Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Libya "Civil War" - and America's Unending Ones

As noted by several commentators today, the Associated Press has made its call to now designate what's happening in Libya a "civil war" - even if (as Ihsaan Tharoor posts at Time's Global Spin) a number of journalists have seen it as such for quite awhile now.  Tharoor goes on to discuss what it definitely is not - including "humanitarian intervention" (because it's well and truly become a war for regime change), an al-Qaeda jihad (the rebels are too diverse), or a Western colonial crusade.

Tharoor also makes the point that it's much more than how Team Obama now describes it: "hostilities" in which the US is not directly involved militarily, since US warplanes have not been actually bombing Libya for quite awhile now.  On this rather bent reed, Team Obama has therefore declared to Congress that Mr. Obama is not in violation of the War Powers Act, which otherwise would have required him by now to gain re-authorization from Congress for continued military involvement in the Libyan what's-its-name.  Reported the NY Times:
two senior administration lawyers contended that American forces have not been in “hostilities” at least since April 7, when NATO took over leadership in maintaining a no-flight zone in Libya, and the United States took up what is mainly a supporting role — providing surveillance and refueling for allied warplanes — although unmanned drones operated by the United States periodically fire missiles as well. They argued that United States forces are at little risk in the operation because there are no American troops on the ground and Libyan forces are unable to exchange meaningful fire with American forces. They said that there was little risk of the military mission escalating, because it is constrained by the United Nations Security Counsel resolution that authorized use of air power to defend civilians. “We are not saying the president can take the country into war on his own,” Mr. Koh said. “We are not saying the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional or should be scrapped, or that we can refuse to consult Congress. We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of ‘hostilities’ envisioned by the War Powers Resolution.

I know the analogy is far from perfect, but this kind of hair-splitting by government lawyers smacks too much of the kind of sophistry that John Yoo and other Bush administration worthies resorted to in order to provide legal cover for torture of suspected terrorists.  That the legal team representing a president who was elected in the sincere hope of a change from that kind of nonsense confirms for me again that Mr. Obama's policies are in large part a continuation of what came before him.

And equally perturbing is the report that Team Obama
  • has been negotiating with Hamid Karzai's government for the establishing of long-term military bases in Afghanistan - bases that will ensure a US presence well beyond 2014.  Lindsey Graham will be pleased.
  • has authorized the construction of a new US base (in a country not identified) from which the CIA can ramp up its recently renewed drone warfare against militants in Yemen.  As Reuters reported, this drone campaign will face significant problems:
 officials said disorder in Yemen was hampering the agency's efforts to expand its activities. Yemeni government disorganization and, more recently, anti-government protests have made it difficult to set up the kind of physical infrastructure and deploy equipment needed to run a drone program, officials say. Also, these complications have made it difficult for U.S. agencies to collect the kind of precise targeting information needed for conducting drone-borne missile attacks while insuring that civilian casualties are kept to a minimum.
All this at a time when, in what we really ought to be calling the US war in Pakistan, the CIA has likewise taken the lead via its drone campaign there, which, virtually every day now, chalks up several more killings of "suspected militants."  The Pakistani leadership is now demanding - for real, in closed-door meetings, according to the WaPo report - that the US cease and desist.  (Indeed, Pakistan's reported detention of the local informants who tipped off the CIA to Osama bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad may have been motivated as payback for the drone attacks and other humiliations that the US has visited upon the Pakistani military.  As Time reported,
The informants' arrests come on the heels of the CIA's allegation that the ISI may have tipped-off militants based at bomb factories in Waziristan. As first reported on, CIA chief Leon Panetta (and the likely successor to Defense Secretary Robert Gates) traveled to Pakistan last Friday to confront [ISI chief Ahmad Shuja] Pasha with satellite images showing the militants flee the two sites within 24 hours of the CIA passing on their location to the Pakistanis. When Pakistani troops later arrived at the facilities used for the manufacture of improvised explosive devices, the pro-Afghan Taliban militants were long gone. The Times reported that it was at the same meeting with Pasha that Panetta raised the arrests of the informants. 

Such alleged failures at intelligence sharing and action against militants who attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan are what led President Barack Obama to clear the intensification of CIA operations in Pakistan. Shedding the reliance on the ISI, Obama charged the CIA to proceed independently. One manifestation of that change of policy was an intensification of drone strikes, which almost daily continue to target suspected militants in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. Despite the Pakistan Army and government's loud denunciations of the covert program, they have not tried to put a halt to them.

By striking a defiant nationalist pose, Pasha may be hoping to stanch the wave of pressure that has been piling on his institution, and his own position, over the past month. The ISI chief had offered to resign on three occasions. The Pakistani military as a whole has been made the focus of unprecedented criticism from civil society campaigners, journalists and opposition politicians. There is also tremendous pressure from below, with the military's lower ranks registering anger at the U.S. in the wake of the bin Laden raid.

At some point, perhaps very very soon, the Pakistani leadership may have to decide - foreign aid or no foreign aid - that the US is a hostile power, and take steps to shut down US operations in Pakistan.  As the WaPo reports, the consequences could be dire:

The Pakistanis have . . . significantly downgraded the U.S. presence at Shamsi, in the country’s remote southwest, where the CIA launches it drones, and have told their U.S. counterparts they want the program shuttered altogether. Without use of the drones, the United States would be left with few options for directly confronting al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other radical Islamist groups that operate out of the tribal areas. U.S. officials have said that the aircraft could be launched from inside Afghanistan. But such a program would risk an additional confrontation, should the Pakistanis attempt to intercept them with ground or air fire.

And more than once, Pakistani political leaders have organized sit-in protests that have closed roads vital to supplying fuel and other necessities to US-NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Team Obama are not likely readers of The Nation, but they could do worse than to read Katrina vanden Heuvel's essay on how the presence of US military bases worldwide wins us few friends:

The plain truth is that the staggering resources we spend to support an empire of bases isn’t making us more secure. Instead, they fuel resentment and consume resources desperately needed to invest here at home, as well as targeted development aid that could be used more wisely and efficiently by non-military experts.

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