Despite five days of pounding from Tomahawk cruise missiles, bombs and attacks by coalition airplanes seeking to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s military ground capacity has suffered only minor setbacks. Troops loyal to Gaddafi, particularly along the western coastline, continue to fire on rebels who maintain an eastern stronghold in Benghazi.
Speaking to the press in El Salvador on Tuesday during a five-day, three-nation tour of Latin America, President Barack Obama addressed one of the key issues for Americans concerned about the possible opening of another prolonged arena of combat.
“When this transition takes place,” he began, referring to the shared role of the coalition forces in the campaign, “it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone. It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily enforcing the arms embargo. That’s precisely what the other nations are going to do.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, upon announcing on Monday that the airstrikes had effectively neutralized Gaddafi’s ability to use his warplanes against the rebels, said that the control of the operation will transition from U.S. control to a NATO-led mission to implement UN Security Council resolution 1973. It was this resolution, according to Obama, that the Senate approved which authorized the implementation of the no-fly zone over Libya.
Even so, a number of elected officials–Republicans and Democrats, including Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who has demanded that Obama be impeached, and Congressman Charles Rangel–are incensed that the president made this decision without conferring with Congress.
“What needs to be done at this point is a call by the president or the vice president for a special session of Congress to inform us and to ask our position on this matter,” Rangel said during a press briefing Monday afternoon at the State Office Building. “Obama is going along with past presidents…[and] at the end of the day we pay the price physically and financially.”
Protests by anti-war groups have also sprung up across the nation, and here in New York in Times Square hundreds chanted, “No more war, we’ve seen this show before!” Larry Holmes, one of the demonstrators and a longtime activist affiliated with the International Action Center said, “They say this attack is for humanitarian reasons, but they are not dropping bread, but bombs. It is clear to me that we have not learned a lesson from the invasion of Iraq. It’s dej vu.”
Holmes said he didn’t know a lot about the opposition forces, “but I do know about American imperialism and this is another war for oil and we can’t wait for change from our elected officials concerning the violation of the War Powers Act. We have to mobilize now.”
Rangel, Kucinich and Holmes are not alone in their outrage against U.S. involvement in a coalition that does not include the African Union, and include only one Arab nation, Qatar, which has sent only one jet to the assault. Even the Arab League, which initially approved the no-fly zone initiative, is now a bit hesitant given the extent of the barrages and alleged collateral damage.
Around 1,000 U.S. adults were recently polled by CNN and asked if they approved of the president’s handling of the situation in Libya. Fifty percent said yes and 41 percent said no. With only half of respondents approving of the war measures, the number is decidedly lower by some 20 percent than the expected popular approval in the first days of a war or foreign excursion.
That 50 percent, according to the pollsters, breaks down in the following way: “Democrats approve 73 to 20 percent. Independents are exactly split, 44 to 44 percent, and Republicans disapprove 27 to 63 percent. And remember, 50 is probably his high point here. The American people are impatient, leery and above all adamant that no ground troops be involved. And they are more than a little worried about that.”
When asked if they felt the U.S. would achieve its goals in Libya without introducing ground troops, the confident to non-confident score was only 55 to 42 percent; better than the obverse, but indicative of a fair degree of nervousness.
Americans have every reason to be nervous and a little apprehensive about the effectiveness of merely targeting Libya with missiles and bombs. Will this be enough to completely neutralize Gaddafi and his loyal supporters? National anxiety will not be allayed when the inevitable reports of American casualties begin, already only narrowly avoided on Monday when a Marine F-15E jet crashed as a result of a mechanical malfunction.
In his first appearance in public since March 15, Gaddafi told reporters in Tripoli, the nation’s capital where his partially damaged compound is located, that “We will not surrender…We will defeat them any means.
“We are ready for the fight, whether it will be a short or a long one, we will be victorious in the end,” he declared. “There are demonstrations everywhere against this unjustified assault, which breaches the United Nation’s Charter. This assault…is by a bunch of fascists who will end up in the dustbin of history.”
On more than one occasion since the turmoil began Gaddafi has asserted that he is willing to be a martyr, and people who know him and his fortitude believe he will not capitulate and is determined to die fighting.
Activist Gerald Perreira has lived in Libya for a number of years. He has some understanding of Gaddafi and the aims of the rebels. “The battle in Libya is not about peaceful protesters versus an armed and hostile state,” he said in an email. “All sides are heavily armed and hostile. The battle being waged in Libya is essentially a battle between those who want to see a united and liberated Libya and Africa, free of neo-colonialism and neo-liberal capitalism.
“They want be free to construct their own system of governance compatible with African and Arab personalities and cultures,” Perreira continued. “And both sides are willing to pay the ultimate price to defend their positions. Make no mistake about it, if Gaddafi and the Libyan revolution are defeated by this opportunistic conglomerate of reactionaries and racists, then progressive forces worldwide and the pan-African project will suffer a huge defeat and setback.”
Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam shared similar sentiments about the status of Gaddafi, with whom he has immutable emotional and economic ties.
“Why don’t you organize a group of respected Americans, and ask for a meeting with Gaddafi?” Farrakhan asked Obama rhetorically during an interview with Chicago broadcaster Cliff Kelley. “You can’t order him to step down and get out–who do the hell you think you are, that you can talk to a man that built a country over 42 years, and ask him to step down and get out?
“Can anybody ask you?” Farrakhan continued. “Well…there’s going to be a lot now [who are] going to ask you to step out of the White House because they don’t want a Black face in the White House.”
On the other hand, there are those who contend that if Gaddafi succeeds in beating back the rebels it will have a chilling effect on the democratic impulse that has swept across North Africa and the Middle East since the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
At one point during an interview on Al Jazeera television, noted Middle East authority and author Tariq Ali summarized the rebellion in Libya as a continuation of the general thrust for democracy and the overthrow of tyrants. But he later amended that position in an interview with New Zealand television commentator Paul Holmes.
“Well, I think it’s a loss, and, tragically, the Libyan upsurge ran out of steam,” Ali concluded. “They were hoping that the military would split and some of it would come over to their side. Some did. A few pilots fled the land, but it wasn’t enough to sway the thing. My own feeling about the Western intervention is that it’s a disastrous intervention that will strengthen Libya. And, of course, the Libyan propaganda outfits are saying, you know, ‘Who are these people to attack us? They were doing deals with us. We are paying [French President] Sarkozy’s election campaign money and the Brits money’–all these sort of questions.”
If the so-called experts are not sure what to make of the situation in Libya, then what are we to do? And the uprisings in Bahrain, Syria, Morocco and Yemen adds complexity, particularly with the tribal differences in Libya, to the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East, making it mighty difficult for the U.S. if it seeks to continue its role as world cop.
Obama inherited the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now he can claim Libya as his own.