Keeler on Libya

I was interviewed on Russia Today…well…today. Here is the video:


15 thoughts on “Keeler on Libya

  1. Obama’s War? Give me a f*&% break! There goes people in the media once again putting an outrageous title on something that is not warranted to draw more eyes to a situation. As a student of journalism, journalism has just gone totally down hill in its commentary and objectiveness! The situation in Libya wouldn’t be classified as a war in the truest sense. It is at best a conflict. To use the word war would imply that Obama has sent massive troops to Libya to fight Qaddafi’s army, in a deliberate and planned power struggle, which he hasn’t. In media, words matter, not just by their denotation but by their connotation. To suggest this is “Obama’s War” would rise it to the level of scrutiny equal to that of the wars started by G.W. Bush (Bush’s Wars), and that would be preposterous! It is a hopeful situation in Libya in the sense that the people are trying to topple their dictator, but to suggest that this “conflict” falls solely on the shoulders of the United States of America just because he gave assistance to these rebels is another example of blame overreach. If the US had not been involved, then whose war would it be? Would you say it was Sarkosy’s War or the Prime Minister of UK’s war (which if i’m not mistaken, has just as many ships and soldiers deployed as the Americans). The people on the ground from the US tend to be spies from CIA, not combat soldiers, to gather intelligence for airstrikes, but that intelligence is used cautiously and basically as a backup to the rebels. The UN is not performing strikes before the rebels. It is as if you are implying the UN has taken over the fighting for the rebels, and this is not the case.

    1. Mark – how is the intervention not war? Obama cited it as ‘kinetic military action’ in an attempt to get around the war powers act, but even democrats were questioning this rhetoric. I mean come on, the US was engaged in a regime change operation that involved the use of hundreds of bombs dropped on a foreign country and well as extensive use of our military support/intelligence? At best a conflict? Seriously? You don’t need to send in troops to be active in a war (though there was certainly a planned power struggle). This was, by any legal definition, a war. The only reason that people tried to define it in any other way was to get around the war powers act. I call it Obama’s war because it was started by Obama and was justified by a new brand of interventionism that had never really been employed – so by calling it Obama’s war, I am actually distinguishing it from Iraq and Afghanistan, two wars that were started by a different president for different reasons.

      Moreover, I meant to use Obama’s war in a domestic context. Perhaps that was unclear, but it was in response to a question about Obama’s priorities. As far as domestic opinion is concerned, the decision to enter Libya is strictly Obama’s (whereas he inherited Iraq and Afghanistan.) If Libya descends into chaos or if there is any kind of prolonged insurgency, Obama will have to face the American people for his decision to help create that situation. And yes, I would call it Sarkozy’s war and Cameron’s war – but in reference to domestic politics in both countries.

      And the international forces routinely bombed Qaddafi strongholds to clear the path for rebels. In that sense they are most definitely performing strikes before and for the rebels. I am most certainly not implying that the UN (I would rather say US/England/France) took over fighting. If you watch the video, I say that there was a mutual dependence. Foreign airstrikes would not have been enough, and the rebels alone would not have been enough. I mean, listen to it Mark, I tried to emphasize the importance of the role of the rebels. Watch the video and try to point out where I am wrong instead of trying to put words into my mouth.

      1. Whose side are you on exactly? And I don’t mean that in the sense of “you are either with us, or against us” but in the sense of a basic sense of justice for a people in a land struggling for their basic rights and freedoms. The situation is simple: Qaddaffi is a dictator. He intimidates his people. His regime denies people economic opportunities and their civil liberties. The people have decided “enough is enough”. They were encouraged to take considerable action after observing the results of Egypt. However, as you know, the Libyan rebels approach was one I do not agree with because they used violent tactics, as opposed to non-violent protest as the Egyptians relatively did.

        But since the Libyan rebels have chose this strategy, and Qaddaffi responded in kind, the question is what should the US/UN do? Should they assist the rebels against Qaddaffi military might, or take a wait-and-see approach? or do nothing? And remember, Obama only became involved on certain conditions. Once those conditions were met, then he assisted.

        It seems to me that your focus is not on whether the Obama Administration should assist the rebels, but rather how much of an assistance. From your position, it is apparent that the US/UN’s assistance was either too much or too destructive. And if their assistance is anyone of those, then cry me a river! I would think it would be ridiculous and even irresponsible as world leaders to let Qaddaffi use the arm of his regime against his own people who don’t have the resources to fight him as they struggle for freedom. The rebels were small cheese, and as the saying goes, “you can’t bring a knife to a gun fight.” So they asked for assistance from the US/UN and they received bigger guns, so now you are criticizing the President and the UN for giving the rebels bigger guns…Come on, Chris. Come on.

      2. You are bringing up a couple of different things here:

        – Should the US/UN intervened in the first place?
        – After the intervention started, was it done effectively?

        Before I go into either question, I would like to preface that it was pretty clear that Qaddafi was not a good leader and that getting rid of him will be – in the long run – best for Libya. For all the reasons you mentioned and a million more, Qaddafi was not good for Libya. But:

        – I originally opposed the intervention because:
        – it revealed major hypocrisy by those who support the R2P doctrine – the major, initial justification for intervention (why intervene in Libya but not in other countries)
        – there was never a set, concrete goal
        – the possibility for mission creep (which is precisely what happened – slipped from humanitarian to regime change)
        – the argument that intervention demonstrated American support for the Arab Spring in general in bogus (see: Bahrain, late shift on Egypt, Israel/Palestine)
        – the argument that intervention would deter other dictators is bogus (see: Syria – while this is hindsight, it is also an argument I made before the intervention)
        – there are no real American interests in Libya – minuscule oil export to US, trade, employment etc. – ie intervention in Syria would have furthered American interests more

        As for the second question:

        – After the intervention started, it was executed very well by the US/France/Britain
        – The lead from behind approach worked well for Obama

        In response to your last paragraph:

        Once the decision to intervene was made, I do not think that it was too much or too destructive. It was clearly an effective mix of aerial bombing by NATO and aid and training to rebel ground forces. My point in the interview is simply that after overthrowing a dictator that has based the governance of his country on himself, rebuilding the country after this war will be incredibly difficult. It is highly likely that corruption will be everywhere as more money is released to the country as there is a complete lack of transparent institutions; there is a massive proliferation of arms and even the smallest violent outbreak will create havoc for the TNC’s mission to bring elections to Libya; there are still many Qaddafi loyalists that may or may not continue fighting – as they see the rebels not as liberating the country but preforming an illegal coup; there are 140-something tribes, 30 major tribes, 48 different independent militias, and several Qaddafi strongholds left in the country. There are clearly major problems that will make the job of the TNC much, much more difficult, to the point where it should be easy to predict post-conflict disagreements and perhaps violence.

        Moreover, every single one of these problems were predictable. From an American point of view, Obama can currently claim victory in Libya because of the fall of Qaddafi (though he must still push for Qaddafi’s capture). Should an insurgency begin – and there is no reason to believe that one could not form – the decision to intervene will be revisited. Consider the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Mission Accomplished moment. After Bush’s speech, the insurgency began and everything went wrong. Though there are not American troops on the ground, I am wary of having a mission accomplished moment only to watch Libya fall.

        Lastly, I’d like to say that intervening in every conflict in which oppressed rebels ask for assistance is a bad foreign policy that will inevitably lead to overstretch. Other thoughts?

      3. Your reasons for opposing the intervention needs to be revised. You failed to recognize certain facts and/or realities that influence foreign policy decision-making.

        1) Why intervene in Libya and not the others? First of all, Libya has no political relationship with the US/UN. They are not allies. Some of the other Arab countries are, therefore a delicate balance must be applied for economic or diplomatic reasons. For those countries, it is better to take a wait-and-see approach. Why would America or the UN risk their diplomatic relations with their allies by bombing Bahrain, or Egypt, and others, etc. That would be ludicrous. These countries are strategic strongholds for the US/UN in order to fight against Iran, who has made no bones of expressing it’s distrust or dislike of Saudi Arabia (a US ally), Kuwait (a US ally), UAE (a US ally), Oman (a US ally), and on and on and on. In diplomacy, everything is not black and white, so i don’t believe it was hypocrisy.

        2) No set or concrete goal? I thought their goal was to support and give resources to the rebels. That’s not a goal?

        3) Why was there mission creep? This seems to be a matter of semantics. Humanitarian encompasses a wide range of things depending on how you look at it. Wouldn’t it be humane to get rid of a dictator so that the people can live freely? And the only way for that to happen is to change the regime. And the only way to change the regime is to fight it. I think their “regime change” mission is a natural progression of the humanitarian one. They are connected entities in this case. You talk as if they are separate, and I think this is naive.

        4) the intervention demonstrated American support for Arab Spring is bogus? No, it is not bogus for the same reasons i mentioned in number one. But further and a more important distinction between Libya and the other countries is that the other countries never asked for US/UN assistance. The protesters wanted to fight their regime on their own without outside intervention. Now, if they had asked for assistance, then that would have been another story.

        5) there is no real american interests? of course there is. if Libya becomes a democracy, then relations between the two countries could improve and, as a result of a more tolerant government, trade between the two countries could occur and spur economic growth, with Libya getting the most benefit. Libya may even sell their oil to the West cheaper than the Saudis, but who knows? And it is not just oil. They can export/import other goods thereby creating more jobs in the country for its people. And even if it is minuscule for the US, it is not minuscule for Libya. However, “minuscule” is kind of wrong too, because any american business or libyan business for that matter can make money by selling their goods there, and no businessman thinks that making any amount of money is “minuscule.”

        In regards to your response to the last paragraph of my previous post, the only thing i can say is, if you look at world history, any regime change caused by violent means ALWAYS resulted in a certain level of corruption as interest groups position themselves for power. That is nothing new and that would never change, which is why they should have done it non-violently. But even by doing it non-violently doesn’t completely get rid of corruption. It just makes it less so. There is no way you can avoid any kind of corruption in regime changes. But with all of that, the downtrodden would rather have that than to go backwards. At least by going forward, there is a sense of hope which is more important to them right now than what will happen in the aftermath. But corruption could be reduced if a free-Libya asked for assistance in the setting up of a new government guided by western countries. That’s if they want it. Now, if they don’t, then the US/UN can pack up and leave and leave them to do it themselves, which i think is what they desire anyway.

      4. These are all good points, but they all lead me to the same question: Why has the US/NATO not intervened in Syria?

        Syria does not have a relationship with most western countries – in fact, it is worse than no relationship, it is a country that supports groups like Hezbollah, a country that already has long standing sanctions, and a country that actively messes with western goals in the region (specifically Lebanon.) If Syria were to become a democracy, would not the same advantages be there?

        1) The US supported Mubarak until it was clear that he was gone. You are correct about Bahrain – the US 5th fleet is there and there was no reason to suspect that the US would support the protesters there. But please tell me why the US/NATO is refusing to intervene in Syria or – outside the Middle East – Cote d’Ivoire? Of course the US is not going to bomb its allies, but why intervene in Libya and not in Syria?

        2/3) Read the UN resolution 1973. The goal of the intervention was to protect civilians. At what point is this accomplished? The initial mission was enacted in order to protect the people of Benghazi. The intervention went from NFZ, to aerial bombing, to intelligence support, to regime change. How is this not mission creep. Just talk to any of the Russians who are now sponsoring a UN resolution specifically calling out the US coalition on mission creep. The UN did not authorize regime change, nor did it authorize bombing missions. To say that there was no mission creep is to ignore why there was an intervention in the first place.

        For the record, the goal was never- NEVER – so support the rebels. It was to protect civilians. The move from protecting civilians to supporting rebels is the definition of mission creep.

        4) For exactly the same reasons I mention above, the intervention in Libya has shown Arabs that US actions do not follow some moral code. The Arab Spring is about the ideals of freedom and democracy. By not acting in Syria or Bahrain or Egypt the US proved to Arabs that the US only supports the Arab Spring where it benefits the US. For Arabs this means that the US does not support the Arab Spring in general. As you say, the US acts differently where it has close relations and this is exactly why Arabs are unsure of American support for freedom and democracy.

        5) Of course there are advantages to a democratic Libya. But if that is the level of national interest needed for intervention, why has the US not intervened in other nondemocratic places? North Korea has some resources that the US could use – why not intervene there?

        You have not done anything to show me why intervention in Libya was a good idea. If the US had a set of morals that they used to guide their foreign policy they would have pushed for action in Bahrain, Syria, Saudi etc. But they act according to interests. Does the US have any interests in Libya other than business would be better?

      5. You still failed to acknowledge the important distinction between Libya and the other Arab countries. They did not ASK for outside intervention. This is a very crucial element in whether to decide to intervene or not. It is important because it strips the opposing government of creating propaganda that suggests that the protests were influenced or funded by the West, which was a very popular tool for these governments in the past. The protests in themselves would prove to these governments that they occurred because certain elements in their system of government are flawed.

        As far as whether the intervention was initially to protect civilians and not the rebels is semantics also. Aren’t the rebels civilians? Therefore, aren’t they entitled to protection? And isn’t part of that protection is too provide them with the resources to fight Qaddafi?

        And does the US have any other interests in Libya other than business? Of course not. I don’t know what world you are living in, but most, if not all, diplomatic relations has an economic component to it. A country may have a resource that another country may need so they form relationships. If this is not their main goal, what do you think these diplomats are meeting for? To play tiddlywinks?

        Come on, Chris. Come on.

      6. So we should intervene whenever an opposition group asks for support? That hardly sounds like a sustainable foreign policy.

        And the difference between civilians and the rebels is a legal difference – and an important one. According to international humanitarian law, there is a distinction between civilians and civilian forces, ie rebels. Check out here for example : So not only is supporting rebel forces outside the mandate, we were doing more than just providing them with resources. We were actively bombing government strongholds – that is not protecting civilians. The fact that countries were angry about the way the intervention involved simply proves that it is not a semantic difference.

        My point about interests is that if the only American interest in Libya is the business potential, then we should be invading many other countries as well. You are trying to justify the intervention by saying that the US could have better economic relations with a post-Qaddafi Libya. That is a terrible foreign policy. The US did not step into Libya because of morals – if that was true they would have stepped into Bahrain and Syria. They didn’t do it to scare other dictators into peacefully with protesters – because that clearly did not work. There was no American interest in Libya other than the potential for better economic interests?

        It seems as though you are supporting regime change in order to improve an economic relationship – international law be damned.

        Come on, Mark. Come on.

      7. Should we intervene whenever the opposition asks for support? Well you are asking me to answer a simple yes/no, but it is not as simple as that without reviewing history of foreign policy decisions when dealing with the Arab world. Here is how I see it, and probably many world leaders see it too (I’m not sure, I’m just guessing). The Arab world, as you know, is primarily composed of Islamic governments. Many of their laws are based on Sharia law. As you know, many of these governments are ruled either by demagogues or religious zealots who misinterpret the Quran (the basis for sharia law) in such a way that denies certain civil liberties to their people. These governments, however, wanted the economic benefits of capitalism (but not for their people, but rather mainly for the privileged, who took oil money and invested it the West). The West promotes (or at least tries to) civil liberties for all people (women, gays, minorities, etc.) and this is what some Arab governments feel is a threat to their power and/or Islamic culture (you should read Orhan Pamuk books). So in order to preserve their power, they had suggested to the populace that civil liberties articulated by the West were degenerate forms of freedom and were an affront to Islam. And the people essentially swallowed that garbage. In the past, the US/UN essentially didn’t know how to deal with this situation, and I would admit that past US leaders couldn’t wrap their heads around this situation and have taken very questionable and even horrible strategies in the Middle East to gain allies there. Many times the US moved unilaterally in regards to the Middle East, and sometimes its results were not the best.

        The Obama administration and the UN know this and are determined to not make the same mistakes in the 21st century. Although those in power in the Arab world want to limit civil liberties, the people in these countries covet the ideals of the West. But Arabs are also prideful people. A little too proud if you ask me. They want to do things themselves.
        The problem with Arabs (and I being a Muslim and having studied Islam for some time now) is that they are having trouble striking a balance between the ideals of democracy and the ideals of Islamic theocracy. They can’t seem to understand or don’t want to understand that one could not be a true muslim if you have total freedom for people because certain people would be considered undesirable (i.e. gays, liberated women, even certain ethnic groups) leading to behaviors that Islam consider haram. Essentially, these muslims want the benefits of a democracy, but they also want to keep a certain level of strict Islamic culture. And we all know from American history that you have to separate the church from the state, and many of these Arab countries cannot or will not accept this idea because Islam has a political history. If you study Islamic history, you will see that religion and politics went hand and hand when Muhammad was spreading his message. But that is a dissertation, so I want go into it here.

        In this century, the West has decided to remain cautious. So yes, in the context of reviewing history, understanding the mentality of Arabs and Arab leaders and a better understanding of the history of Islam, when it comes to the Middle East, we should intervene ONLY IF the people ask for it.

        Your point about civilians and rebels is valid, but it is not practical in a real world situation. The website you linked to even acknowledge that it is difficult, if not impossible to determine when a civilian is considered a rebel. Although they have guidelines, those are just that–guidelines. Guidelines do not address all situations. I’ve read the guidelines and essentially it says that as soon as a civilian takes up arms they lose their immunity status of civilian and therefore are not entitled to protection.

        But this doesn’t seem humane at all if you look at it in a practical sense. Look at it this way. A group of civilians become rebels and fight against the government with little resources. But the government is too powerful and crushes them instantly. Another group tries, and again the same thing, and on and on and on. In a violent revolution such as Libya, without military resources, rebels cannot defeat Qaddafi. So the guidelines theoretically suggest that the rebels of Libya are not entitled to protection. That they, therefore, must fight for their freedom with the resources they already have (stones and Molotov cocktails). Are you kidding me? Any rational person would say this is unfair.

        Lastly, I was not trying to justify the intervention by saying that the US could have better economic relations with a post-Qaddafi Libya. I was saying that it would be the natural result of a post-Qaddafi Libya. The economic relations, in this case, are secondary. The primary is regime and governmental change. Once the government has changed, it is still up to Libya to decide whether they want an economic relationship with the West. They could rather decide to have only diplomatic relations (i.e. military relationship/become military allies). But in our modern times, with a global economy, I doubt that would happen. They will probably choose both.

      8. Good stuff Mark – though you touched on some pretty complex stuff. One thing I would warn of is making the mistake that a) all Arabs are Muslims and b) All Muslims want sharia law. Of course the first is a minor semantic point as most Arabs are Muslim, but it must be pointed out (“The problem with Arabs (and I being a Muslim and having studied Islam for some time now) – again minor semantic point”). But there are plenty of Muslims who reject the idea of sharia law. Take the example of Egypt – one of the most religious countries in the regione – the revolution was mainly driven by liberals and secularists that desired a secular democracy. The introduction of the Brotherhood and myriad other religious groups show that the Islamists will inevitably play a role, but they will be forced to moderate by the leftist groups. This will again be the outcome in Libya (once political parties are started and organized). But again, these two point are tangental.

        Of course we should only intervene when asked. That was not the question – the question was whether we should intervene EVERYWHERE that asks. If Syrian protesters asked the US in intervene would you support that? Such a mission would lack UN legitimacy (Russia and China have already said they would not support it) and would likely have little to no support from NATO (many European government were worn out by Libya, Turkey ruled out intervention and Germany is likely to sit out again). If Bahrain protesters had asked for an intervention would you have supported an action that put the US against the Bahraini and Saudi allies? Yes the US should only intervene when asked, but that does not mean that it should intervene everywhere it is asked to. Intervention should only occur when the US is asked and when there are US interests at stake. In Libya the only US interest at stake was the potential for a better global partner.

        Re: difference between rebels and civilians

        Yes the article did say that the difference was iffy at times. But in Libya, it was clear that the US moved from protecting civilians to proactively fighting on the rebels side. This shift is an unquestionable violation of the UN mandate. Why it practical to assume that the intervention would do no more than protect civilians? Probably not, but that does not mean that the US and co. overstepped their mandate. If you are charged with protecting civilians, it is supposed to be in an objective, neutral way. When those civilians take up arms, they are no longer neutral and neither is your support. The US was charged with protecting civilians. After 3 days of the intervention, the western air forces had clearly shifted from protecting civilians to picking sides in a civil war. That is the definition of mission creep and it is certainly a violation of international law (as set out by the mandate.)

        Whether it is fair to watch a weaker side fight a stronger side is irrelevant. In Bahrain any rational person would have said that it was unfair for the Shi’a (nonviolent) protesters to be crushed by both Bahraini and Saudi forces, but we did nothing. In Libya, under that rationale, someone should have intervened to help Qaddafi as the aerial strikes were clearly too much for him and his forces. After NATO stepped in Qaddafi was the weaker side? Is that fair? If you argue that the rebels had a moral advantage and therefore deserved support, fine, but don’t call it a humanitarian intervention. Call is a regime change operation that had local support (and then look at reports of rebel militias taking part in revenge killings of civilians and harassing every black Libyan or foreigner.)

        For the last point: I asked what interests the US had in Libya and your answer was potential economic partner. Is there any other US interest? Theoretically you could say that it showed US support for the AS, but again, US inaction in Bahrain, Egypt (until the very end), Syria, Saudi, Yemen, Palestine and others have shown Arabs that the US does not universally respect the ideals of the AS. Kicking 10 puppies and then petting one doesn’t make you a puppy lover. The US should act where is has interests and the only interests that you have pointed out is the potential economic benefit of a freer Libya.

        On a side note: how many countries (lets say outside the Gulf – because this is largely where the AS is taking place) base their laws on sharia law? Iraq or Syria? No. Palestine? No (argument to be made re: Hamas.) Jordan or Egypt? No. Tunisia, Algeria? No? I agree that Islam plays a major role in the lives of many Arabs, but to say that most Arab laws are based on sharia law is misleading. Certainly many countries keep Islamic virtues in mind when creating their laws, but that is a far cry from being Islamic states with sharia law.

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