THE ROVING EYE The West bombs, the Arab League ducks
By Pepe Escobar
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History will surely register the irony that the new war doctrine of United
States President Barack Obama took shape on board Air Force One on the way to
deeply pacifist Brazil; then in a message delivered to America from Brasilia
Odyssey Dawn was launched from the tropics, and not from the Mediterranean);
and finally in a war room set up in sunny, sexy Rio.
Here are the parameters.
1. The Pentagon must conduct a "limited operation" with no ground troops
involved (think the 1990s Bill Clinton approach to Bosnia and Kosovo).
2. The US is part of a "coalition" (of the willing), but is not leading it
(think the opposite of George W Bush in Iraq).
3. The operation is to "protect civilians", and not about "regime change" (once
again Clinton trumps Bush).
4. It's all based on "solid international legitimacy" – conferred by UN
Security Council resolution 1973, which is more explicit than the one
authorizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to act in Kosovo (not
to mention the non-existent resolution for Bush to bomb Iraq).
Yet immediately after the Tomahawks started flying the White House ran into
trouble. The "limited operation" - as in bombing Muammar Gaddafi's air defenses
and military installations - may be practically over, and the Americans are
dying to be relived of the heavy lifting. But who's going to be in charge?
General Carter Ham, the head of the US Africom and the present commander of
Odyssey Dawn, pretty much summed it all up, saying, "The first thing that has
got to happen is identification of what that organization is."
You fight, we watch
It won't be the Arab League, whose vote for a no-fly zone over Libya has been
extensively pimped by every single Western diplomat as laying the groundwork
for the United Nations resolution. But then Arab League secretary general Amr
Moussa backtracked, saying the attack had gone beyond the initial objective,
which was to protect, not kill, civilians. And finally the demagogue,
opportunist Moussa got his marching orders again from the House of Saud (who
pushed heavily for the no-fly zone); another about face and he said the
resolution was fine.
What is never mentioned by Western corporate media is that among the 22 Arab
League members it was Saudi Arabia - as leader of the six-member Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC) - which obsessively lobbied for no-fly to apply
(thanks to visceral bad blood between King Abdullah and Gaddafi (see
The Odyssey Dawn top 10 Asia Times Online, March 22); and that only
Qatar will actually send a maximum of four of its Mirage fighters (no one knows
when). Even though Obama personally called Sheikh Khalifa, the United Arab
Emirates (UAE) backtracked from sending its jets and will only assist in
The head of the GCC, Abdul Rahman bin Hamad al-Attiyah, insisted in Abu Dhabi
that Qatar and the UAE were part of the "coalition" - but he refused to explain
how. As for the King of Bahrain, Hamad al-Khalifa, he preferred to dabble on
how the tiny kingdom had thwarted an "external plot" to undermine its security
and stability; he also profusely thanked the Saudi invasion forces who are now
helping him to repress any peaceful protests.
The GCC/Arab League astonishing dithering and hypocrisy is compounded by the
outright hostility of the African Union (AU) to the "coalition", expressed by a
communique from Nouakchott, Mauritania, calling for "an immediate end to all
attacks". The AU only demands that Gaddafi makes sure "humanitarian aid"
arrives for those who need it.
This explodes the myth that the "international community" is behind Odyssey
Dawn. The Arab dictatorships - which once again have sanctioned an attack on a
Muslim country - are scared to death of the backlash from their populations if
"collateral damage" balloons.
The Arab blogosphere is saturated with accusations that the UN and the Arab
League have sanctioned a shameless Western plot to get Libya's oil. The African
countries are mostly against it. The key emerging powers - Brazil, India,
Indonesia, Turkey - are not part of it. The four top BRIC members (Brazil,
Russia, India, China) all abstained from the UN vote.
China has been very much aware that in both Africa and South America - where
its business interests are now rivaling America's - support for the "coalition"
is minimal. And Russia has gone one step beyond; according to Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin, "The resolution is defective and flawed ... It allows
everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades." True: Russia has weapons
contracts with Libya to the tune of US$4 billion, half of it pending. No wonder
Pentagon supremo Robert Gates has not managed to convince Moscow to support the
This means this "coalition" is in fact all about the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO). Or is it?
There's a major catfight going on inside NATO. No one knows how to interpret
this "allow everything" resolution. In Britain, the Ministry of Defense swears
that taking out Gaddafi is not part of the mandate (mirroring Gates, who said
it would be "unwise"). But the David Cameron government thinks this is all
about regime change. As it is in practice for the Obama administration - see
everyone from President Obama to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
insisting "Gaddafi must go".
France - following President Nicolas Sarkozy's Napoleonic syndrome - doesn't
want to relinquish command to NATO. Other NATO members loudly complain that the
Anglo-French plus the US monopolize all the decisions.
Turkey, extremely worried about civilian deaths, and most of all worried about
preserving its current very good standing in the Muslim world, is adamantly
against a NATO intervention - calling instead for a review of other possible
strategies and even for an immediate Western ceasefire. Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan said, "Military intervention by NATO in Libya or any other
country would be totally counter-productive".
In this context, it's absurd to believe - like the proverbial think-tank
suspects - that a NATO intervention modeled on Kosovo would be "a success". In
1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days; dropped no less than 20,000 tons of
bombs; and produced thousands of "collateral damage" - all in the name of
humanitarian "protection" of Albanians in Kosovo. The Srebrenica massacre, by
the way, happened after NATO imposed a no-fly zone over Bosnia.
League of crooks
The Anglo-French-American consortium leading Odyssey Dawn has fallen for its
own propaganda - blindly convinced that the Arab League is on board. And even
if the Arab League were totally on board, this means Odyssey Dawn is endorsed
by the very nasty people the great 2011 Arab revolt is trying hard to get rid
The Arab League's position is based on two very shady motives. One is King
Abdullah and the House of Saud's obsession on taking out Gaddafi. The other is
Moussa's campaign to become the next Egyptian president. Moussa takes orders
from the House of Saud while trying to seduce Washington to support his bid for
The UN resolution has nothing to do with a ceasefire. The "rebels" themselves
already said they would settle for nothing except regime change. The resolution
points towards regime change - no matter what the British and American
militaries are saying. Expect more cruise missiles visiting Gaddafi's compound
in Bab al-Aziziya.
If Gaddafi holds, things will get even messier. Under international law, his
regime will still be legitimate. He may even invoke the right to fight against
an armed insurrection trying to topple his regime - in fact much more of a
right than the dictatorships in Yemen and Bahrain, who have been shooting
The real test for the new Obama war doctrine - and its European minions - will
be how to get regime change without a land war. Yet history may rule that just
like in Georgia, Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo or North/South Korea, we may
be on our way to kiss unified Libya goodbye.