Op-Ed: Western Powers Critical To A Stable Libya
NEAL CONAN, host:
The fighting continues in Libya, nearly four weeks after NATO intervened with a U.N. mandate to protect civilian life. To some, it's beginning to look like a stalemate. In an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, Rajan Menon argues that stalemate seems unlikely. If you have questions about the way ahead in Libya, give us a call. 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Rajan Menon is a professor of political science at the City College of New York and joins us from our bureau in New York City.
Nice to have you with us today.
Professor RAJAN MENON (City College of New York): Thank you.
CONAN: And you say that when plotting a possibility to end the civil war in Libya, well, there are several different alternatives.
Prof. MENON: I see three possible alternatives. One is that NATO's dream comes true, which is to say that Mr. Gadhafi's military units and militias get pummeled and defections and desertions increase and the regime collapses. That is certainly what NATO is hoping for. In the meantime, that's not happening. They have no game plan.
The second possibility is that Gadhafi is overthrown, and folks on his side sue for peace and try to create a transitional government. They ask for immunity, the right to participate in the political process. That is going to be a very difficult issue because the people who would overthrow Gadhafi would presumably be senior people with a lot of blood on their hands and therefore not the kind of people that the opposition would like to deal with.
The third possibility is some sort of partition of Libya into two -Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, these being the traditional historical names for east and west Libya. That too is going to be tenuous because there's going to be a battle for stable borders, who controls oil and whatnot.
CONAN: That third scenario, people have talked about it, but it seems also that politically neither faction can abide the existence of the other.
Prof. MENON: That's correct. If you look at the history of partition, it's very difficult to see this happening in a benign fashion. These are two sides who fought each other now for well over a month. There have been massive casualties, civilian casualties on the side of the opposition.
If there is to be a partition, there are all sort of issues to deal with. Borders, as I have mentioned; control of the oil wealth; what exactly the institutional arrangement will be on each side; and down the line, I think it will be almost unavoidable that one side or perhaps both will try to remake the partition in a way that better favors it, possibly with the involvement of outside parties.
CONAN: Possibly with the - that's another issue. There are outside parties involved right now. NATO air forces are participating. They say it is not our instruction under the Security Council resolution to act as the air force for the rebel army, and yet you have rebels who assume that their purpose is to do just that.
Prof. MENON: Well, you could have fooled me, because the fact of the matter is that the tide of the battle would not have turned to the degree to which it has in favor of the opposition, resistance, rebels, call them what you may, had it not been for the NATO air campaign.
The - it is true that Resolution 1973 passed by the Security Council does not authorize or call for the removal of the Gadhafi regime, but just about all the participants, the key participants - the British, the French and the United States - have in one form or the other said that Gadhafi must go.
Indeed, President Sarkozy, even before Resolution 1973 was passed, recognized the rebels as the government of Libya.
CONAN: Yet there's a difference between a political aim and saying we'll put air traffic - we'll put forward air controllers on the ground. You call in airstrikes. We'll hit that tank over there.
Prof. MENON: That may be, but the fact of the matter is that had NATO not intervened, there would be no way that the opposition would be doing as well as it has.
CONAN: I understand that, but yet it's not doing well enough to dislodge Gadhafi from the gates of Ajdabiya or indeed to drive him away from Misrata in the west.
Prof. MENON: Precisely. Hence the other two hypothetical possibilities that I spoke about. The fact is that NATO, I think, had a reasonable expectation -unreasonable in my view - that waging war from afar, Gadhafi's forces could be hit hard enough where the regime would unravel. Well, we are about 26 days, give or take, into this campaign. That has not happened. The question is, what is what is plan B?
CONAN: That's another question that has yet to be answered. Our guest is Rajan Menon, a professor of political science at the City College of New York. If you have questions about the way ahead in Libya, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com.
And let's go to Craig(ph), Craig is with us from Charlotte.
CRAIG (Caller): Hi. I guess my question is, Obama's said a couple of times now that there's not going to be any U.S. boots on the ground in Libya. Is that going to be a realistic scenario going forward? And I'll get the answer off the air.
CONAN: Okay, Craig. Thanks very much.
Prof. MENON: Yeah. Could you repeat the question? I couldn't hear all of it.
CONAN: He said, President Obama said several times there would be no U.S. boots on the ground in Libya. Is that realistic going forward?
Prof. MENON: Yes, I think so. I find it very hard to imagine a circumstance in which the president, given that we have two major wars on our hands, i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan, would put American troops on the ground. The president was very reluctant even to go as far as he has gone in the opening days, as was Defense Secretary Gates. So boots on the ground, I don't think so.
But something else has to be done because this involvement of NATO and two Arab states, Qatar and the UAE, in what is a civil war cannot continue as it is because there has been no result or, certainly, there hasn't been the hoped-for result.
CONAN: Well, no U.S. troops on the ground. What about British or French troops?
Prof. MENON: I find it very hard to imagine that, which is why I think that there is a decision point that's been reached. Either this thing sorts itself out in the way that NATO hopes it does, sort of spontaneously, that is the regime collapses, or we go into one of the other possibilities.
CONAN: Which would be waiting for someone in Gadhafi's inner circle to have done with him or waiting for some sort of rapprochement and division.
Prof. MENON: Correct. For instance, even if the tide of battle does not turn dramatically against Gadhafi, the regime - the elements in the regime could calculate that in the long run they are done for. And it will not take rocket science on their part to figure out that Mr. Gadhafi is an obstacle to any kind of settlement. So if they get rid of him, then the possibility is for the formation of a coalition government. That then brings up all sorts of other questions about how stable the coalition government is and so on. But that's one way this could sort itself out.
CONAN: There is also the question of what might change things. And we've seen at least reports, credible reports that the Gadhafi forces are using cluster bombs in Misrata against civilian areas. If there were even larger-scale civilian deaths in a place like Misrata than there are now, might that - might not that provoke some sort of recalculation?
Prof. MENON: Well, it may or it may not. Misrata, as you know, is Libya's third city. It's about 130 miles east of Tripoli, about 500,000 people or so. And the reports we have coming out from there show that there are significant civilian casualties, people trapped inside without adequate access to medical care, having great difficulty getting out.
Now, as long as the air campaign does not exact a toll on Gadhafi that he believes is unacceptable, his instincts will be to ratchet up the pressure on Misrata because that is the one area in the west that is still contested ground.
CONAN: There are ships going in and out cautiously to take out the injured. Could you see a change and use of naval forces to intervene, to protect lives in Misrata?
Prof. MENON: I can't tell you that that will happen but I could certainly foresee it as a possibility.
CONAN: Let's see if we get another caller in. Let's go to Steve, Steve with us from Longwood in Florida.
STEVE (Caller): Hi, there. This is Steve.
CONAN: Go ahead. You're on the air.
STEVE: I just had a comment. NATO sent the forces in to help the people there that are supposedly under threat from Gadhafi himself. But I think it's kind of a hypocritical statement that they also say they're not - their goal is not to get rid of Gadhafi because threat's going to always be as long as he's there. That's all.
CONAN: Okay, Steve. Thanks very much for the call. And the United States, Britain, France have all said, yes, the goal - political goal is to get rid of Gadhafi. The United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 we referenced earlier does not authorize that. It just says you can use force to protect civilians. It does not say you can use force for the purpose of regime change.
And at this point, you have to think, Rajan Menon, it would be difficult to get a more - a wider resolution passed in the Security Council.
Prof. MENON: That is correct, because you know that a number of states, including Germany, a NATO member, abstained from resolution 1973. Now, on the other hand, the French, I believe, have said that given that the current application of military force is not doing the job, either to protect civilians or to bring down the regime, there may be the need for a follow-on Security Council resolution.
But if there is debate on such a resolution, I find it very hard to believe that any language about regime change will be inserted into it, not least because the Russians and the Chinese, I don't think would support it.
CONAN: After the Russians and the Chinese both abstained on the last Security Council resolution and seemed to issue statements saying they regretted that after they saw the scale of NATO action in Libya.
Prof. MENON: Correct.
CONAN: So the possibilities of a wider ambit for - do you see, though, that -there are also reports that some in Egypt - again, a place that's not exactly well-organized at the moment - but at least some in Egypt are helping the rebel forces in Libya. Might there be a possibility that the outside forces you spoke of could include Libya - Egypt rather?
Prof. MENON: It's possible. But the fact of the matter is that we are in a situation now where given that British and French firepower - and that's basically what this is, largely a British and French operation, all talk of coalitions and so on notwithstanding to the contrary - if their firepower cannot do the job, then it will be time for the United States, Mr. Obama, to think about what else the United States can do. And it has assets like Warthogs and AC-360 aircraft that can really take a much heavier toll on Mr. Gadhafi's armored forces.
But I think even under those conditions, we're looking at a war that could continue in its present flow or trajectory for quite some time yet.
CONAN: We're talking on the Opinion Page this week with Rajan Menon. He wrote a piece called the - he's author of the book called "The End of Alliances" and wrote an op-ed called "The Future of Libya" in the Los Angeles Times. You can find a link to that at our website. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get Steve on the line, Steve with us from West Haven in Connecticut.
STEVE (Caller): Yes, hello. I have a quick question. I'll try and make it quick as possible and get out of the way. At this point in the game - this has gone on this long - maybe your guest can speculate on what it is that Gadhafi's -the forces that are loyal to Gadhafi right now, what is it that they might know that we don't know because why haven't they've seen a dead end yet? I mean, is it a question of running out of money, running out of bullets? I mean, they got to be seeing a dead end. And I'll take my comment off the air. Thank you.
CONAN: Okay, Steve, thanks.
Prof. MENON: Well, one possibility is that as unpopular is Mr. Gadhafi is both in Libya and the outside world, of course, that he has rather more of a base of support than we would like to think. The second is that elements of the regime, there are enough of them who have concluded that with him they sink or with him they survive, and so there is, in a sense, a fight to the death. In addition to the regular Libyan army, there are substantial militia units commanded by two of Gadhafi's sons, Khamis and Moatessem. And so the fighting forces are there.
It's hard from NATO to conduct sustained operations because of recent weather conditions and also because it's mindful of civilian casualties. And so I think as the tide of battle goes on and the regime makes advances - at the moment, we're hearing that Ajdabiya in the east, which has been involved in a seesaw battle between Gadhafi and anti-Gadhafi forces, is moving into Gadhafi's hands at least temporarily - they see hope.
CONAN: Let's go next to Ken(ph), and Ken with us from Greenwood in Missouri.
KEN (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
KEN: How are you today?
CONAN: Very well. Thank you.
KEN: Okay. I got a - just a simple question as to why the president and the French and the British supported, you know, saving Benghazi from a mass murder and humanitarian crisis, but yet allow Misrata to continue in that direction. I just don't - just kind of like a double standard thing to me, you know? I understand you touched on that subject before, but why is saving, you know, Misrata - I know there's a lot of people there, but Misrata with all those oil workers and everything there, to me that's just as important a place as Benghazi. And I'll take my question...
CONAN: Well, one question to - back to you, Ken: If that involved sending troops in on the ground, would you then support it?
KEN: No, I got a feeling that there's other ways of achieving this.
CONAN: All right. Well, thanks, then, very much for the call.
KEN: Yes, sir.
CONAN: What do you think, Rajan Menon?
Prof. MENON: Well, Benghazi, of course, is not the problem now. It is, as the caller correctly said, Misrata. And he's put his finger on a very important point, which is to say that when you get involved in what has now become a civil war and you pronounce that involvement is necessary because there is, quote, "a humanitarian catastrophe," then you have sort of raised the bar and questions such as the one the caller posed arises. That is to say if we are three-plus weeks into this and there is indeed a humanitarian catastrophe in Misrata, why isn't more being done, given that the rationale for getting involved in this was to save civilian lives?
The answer to that, I think, is that when it comes to doing anything else, close air support, let alone troops on the ground, the game changes substantially. And I don't think anyone in Washington or London or Paris has the stomach for that kind of involvement.
CONAN: There is another longer-term question - and I don't mean to dismiss the suffering going on in Misrata or Ajdabiya for that matter. But ultimately, is not the opposition, the rebels' goal simply to not lose? If they just hang in there, eventually they'll win.
Prof. MENON: Eventually, they'll win or there'll be a partition or there'll be a coalition government; whether they can win outright remains to be seen. But, you know, the problem is that in the short run, a lot of people are going to die. If you assume that eventually you will win, what you are saying is that at some point, Gadhafi will feel so much pain that he'll cry uncle. Well, if he is to feel that degree of pain, there has - there have to be some withering attacks on his forces, which will inevitably mean that the war, as we see it now, will be prolonged.
CONAN: And after that, of course, there is going to be yet another period of trying to figure out where things go in Libya, what the new government is, who's involved, what groups need to be represented and what happens next. But that's a question for another time.
Rajan Menon, thank you very much for your time.
Prof. MENON: My pleasure, thank you.
CONAN: Rajan Menon is professor of political science at the City College of New York. And he joined us from our bureau there. He's the author of a book called "The End of Alliances" and of the op-ed we've been talking about, "The Future of Libya," which appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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