Mission transformation in Libya

After vowing that "regime change" would not be the goal, he vows to continue bombing until Gadhafi is gone

Topics: Libya,

(updated below)

Barack Obama, March 28, 2011, explaining America’s involvement in the war in Libya:

Of course, there is no question that Libya -– and the world –- would be better off with Qaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

Barack Obama, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, joint Op-Ed, yesterday:

The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes

Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. . . . However, so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.

Whatever one thinks about this war limited humanitarian intervention on the merits, this is not the mission that Obama cited when justifying America’s involvement. It’s the opposite:  ”broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake” v. “so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations.” To claim that “regime change” is subsumbed under the goal of ”protecting civilians” is to define that objective so broadly as to render it meaningless and, independently, is to violate Obama’s explicit decree at the start that regime change would not be the military goal.  Finally, note the blithe dismissal of the very limited U.N. Resolution that initially justified all this: it does not provide for regime change in Libya by force, acknowledged the three leaders, but that, in essence, is what we’re going to do anyway (continue “operations” until he’s gone).

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Two other points: (1) Juan Cole had posed questions to me the week before last regarding the U.S. mission in Libya; I was unable to answer them due to extensive travels that week, but most of his commenters thoroughly supplied the answers I would have:  in particular, the notion that NATO’s actions exist prior to and separate from the U.S.’s will is a fiction. “NATO” could and would fight a war like this only if the U.S. wanted that to happen.

(2) I was scheduled to speak next week at Berkeley, Stanford, Claremont McKenna and a couple of other California events, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I’m now unable to travel that week and was forced to cancel those events.  My apologies to the event sponsors and anyone else inconvenienced by my cancellation.

 

UPDATE:  Writing yesterday in The Boston Globe, University of Texas Professor Alan Kuperman makes a compelling case “that President Barack Obama grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya.”  He also argues that “US interference has prolonged Libya’s civil war and the resultant suffering of innocents.”  I’m not adopting all of his arguments, but they are well-argued and definitely worth reading.

Glenn Greenwald
Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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