As operation Odyssey Dawn unfolds in Libya, its time to watch American fireworks again. Hours after the passing of Security Council resolution 1973, more than a hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired into Libyan territory by the U.S. Navy. Foreign Policy has a hilarious article on how its open season on Libya: the resolution effectively authorizes any country to bomb it. Reports that a missile hit Qaddafi’s compound generated a lot of internal debate in Western governments on whether he was was legitimate target.
US mass media fiercely debated whether the cost is too much, given that each Tomahawk missile costs more than a million dollars. Talking heads worry about whether Obama has conceded leadership to the undependable Europeans. What survives of the left has argued endlessly that this is just another case of US imperialism.
There is much discussion on what the aims of the coalition ought to be. Should it effect a regime change? Many foreign policy observers have pointed out that we do not know what we are buying. No one really knows what a rebel government would look like. Critics are unhappy that the West rushed into a military campaign without delineating specific goals. The Economist lead story points out the time constraint on intervention given that the regime’s forces were closing in on rebel controlled Benghazi.
Its clear that the dynamics on the ground will dictate the course of events in Libya. Much depends on the fate of Misrata, which was being pounded by the regime until the allied air assault destroyed most of the governments heavy weaponry. According to the briefing, “If it [Misrata] cannot be saved, or the cost of doing so is deemed too high, the coalition would be sending a signal that there is not much it can do to prevent Colonel Qaddafi consolidating his position in the western half of the country”. We might be looking at a partition here.
I do not agree with my radical friends that the West should not intervene in Libya. [Mike makes an almost convincing argument in this genre.] Short of an occupation, almost any form of military intervention is better than letting the Colonel crush the democracy protestors. There is a lot of garbage about regime change not being an objective, and squeamishness about targeting Qaddafi himself. This is absolute nonsense. The CIA could use one of its thousands of predator drones to locate and take out the Colonel. The regime would crumble with the least amount of collateral damage. The current strategy of air assault on government forces and the imposition of no fly zones is not nearly as effective and certainly more deadly. There have been reports of dozens of civilian casualties already. [Update: Professor Juan Cole makes a much better case than I can possibly muster.]
On the other hand, this is certainly a distraction from the loci of greater relevance. The United States is fully supporting its client regimes in the Persian Gulf as they brutally crack down on democracy activists in Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Hamas is crushing internal dissent and poking Israel, with Israel responding dutifully with air assaults; thus consolidating Hamas’ control of the Gaza strip.
The action has clearly moved to Syria where tens of thousands are protesting in Deraa. So far the Assad regime has opted for repression. Major demonstrations are happening today and the security forces are cracking down.
We need to watch the events unfold across the region, especially in Yemen and Syria. The Arab spring is far from over.
[Update 3:42PM: Almost within the hour, Syria has grabbed the headlines.]