafi? We could always just walk away, but I doubt we as a nation have the moral courage to do that. Peggy Noonan had a great piece in the Wall Street Journal recently that was spot on:

Peggy Noonan – Wall Street Journal:

The biggest takeaway, the biggest foreign-policy fact, of the past decade is this: America has to be very careful where it goes in the world, because the minute it’s there—the minute there are boots on the ground, the minute we leave a footprint—there will spring up, immediately, 15 reasons America cannot leave. The next day there will be 30 reasons, and the day after that 45. They are often serious and legitimate reasons.

So we wind up in long, drawn-out struggles when we didn’t mean to, when it wasn’t the plan, or the hope, or the expectation.

We have to keep this phenomenon in mind as we chart our path in the future. It’s easy to start a war but hard to end one. It’s as simple as that. It’s easy to get in but hard to get out. Even today, in Baghdad, you hear that America can’t leave Iraq because the government isn’t sturdy enough, the army and police aren’t strong enough to withstand the winds that will follow America’s full departure, that all that has been achieved—a fragile, incomplete, relative peace—will be lost. America cannot leave because Iraq will be vulnerable to civil war, not between Sunnis and Shiites, they tell you now, but between Arabs and Kurds, in the north, near the oil fields.

Rebels gathered around the body of a fighter loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. - Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

SECDEF Gates lays it down.

I'm not messing around here, ladies.

Tom Ricks highlighted a good quote from a speech that Secretary of Defense Gates gave today at West Point. Money quote:

The need for heavy armor and firepower to survive, close with, and destroy the enemy will always be there, as veterans of Sadr City and Fallujah can no doubt attest. And one of the benefits of the drawdown in Iraq is the opportunity to conduct the kind of full-spectrum training — including mechanized combined arms exercises — that was neglected to meet the demands of the current wars.

Looking ahead, though, in the competition for tight defense dollars within and between the services, the Army also must confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements — whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf, or elsewhere. The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident given the likelihood of counterterrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response, or stability or security force assistance missions. But in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined,” as General MacArthur so delicately put it.

I ❤ Gates.

Al Jazeera: Special Report on the al-Huthi group in Yemen

http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/29DFC95B-1B57-4533-840C-EBEB265E98B1.htm

Badr al-Din al-Huthi, spiritual father of the group.

A Shia’ insurgent group in the province of Sa’da in northern Yemen, it traces it’s origins to Badr al-Din al-Huthi, and is known as al-Huthis, the Huthi group, or al-Shabab al-Mu’amin (The Faithful Youth).

The founding: Despite the actual appearance of the group in 2004 due to the breakout of its first battles with the Yemeni government, some sources trace its actual roots back to the ’80’s of last century.

In 1986, Itihad al-Shabab (Union of the Youth) was formed in order to educate youth of the al-Zaydiyya sect under control of Salah Ahmad Falita, and Majid al-Din al-Mu’idi and Badr al-Din al-Huthi were amongst its teachers.

As a result of the Yemeni unification that occurred in May of 1990, and the opening of the public square to numerous parties, the Union (of the Youth) transformed from educational activities to political planning via the Hazb al-Haq (Law Party) that represented the al-Zaydiyya sect.

al-Shabab al-Mu’amin Assembly: The (al-Shabab al-Mu’amin Assembly) was founded during 1992 by Muhammad Badr al-Din al-Huthi and some of his comrades as a forum for cultural activities, before undergoing dissension and discord (amongst the members).

In 1997, under the leadership of Husayn Badr al-Din al-Huthi, the assembly transformed from cultural publications to a political movement carrying the name Tundhim al-Shabab al-Mu’amin (The Organization of the Faithful Youth). By this point, Falita and al-Mu’idi had left the the organization and accused it of violating the al-Zaydiyya discipline.

By 2002, the organization had taken the slogan, “God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curses on the Zionists, Victory for Islam,” that they recited after every prayer.

Some sources indicate that the authorities’ ban on reciting the slogan was one of the most important reasons for the initial breakout of clashes between the group and the Yemeni government.

Leadership of the Group: During the first clashes with the Yemeni forces in 2004, Husayn al-Huthi, who had served as a representative in the Yemeni parliament after (wins) in the 1993 and 1997 elections, took charge of the leadership of the movement before being killed in the same year. Afterwards, his son, Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Huthi, took over command of the movement.

Soon thereafter, leadership of the movement was taken over by ‘Abd-al-Malik al-Huthi, son of Badr al-Din al-Huthi, while (‘Abd-al-Malik)’s other brother sought political asylum in Germany.

Ideological Leaning: Some sources describe the movement as of the Shi’a Ithna al-‘Ashariyya (Twelvers) branch, however, the al-Huthis deny this and assure that they haven’t turned away from al-Zaydiyya branch (of Shi’a Islam) despite their decision to join with the Ithna al-‘Ashariyya branch in some of their methods of celebrating Eid al-Ghadeer and the remembrance of ‘Ashura.

The Movement’s Goals: The al-Huthi group sees the current situation they live in as poisoned by restricted freedoms, the threat to religious doctrine, and the marginalization of the al-Zaydiyya branch’s scholars.

It seeks official approval for the party to issue civil and political publications, as well as founding a school accredited in all the various fields of knowledge, that includes the right of followers of the al-Zaydiyya branch to study the branch in (Islamic) law colleges.

However, Yemeni authorities emphasize that the al-Huthis seek to form a religious court and return (the country) to an al-Zaydiyya emirate.

Clashes with the Government: The al-Huthi group has rushed into a number of clashes with the Yemeni government since the crisis broke out in 2004.

The first wave of clashes broke out on 19 June 2004, and ended with the killing of the insurgency’s leader, Husayn Badr al-Din al-Huthi on 8 September 2004, according to an announcement by the Yemeni government.

Likewise, the second wave of clashes erupted on 19 March 2005 under the leadership of Badr al-Din al-Huthi (Husayn al-Huthi’s son), and lasted for around three weeks after Yemeni forces intervened.

At the end of 2005, renewed clashes broke out again between the al-Huthi group and the Yemeni government.

Note: For some basic information regarding the two Shi’a branches mentioned in this article, the Ithna al-‘Ashariyya and al-Zaydiyya, follow these links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelvers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaidiyyah

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Al Jazeera: News Summary, 27 Jan 2010


(Intro Music)

(00:11) Hello.

(00:13) The international meeting to determine how to best support Yemen and stabilize the country started today in London. The American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, arrived in London today to participate in the meeting that is being attended by 24 countries.

(00:32) In other news, the Washington Post newspaper quoted American officials who said that American teams were working in secret operations with the Yemeni Army against the al-Qa’ida organization. The officials clarified that American advisors helped plan an operation against al-Qa’ida in December of last year.

(00:51) The United Nation’s sections committee announced today that the names of five previous members of the Taliban were scratched off a list of those described as involved with terrorism. Diplomats believe that this step paves the way for the conference in London on Afghan affairs that will be held tomorrow.

(01:10) The official (1m) in Sri Lanka announced that the current President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a second (presidential) term. The (Sri Lankan) army surrounded the headquarters of the opposition leader for the second time. (The opposition leader) requested the protection of one of the neighboring countries.

(01:25) The spokesperson for the South Korean Ministry of Unity spoke about the country’s stance in the face of Pyongyang’s decision to implement a “no-sail” zone in a contested area between the two countries, saying that it was “still under review.” Pyongyang and Seoul had exchanged fire the previous day in the contested area.

(01:46) An official in the Lebanese army said that they will expand the search area for the remains of the wrecked Ethiopian airline if the black box is not found today. The official said that improving weather conditions will help further facilitate the (search) teams’ mission.

(02:04) Until next time…

(Exit Music)

Al Jazeera: News Summary, 26 January 2010

(Intro Music)

(00:11) Hello, and welcome to this news summary.

(00:13) Iraqi Police said that at least 17 people were killed and another 80 injured in a car bomb explosion in front of the Criminal Forensics building belonging to the Ministry of Interior in downtown Baghdad. They added that most of the victims were members of the Police.

(00:31) The office of ‘Abd-al-Malik al-Huthi reported that his group completed its withdrawal from Saudi Arabian lands, while the spokesmen for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense has already said that the al-Huthis had already been pushed back by (the Saudis) from the land that they had taken.

(00:47) Lebanese authorities (announced) that hopes had diminished of finding passengers that survived the crash of an Ethiopian plane shortly after takeoff from the Beirut airport two days ago. Officials from the Civil Defense (force) indicated that the efforts are now focused on finding the bodies of the passengers as well as the black box recorder.

(01:08) The summit for countries neighboring Afghanistan began its activities today in the city of Istanbul, Turkey, with the participation by the Presidents of Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The summit is dealing with how best the summit’s participants can provide solutions to Afghanistan’s problems, as well as building bridges of cooperation between its neighboring countries.

(01:28) A French Parliamentary Committee called for a ban on the Niqab (Islamic head covering) in transportation offices and areas, nationwide. The committee’s report states that the Niqab displays a rebellion against the republic and freedom. The French Minister of Justice warned against a ban on the Niqab, and (he said) that there was no way to enforce it.

(01:50) Thus ends the summary, until next time…

(Exit Music)

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Al Jazeera: 18 killed in new explosion in Baghdad

http://aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/B32F96E6-B23F-4E39-B4F4-EB317271F673.htm

Smoke rises from the Investigations and Criminal Justice building.

This morning 18 people were killed and another 80 injured in a car bomb attack targeting the Iraqi Ministry of Interior’s Directorate of Investigations and Criminal Justice in Hayy al-Karada in downtown Baghdad.

Sources within the Iraqi Police said that a number of the victims were from their ranks, and they indicated that the Directorate’s building collapsed due to the explosion.

The sources added that the body count is expected to rise, especially since the targeted building normally has a large amount of people (in it) at that time.

A rescue team has already been successful at extracting a number of injured from the rubble of the building that had tens of employees in it before it collapsed.

From his point of view, a photographer belonging to the Reuters news agency said that ambulances and civil defense vehicles rushed to the scene of the incident, adding that the building had suffered vast damage.

It’s worth mentioning that Baghdad had witnessed a new string of car bombings yesterday despite intensified security measures. (The attacks) targeted three hotels and resulted in 36 dead and 71 wounded.

The two attacks came on the same day that the Iraqi Government announced the execution of ‘Ali Husayn al-Majid, the previous Iraqi Minister of Defense and cousin of the late Iraqi President, Saddam Husayn.

Likewise, these attacks also came just a few weeks before the Iraqi elections set for this coming March 7th and could represent a blow for Nuri al-Maliki’s government, according to observers.

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Al Jazeera: al-Huthi announces an initiative to end fighting

http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/F058CFDD-1850-49CC-BBFE-0FF840FFE911.htm

al-Huthis accuse Saudi Arabia's army of advancing into Yemen.

The leader of the al-Huthi group, ‘Abd-al-Malik Badr al-Din al-Huthi, announced a “withdrawal from all Saudi locations,” in a new initiative that he said was the third (try) to put out the crisis’ fuse as well as the clashes on the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

al-Huthi said in a voice recording released on one of the websites, “We announce our carrying out of a full withdrawal from all Saudi positions and from all land that is under control of the Saudi regime, and emphasize that our seizure of those locations was completely necessary in order to combat the enemies coming from there.”

Likewise, al-Huthi threatened to open what he called multiple new battlefields, and all out war, in the event that Saudi Arabia continues its operations and refuses the initiative.

On this point he said, “If after this initiative the Saudi regime continues its aggression it will find that it has commenced an invasion into our lands, and this will give us the right to open multiple new battlefields and launch an all out war. This is what will happen if it’s aggressions continue after this initiative.”

al-Huthi (also noted) that he believes that the civilians have suffered the most in this war, and he accused the Saudi Forces of what he calls indiscriminate bombing of the cities and villages, and all aspects of civilized life.

He also said that the initiative comes about to spare the blood of Saudis and Yemenis, and indicated that the al-Huthi’s operations didn’t target Saudi soil, and in that context he (described) what he called attempts to distance Yemenis from the border and form a buffer area.

Likewise, he believes that there is no justification for Saudi Arabia in this war, and described his initiative as a valuable opportunity, “That should be appreciated by all reasonable people in the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia),” as he put it.

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