Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Gates and Kerry tussle over "no-fly" zone in Libya

By Elise Labott, CNN Senior State Department Producer, March 2, 2011 on CNN website
Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, called for the United States to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. While he noted that the Libyan people weren't asking for foreign troops, he said they "do need the tools to prevent the slaughter of innocents on Libyan streets."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking to a House committee, said creating a no-fly zone would have to begin with an attack on Libya.
"If it's ordered, we can do it, but ... there's a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options, and let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That's the way you do a no-fly zone, and then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down," he told a House Appropriations hearing. "But that's the way it starts."
Some protesters have charged that troops loyal to Gadhafi have fired on demonstrators, and military planes have bombed several sites held by the opposition. Libya's ambassador to the United States estimated Monday that as many as 2,000 people may have been killed.
"I believe the global community cannot be on the sidelines while airplanes are allowed to bomb and strafe," said Kerry, who chairs the Senate committee. "A no-fly zone is not a long-term proposition, assuming the outcome is what all desire, and I believe that we ought to be ready to implement it as necessary."
Of course, the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate is going to bring up the issue of a "no-fly" zone over Libya, and there are other countries calling for a similar measure, including the Prime Minister of Canada. Military intervention is a classic American talking point, although coming from Committee Chair, John Kerry, himself a strong opponent, finally, of the VietNam war, it is a little surprising. It is Robert Gates, however, the Secretary of Defence whose department would have to enact the "orders" if President Obama were to issue such an order, who brings some perspective on "where the rubber meets the road," as the cliche puts it.
And herein lies the essential American and global dilemma, "what to do" while Libyan citizens are dodging bullets from both the ground from guns fired by Gadhafi mercenaries and from the air from planes ordered to fire by the Libyan dictator. And even then, some of  these reports have to be considered "unconfirmed" because if there is one thing the dictator is good at it is generating a "fog" around his actions and his intentions.
A full-fledged military invasion of Libya, as a necessary prelude to a "no-fly" zone, to quote Gates, is not something the U.S. could easily tolerate among the global community, given that it is already engaged in two major conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan, although the former has seen combat troops withdraw, leaving a political vaccuum in Baghdad, and more unrest than before they left. However, if a full-scale military invasion of Libya is what it takes to save thousands of innocent people in Libya, then, it will have to be considered...and hopefully considered in conjunction with other western governments.
We already know that China and Russia would vote against such a move if it were to come to the Security Council at the U.N. and other countries, such as Italy, would lobby against such a move. NATO spokespersons have already indicated there is no readiness to consider such a move by their forces. And Gates' clarity will have to give U.S. legislators pause in their "rush to action" that is so characteristic of the U.S. in tight diplomatic situations.
Military support for the conveyance of supplies medicines, food, water for Libyan citizens would be easily and readily approved internationally, or at least should be. However, a move to invade...that is a horse of a different colour!
It is not a situation in which simple, uncomplicated and easily executed strategies or tactics are feasible.
And the fate of hundreds of thousands of Libyans is at stake.

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