Monday, March 21, 2011

The Libya "Intervention" May Last "a While" - Even as Yemen Heats Up

Thus reports the AP (via SF Chronicle).  . . . . and the longer it lasts, the more potential for unforeseen developments that will complicate things and extend the whole mess even longer . . . and get more people killed.  Tony Karon has much to say on this at The National, where he also makes it quite clear that the "coalition" - though legally empowered under the UNSC resolution to protect civilians - has actually entered what's now a full-blown civil war, on the side of the rebels:
Mr Obama's "days" could very easily stretch to "weeks", or even longer. Indeed, if the regime survives the "shock and awe" of the initial foreign intervention, the western powers that are running the campaign will find themselves locked in to a longer and more complex war than they intended. Given the fate that awaits him if he quits, Col Qaddafi has plenty of incentive to raise the stakes and hope that limited political resolve forces his adversaries to fold. And having armed his most committed supporters, as the rebels have done, Col Qaddafi has helped ensure that even in the best-case outcome, foreign troops may be needed on the ground to keep any fragile peace that emerges, while a new Libyan state is created on the ruins of Qaddafi's personality cult regime.

But no one wanted to talk about end games - either a strategy for removing Col Qaddafi, or what would follow his ouster - last week as the tyrant's forces bore down on Benghazi. This war was forced by an urgent need to do something to stop Col Qaddafi crushing the rebellion and butchering tens of thousands of civilians. The "realist" camp in the Obama Administration, led by the defence secretary Robert Gates and the national security adviser Tom Donilon, were focused on strategy, consequence, and end-game, and on that basis warning Mr Obama against getting involved in a conflict whose outcome was not vital to US national interests. But Col Qaddafi's blitzkrieg tipped the scale in favour of humanitarian military intervention, as advocated by the US secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her top adviser Samantha Power, and Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN.

Despite Mr Obama's statements on limits of the engagement, the realists know that wishful thinking will count for little. The urgency of responding to Col Qaddafi's march on Benghazi with murderous intent had prompted Western leaders to set aside questions of an endgame in launching military action.

Interventions that are not guided by a strategy, but by good intentions, don't always lead to happy outcomes. The enemy usually has some ideas of his own about how the war will be fought.
And meanwhile, in Yemen, we may be on the cusp of a civil war.  A top general (who's also belongs to the same tribe as Mr. al-Saleh) has declared in favor of the protesters ("the youth"); but the defense minister says that the military supports the president.  Tanks have now been positioned around Sana'a, including at the presidential palace.  And there's absolutely no assurance that, if a military coup overthrows the president, the result will be a more democratic Yemen.  As a Chatham House expert (Ginny Hill) notes for the BBC,
With Gen Ali Mohsin's defection, long-standing competition between different factions within the regime has finally been exposed.

Now, Yemenis are waiting to see what happens next, and Twitter is buzzing with speculation. Many Yemenis are expressing jubilation, or stunned disbelief, at the prospect that Mr Saleh might be removed from office after more than 30 years in power. Others are warning of a massacre - or civil war.

Pro-democracy protesters are nervous that their popular revolution will be hijacked by established military and commercial interests, who will simply nominate a new face to govern the country without making any substantial changes to the status quo.
What then? Whom does the US support, especially given its past support for al-Saleh, who's seen as a stalwart against the rising influence of al-Qaeda in Yemen, but whose forces have killed dozens of protesters?  If al-Saleh - who has vowed to hold out - decides to use loyalist forces (assuming that some forces are indeed loyalists) to hammer civilian protesters, how will the proponents of the new R2P doctrine ("Respond to Protect") - experts such as Samantha Power, whose work I've admired, but whose heart may be bigger than what the US can really tackle - respond?

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