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Phyllis Bennis: U.K. Sends Troops into Libya as International Coalition Expands Mission to Include Regime Change

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As NATO continues its campaign against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and to their attacks on Libyan civilians, Great Britain announced today it will send military officers to advise rebels fighters. “This is exactly the kind of escalation that many of us warned against on the evening that the U.N. first passed its no-fly zone resolution,” says Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, who opposes U.N. intervention in Libya. “What we’re seeing is a clear commitment on the part of NATO and the U.S. for regime change—exactly what the U.N. resolution was not designed to do.” [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, who’s written a number of books, including Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s United Nations. She has a different view of the intervention.

Phyllis, why are you opposed?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Solely in the military terms that we have seen this time around, we inevitably have the problem of consequences. There are humanitarian consequences. The U.S. and its allies appear to be using depleted uranium bombs in Libya, which is going to have enormous consequences for the future of Libya. We see political consequences in terms of the U.S. and its allies ending up, as they have in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, in control of the post-intervention government that gets created.

The Libyan opposition emerged in the context of the regional uprisings, in the context of the Arab Spring. But there are consequences to the choice that the Libyan opposition made, different than the choices made in other countries in the region, to take up arms very early on. They were oppressed terribly. And the response of the regime to the initial nonviolent protests was a brutal one. That was also true in several other countries. It was true in Bahrain. It was true in Yemen. It was true in the first days in Egypt. But when the Libyan opposition chose to take up arms, there are consequences to that choice. One of those consequences now is that what’s desperately needed, Amy, is negotiations and an immediate ceasefire. And the United Nations, which should be in the position of being able to play the role of key global negotiator, is unable to do so in this case, because the U.N. itself has become a military participant in the now-civil war inside Libya. So the consequences have been very extreme.

AMY GOODMAN: NATO Brigadier General Mark van Uhm spoke minutes ago to reporters about NATO’s success with its campaign against Gaddafi forces.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: NATO’s actions are part of a concerted campaign to degrade Gaddafi’s regime’s capability to harm civilians, not only now in Misurata and Ajdabiya, but in the long run, across the whole country. We are steadily degrading his command and control capability and his ability to sustain forces on the ground. We are maintaining a high operational tempo, and we adjust operations on a daily basis against what is clearly a rapidly changing environment on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: And British military officers — this is just breaking on BBC — will be sent to Libya to advise rebels fighting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. The foreign secretary of Britain, William Hague, says the contingent would advise rebels on military organization rather than how to run the combat campaign. He said the group will be deployed to the opposition stronghold of Benghazi. Phyllis Bennis?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: You know, this is exactly the kind of escalation that many of us warned against on the evening that the U.N. first passed its no-fly zone resolution that had the language “all necessary measures,” that it would lead to boots on the ground. There have already been boots on the ground in the form of intelligence agencies, the CIA and others, who are already operating on the ground. Now we’ll see it on a larger scale. What we’re seeing is a clear commitment on the part of NATO and the U.S. for regime change — exactly what the U.N. resolution was not designed to do. And what we’re hearing now is a sort of playing with words among NATO countries — the U.K. and France, in particular, that had been the most aggressive in wanting to escalate and take an official position in support of regime change in Libya — and instead of saying, “Well, that is not within the NATO mandate or the U.N. mandate,” because countries like Turkey, and as well as Germany, have played a very key role in trying to limit the mandate of the international intervention, instead they’re simply saying, “We’re going to go in unilaterally alongside the NATO contingent, the NATO military strike,” very much what the U.S. has done historically in places like Bosnia, places like Afghanistan, places like Haiti, where it has sent intervention — military intervention forces, air strikes, etc., alongside international engagement.

And it not only confuses the issue of who’s in charge — that’s not my concern. My concern is that it leads to an inevitable escalation in the interest of those outside powerful Western countries in their effort for regime change and gaining control. In the situation in Libya, this is not like Iraq. This is not a, quote, “war for oil.” Gaddafi’s regime was already in bed with the U.S., with Italy, with the U.K., with France, with Western oil companies, Western governments, since his regime’s rehabilitation of 2002, 2003. So the problem was not “We can’t get access to Libyan oil.” It’s far more complex. It’s part of a response to the growing — the rise of the Arab Spring and the end of the U.S.-backed dictatorships that have controlled the Arab world for the last 50 years. With the demise of that system, because of this extraordinary popular uprising of people throughout the Arab world that are saying “No more,” that are overthrowing the years of fear in their countries, overthrowing dictatorships, the U.S. is now looking, along with its allies, for new ways of making sure that they will still control how that region, as a whole, will be governed. Will it be governed by pro-Western, neoliberal, pro-oil-company kinds of governments? Or will it be governed by something else that represents a very different interpretation of what democracy looks like, of what an economy should look like? These are questions that Libyans should be deciding for themselves. The problem is, when you have British ground troops and American jets and NATO forces controlling, NATO forces acting as the air strike component of the opposition in Libya, then, inevitably, when the fighting is over, you will have those forces in control.

What looks to happen, more likely than anything else right now, is the continuation of this kind of military stalemate: the country of Libya largely be divided between Gaddafi’s regime maintaining control in the west with the billions of dollars that his regime has garnered over the years, and the east, where most of the oil is, with a — acting as a kind of Western-U.S.-NATO-British-French protectorate under the control of a mixed group of rebels based on and reliant on and dependent on those Western forces to keep them in power.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, I want to thank you very much for being with us, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Among her books, Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s United Nations.

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