The Europeans’ Libya campaign has stalemated. Now what?
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The Obama administration was reluctant from the start, insisting that Washington would quickly turn operational responsibility over to NATO. When the administration actually followed through, Paris and London complained. One unnamed French official told the Financial Times: “We had a concern, which the [United Kingdom] shared, that it wasn’t the best signal to send to Gaddafi and the rebels.” What really bothered the two countries was the fact that America’s withdrawal forced France and Britain to put their airplanes where their politicians’ mouths were.
Exhibiting unusual prescience, Germany, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, abstained on the UN authorization. Poland and Turkey also opposed the Franco-British Mediterranean adventure. Other members of the alliance were no more enthusiastic, contributing little or nothing of value.
The Netherlands and Spain are patrolling the “no-fly” zone, even though Gaddafi’s air power was always marginal. The Swedes, who do not belong to NATO, also have sent planes only for air patrols. Reminiscent of World War II, Italy’s aircraft will neither open fire nor drop bombs. The Norwegians target airfields, not army units. Only six of 28 alliance members are currently engaged in air-to-ground operations, and only France and Britain place no restrictions on their pilots.
After a few days of “turkey shoots” on the ground, Gaddafi’s forces adapted, with soldiers stripping off their uniforms and abandoning their heavy equipment. The rebels proved largely incapable of concerted military action. As Gaddafi recaptured lost territory, his opponents naturally blamed the West for failing to provide sufficient air support.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen — who says there is no military solution to the conflict while leading a military alliance in war — responded that the alliance is “doing its utmost to fully enforce the U.N. mandate around the clock” and “conducting its mission with vigor and determination, supported by countries stretching from the Arctic Ocean to the Arabian Gulf.”
It brings a tear to one’s eye. Or many tears, in the case of Messrs. Sarkozy and Cameron.
In fact, a tone of frustration verging on desperation has emerged in Paris and London. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé complained other allied nations are not doing enough: “NATO absolutely wanted to lead this operation. Well, voilà, this is where we are.” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was imperative to “maintain and intensify” military operations. Prior to the recent gathering of NATO foreign ministers, Prime Minister Cameron flew to Paris to plot strategy — primarily hectoring — with President Sarkozy to wring more support from reluctant allies.
In fact, the new Entente Cordiale has turned whining into an art form. France and Britain are carrying “the brunt of the burden,” complained French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet. Oh-la-la. So very unfair!
Why aren’t other European nations, which never wanted this war, doing more? Why aren’t the Germans, who refused to back the mission in the UN, sending aircraft? Why aren’t Poland and Turkey, which opposed the operation, helping out? And why isn’t Washington, busy defending rich allies like the Europeans and the rest of the world, doing more?
“The Americans have the numbers of planes, and the Americans have the right equipment,” said François Heisbourg at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. Washington’s switch from a combat to a support role has made it impossible “to loosen the noose” around the besieged city of Misrata, said Longuet. Why won’t the Americans fight Sarkozy and Cameron’s war? That was, after all, the original French and British plan.
The better question is: Why does the Obama administration continue to go along with a policy notable only for its deceptive objectives and incompetent execution? Publicly, at least, the administration continues to defend the status quo.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said: “The president and this administration believes that NATO, and the coalition of which we remain a partner, is capable of fulfilling that mission of enforcing the no-fly zone, enforcing the arms embargo and providing civilian protection.” State Department spokesman Mark Toner emphasized the president’s intention that America’s “role would diminish as NATO steeped up and took command and control of the operation” and “that’s what happened.”
Well, kind of.
Washington originally said American forces would be on call, but would not conduct regular operations. In fact, air-to-ground strikes have continued, though in fewer numbers and against Libyan air defense systems. To its credit, however, the administration refused to lend more U.S. military assets to the Napoleon and Churchill wannabes. Rather, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded to French and British demands: “Gaddafi is testing our determination. As our mission continues, maintaining our resolve and unity only grows more important.”
Resolve and unity. That will defeat Gaddafi!
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