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2011-03-21

No-Fly Zone Enacted as U.S. and Allied Forces Launch Air Strikes on Libya Amid Growing Concerns for Civilian Safety

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Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. She’s written several books, including Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s United Nations.

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U.S. and allied forces have launched a second wave of air strikes on Libya to enforce a no-fly zone. Targets have included Libya’s air defenses, forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi, and Gaddafi’s fortified compound. The attacks on Libya began on Saturday, the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The Arab League had supported the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya, but Arab League Chief Amr Moussa criticized the U.S.-led air strikes. For analysis, we speak to Phyllis Bennis with the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. "The U.S. government is going to great lengths to convince the U.S. public and the world that we are not leading. But right now, at this military beginning stage, there’s no question that the U.S. is in command," Bennis says. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: France, the U.K. and the U.S. continued attacks from the air and sea against Libya through the weekend. Late Sunday, they hit Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s Tripoli headquarters with a missile. U.S. Vice Admiral William E. Gortney insisted at the Pentagon on Sunday afternoon that the target of these attacks was not Gaddafi. Russia has called on the United States, Britain and France to halt "indiscriminate use of force."

Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, called for an emergency meeting of the Group of 22 states to discuss Libya. He requested a report into the bombardment, which he alleged had "led to the deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians." Moussa said, "What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians."

In an interview with Meet the Press Sunday, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, declared the mission a success.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN: We are actually — started yesterday a limited operation, and narrow in scope, focused on supporting the United Nations Security Council resolution, which very specifically focused on the humanitarian efforts, protecting the civilians in Libya. And I’d also say that operations yesterday went — went very well. Certainly, the — and putting in place a no-fly zone, which is what we’re — what we’re doing right now, and effectively — he hasn’t had any aircraft or helicopters fly in the last couple days, so, effectively, that no-fly zone has been put in place.

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss international intervention in Libya, we’re joined by Phyllis Bennis in Washington, D.C. She directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, has written several books, including Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s United Nations.

Phyllis Bennis, is the United States dominating the attack on Libya right now?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: At the moment, it absolutely is, Amy. There’s been a lot of talk, and it’s an indication of the differing position of the U.S. in the world at the moment, that the U.S. government is going to great lengths to convince the U.S. public and the world that we are not leading. But right now, at this military beginning stage, there’s no question that the U.S. is in command. U.S. officials have said that they intend to turn over command and control power to the coalition in the next few days. Whether that happens, we’re not sure. But right now, there’s no question that, although the first actual attacks came from several French jets, it’s been the U.S. cruise missiles, fired from ships off the coast of Libya, that have been the opening salvos. And it still is U.S. commanders that are ordering the attacks.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that this takes place on the anniversary of the U.S. attack on Iraq.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Absolutely. And there are extraordinary, dangerous parallels here, both to the 2003 invasion of Iraq eight years ago, also to the 1991 U.S. war against Iraq, where you have more of a parallel of the U.S. bribing and threatening and punishing other countries to force a vote in the U.N. Security Council to bring a veneer of legality, even though there was no real legitimacy, just as they did this time. You had, in this case, a vote of 10 in favor and five abstentions; no one voted against. And one of the big issues, of course, is why Russia and China, who both were against this resolution, did not vote against it, which would have stopped it, would have vetoed it; why South Africa voted for it; why Brazil, Germany and India abstained, rather than voting against. There are some very serious questions here about what kind of pressure might have been brought to bear on those governments to arrange that kind of a vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis, talk about the role of the Arab League and the African Union.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Both of them played a very key role in making this happen. This was an interesting situation, Amy, where, unlike 1991, the U.S. was not initially in favor of establishing a U.N.-based no-fly zone over Libya. There was a fear among some, particularly in the military in the U.S., that a no-fly zone alone wouldn’t be enough, that they wouldn’t be able to do their job. And so, for some, they said, "Well, we shouldn’t endorse it." The position of Hillary Clinton, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, Samantha Power, others in and around the State Department, said, "Well, in that case, let’s get a different resolution. Let’s get a resolution that goes way beyond a no-fly zone." And to do that, we can only do it with legitimacy, according to President Obama’s own view, if we have the Arab League and African support.

As a result, they went to the Arab League, were able to get the Arab League to support a rather vague resolution before the U.N. voted, that said there should be a no-fly zone. It was very cautious, and it made a lot of caveats about how there should be no foreign troops on the ground, no real foreign intervention, but it did support a no-fly zone. The African Union was far more reticent, and ultimately it became clear that the African Union was not going to sign on, so we heard a shift in the position of the U.S. administration, where all of a sudden we were no longer hearing that we need Arab and African support. We were just hearing, "We need Arab support," because that’s what they knew they could get. They did not get the Arab — sorry, the African Union on board.

And indeed, as you mentioned, since the bombardment began, which of course has gone way beyond a no-fly zone, as according to the U.N. resolution, the African Union has tried to send a delegation to Libya to begin negotiations between the two sides. The U.N. refused to give them permission. It’s not clear who was in that position of authority to authorize or not authorize — and in this case, refuse to authorize — the African Union delegation from going to Libya.

The position of the Arab League has shifted, as well. As you mentioned, the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, the Egyptian, has said that what the U.S. and the French and the Brits have done has gone way beyond the no-fly zone that the Arab League supported, even though Libya — sorry, even though Lebanon, as a member of the Security Council, the only Arab member of the Council, voted in the name of the Arab group, the Arab League itself, saying that they supported the U.N. resolution, which of course called for military strikes far beyond a no-fly zone. So, right now, the U.S., the French, the Brits, along with several other European countries — Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy — are carrying out a military attack on Libya without support from either Arab or African forces.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s their goal, Phyllis, finally?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: This is the big question. There’s no question that the political goal is the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi. The U.N. resolution is very clear that the only use of military force can be for the protection of civilians, not for the ouster of anyone. So there have been separate statements — we want Gaddafi out, Gaddafi has lost legitimacy, etc. — statements that seem to indicate that even negotiations might not be acceptable, but the official position of the military is we are there to protect civilians. How that’s going to happen if bombing raids continue on Libyan cities is a very big question.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, thank you very much for joining us, directing the Internationalism — New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Among her books, Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s United Nations.

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