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March 16, 2011
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Democracy Won’t be
Delivered by a No-fly Zone
A popular democratic wave is washing across North Africa. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Iran and Iraq, millions of people are rejecting authoritarian regimes, demanding their rights, and asserting their democratic will. Despite decades of repressive autocratic, corrupt and dictatorial rule, and frequently in the face of brutal reprisals, people are telling their governments and the world that their desire for self-government, democracy, sovereignty, peace and an end to poverty will no longer be denied.
This has put the U.S. government in an awkward position, for all too often it has been our government that has provided their rulers with the arms, planes, tear gas, riot gear and surveillance equipment that have been used to sustain their authoritarian rule. The utter hypocrisy of U.S. policy is being exposed.
So far the Obama administration has approached this issue with appropriate caution. But Phyllis Bennis at the Institute for Policy Studies warns,
Powerful U.S. voices — including neo-conservative warmongers and liberal interventionists in and out of the administration, as well as important anti-war forces in and out of Congress — are calling on the Obama administration to establish a no-fly zone in Libya to protect civilians.
There is a natural desire on the part of social justice advocates to do whatever can be done to prevent needless bloodshed and to defend democratic forces against the substantially greater military forces loyal to Qaddafi. But the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya would put the U.S. on a road it has traveled before. That road led to a twelve year military enforced embargo followed by an eight year long war in Iraq that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and nearly 4500 U.S. troops, while wounding hundreds of thousands of others and displacing more than four million Iraqis.
In Tunisia and Egypt repressive regimes yielded ultimately to the overwhelming will of the people. In both countries, the labor movement played a central role in transforming a popular uprising into a revolution that succeeded in forcing dictators to yield power without protracted violent strife. But that has not been the case in Libya, where the regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi has clung tenaciously to power and responded with savage ferocity, plunging the nation into civil war.
Elements of the regime, including importantly units and officers of the armed forces, have abandoned Qaddafi to side with the people. But the popular resistance is poorly organized, with no central command or unified leadership, and, importantly, with no tanks, artillery or defence against the Libyan air force.
Some elements of the popular resistance have called for the US and NATO powers to establish a no-fly zone. This call has been echoed by others in the West, including some governments. Libyans are unanimous, however, is clearly rejecting the introduction of any foreign military forces into their country.
Phyllis Bennis reports that human rights lawyer and opposition spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga was crystal clear: “We are against any foreign intervention... This revolution will be completed by our people.” And Libyan General Ahmad Gatroni, who defected to lead the opposition forces, urged the U.S. to “take care of its own people, we can look after ourselves.”
It is worth recalling that the U.S. also armed and equipped Saddam Hussein’s armed forces, seeking to play Iraq off against Iran, plunging those two countries into a mutually ruinous eight year war that claimed more than a half million lives. It was also the U.S. that armed the mujahedeen guerrillas of Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation. Elements of those guerrilla forces were later reconstituted as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. And we all know where that led!
There is no question that the U.S. has the military means to establish and enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, but as Secretary of Defense Gates has noted, a pre-condition to any successful no-fly zone would require a military assault on Libya’s air defenses, and that would constitute an act of war under international law. It would also result in an untold number of civilian deaths, not to mention the U.S. casualties that would inevitably occur. And it would interject the U.S into the middle of a conflict in yet another Arab nation, provoking even greater anger across the region and around the world.
It is also entirely possible that even with a no-fly zone, the well equipped Libyan Army might prevail with artillery, tanks and other heavy weapons against the lightly armed, poorly organized and largely untrained popular resistance forces. Then the U.S. would be faced with the need to commit ground forces to stave off a defeat of the anti-Qaddafi revolution.
General Wesley Clark (ret.) has learned a thing or two about military interventions. In a lengthy article in the Washington Post (March 12), he recounted the record of U.S. military interventions since the Vietnam War:
A no-fly zone in Libya may seem straightforward at first, but if Gaddafi continues to advance, the time will come for airstrikes, extended bombing and ground troops - a stretch for an already overcommitted force. . . .
Whatever resources we dedicate for a no-fly zone would probably be too little, too late. We would once again be committing our military to force regime change in a Muslim land, even though we can't quite bring ourselves to say it. So let's recognize that the basic requirements for successful intervention simply don't exist, at least not yet: We don't have a clearly stated objective, legal authority, committed international support or adequate on-the-scene military capabilities, and Libya's politics hardly foreshadow a clear outcome.
We should have learned these lessons from our long history of intervention. We don't need Libya to offer us a refresher course in past mistakes.
Phyllis Bennis concludes her own essay with this advice:
The future of Libya and much of the success of the democratic revolutions now underway across the region, stand in the balance. If the Obama administration, the Pentagon, war profiteers and the rest of the U.S. policymaking establishment continue to define U.S. “national interests” as continuing U.S. domination of oil-rich and strategically-located countries and regions, Washington faces a likely future of isolation, antagonism, rising terrorism and hatred.
The democratic revolutionary processes sweeping North Africa and the Middle East have already transformed that long-stalemated region. The peoples of the region are looking for less, not greater militarization of their countries. It is time for U.S. policy to recognize that reality. Saying no to a no-fly zone in Libya will be the best thing the Obama administration can do to begin the process of crafting a new, demilitarized 21st century policy for the U.S. in the newly democratizing Middle East.
Within the social justice movements, it is natural for people to want to come to the aid of a beleaguered people seeking to overthrow an oppressive dictatorship. But good impulses alone are not a basis for making sound policy.
The greatest help we can provide to democratic forces around the world is to end the U.S. role as global cop, global bully and arms merchant to every autocrat, despot, tyrant and authoritarian regime that is willing to do our government’s bidding.
The resources our government now squanders playing super-power to the world should be invested in creating jobs, restoring the social safety net, and meeting the myriad needs of people here and around the world.
For additional insights into this issue, the following resources may be helpful:
Gen. Wesley Clark says Libya doesn't meet the test for U.S. military action by Wesley K. Clark, Washington Post, March 12th, 2011
Supporting Libyan Revolution, Opposing Foreign Intervention by Hamid Dabashi, The Real News, March 11th, 2011
Gaddafi Launches All-Out Assault on Ras Lanuf by Jihan Hafiz, Reporter, The Real News, March 11th, 2011
US weighs no-fly zone options by Daniel Dombey in Washington, Financial Times, March 9th, 2011
On Libya, too many questions by George F. Will, Washington Post, March 9th, 2011
Don't "No-Fly" Libya by Phyllis Bennis, IPS, March 7th, 2011
Gates Warns of Risks of a No-Flight Zone by David E. Sanger And Thom Shanker, Published: March 2, 2011
Young Iraqi Reporters Released -
Solidarity Actions Were Key
Dear Comrades of US Labour Against the War,
Just want to write to formally thank every single person who wrote to the government of Iraq protesting the arrest of the four young Iraqi media workers and demanding their immediate release. The GFIW extends its heartfelt thanks to the USLAW for its prompt solidarity support with GFIW calls to free the four, and to Michael Eisenscher for his unstinting support.
Your active and swift action helped enormously the quick release of the 4 Iraqi young media workers who were unjustly arrested and badly beaten up on 7 March. They were arrested simply because they stood up for their rights and the rights of all Iraqi for jobs, social services, an end to corruption and real reform of the Iraqi post-2003 political order. They were arrested simply to stop them from reporting the truth that Iraqis had enough with lies and deceit of current Iraqi politicians. Iraqis protested demanding decent living and working conditions, decent health care and education, and for decent and affordable homes and living pensions for so many elderly who live in sheer poverty.
The global trade union movement and peace movement, and in particular USLAW, have responded with strong and clear voices, telling the Iraqi state to respect human rights, to adhere to democratic norms and respect people's rights to freedom of assembly.
Organizations that responded to the appeal and helped enormously to secure the release of the 4 are : USLAW, Trade Union Congress - UK, Amnesty International and many more trade unions around the world.
An Update on the four reporters:
Yesterday 13 March 2011 a press conference was held in Baghdad. The press conference was organized by the Youth of February.
Three of the four young arrested workers spoke at the press conference.
Ali Abul-Zahra said he was arrested on 7 February just after he left Tahrir Square by plain clothes police but openly carrying heavy guns. He said he was doing a job—reporting on the protest- Ali said he thought he was being kidnapped. "They broke my tape recorder, confiscated my mobile and all personal belonging. I was subjected to a heavy beating before being transferred to another location where further interrogation and beating occurred."
Maan said, "I exercised my rights to protest yet I was arrested and treated like a terrorist. This action of the Iraqi state against me is not only a gross violation against the principle of human rights; it is a gross violation of Iraq’s constitution."
Najim Finjan said he was forced to sign a confession and had to promise not to join the Ba'ath Party and Al Qaida.
Abdullah Muhsin, International Representative
General Federation of Iraqi Workers
Nearly two-thirds of Americans now say the war in Afghanistan is no longer worth fighting, the highest proportion yet opposed to the conflict, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Graphic: Nearly three-quarters of the public thinks a substantial number of U.S. forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan this summer. But fewer than four in 10 think it will happen.
The finding signals a growing challenge for President Obama as he decides how quickly to pull U.S. forces from the country beginning this summer. After nearly a decade of conflict, political opposition to the battle breaks sharply along partisan lines, with only 19 percent of Democratic respondents and half of Republicans surveyed saying the war continues to be worth fighting.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans say Obama should withdraw a “substantial number” of combat troops from Afghanistan this summer, the deadline he set to begin pulling out some forces. Only 39 percent of respondents, however, say they expect him to withdraw large numbers.
The Post-ABC News poll results come as Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, prepares to testify before Congress on Tuesday about the course of the war. He is expected to face tough questioning about a conflict that is increasingly unpopular among a broad cross section of Americans.
Petraeus will tell Congress that “things are progressing very well,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Monday. But because of battlefield gains made by U.S. and coalition forces since last year, Morrell told MSNBC, “it’s going to be heavy and intensive in terms of fighting” once the winter cold passes.
The poll began asking only in 2007 whether the Afghan war is worth fighting, but support has almost certainly never been as low as it is in the most recent survey.
The growing opposition presents Obama with a difficult political challenge ahead of his 2012 reelection effort, especially in his pursuit of independent voters.
Since Democrats took a beating in last year’s midterm elections, Obama has appealed to independents with a middle-of-the-road approach to George W. Bush-era tax cuts and budget negotiations with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. He called a news conference last week to express concern about rising gasoline prices, an economically pressing issue for many independent voters.
But his approach to the Afghan war has not won over the independents or liberal Democrats who propelled his campaign two years ago, and the most recent Post-ABC News poll reinforces the importance of Republicans as the chief constituency supporting his strategy. The results suggest that the war will be an awkward issue for the president as he looks for ways to end it. Nearly 1,500 U.S. troops have died since the fighting began in 2001.
The number of respondents to the Post-ABC News poll who say the war is not worth fighting has risen from 44 percent in late 2009 to 64 percent in the survey conducted last week.
Two-thirds of independents hold that position, according to the poll, and nearly 80 percent said Obama should withdraw a “substantial number” of troops from Afghanistan this summer. Barely more than a quarter of independents say the war is worth its costs, and for the first time a majority feel “strongly” that it is not.
In Libya, where Moammar Gaddafi is battling a rebel force seeking to end his 41-year rule, Obama is under increasing pressure to implement a no-fly zone over the country to prevent the Libyan leader from taking back lost territory and to protect civilians from government reprisals.
Nearly six in 10 Americans say they would support U.S. participation in a no-fly zone over Libya, the poll found, despite recent warnings from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that doing so would be a “major operation.”
But the survey found that American support dips under 50 percent when it comes to unilateral U.S. action, as Democrats and independents peel away.
When told that such a mission would entail U.S. warplanes bombing Libyan antiaircraft positions and “continuous patrols,” about a quarter of those initially advocating U.S. participation turn into opponents.
Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.
House Vote to End the Afghanistan War
On Thursday, your representative can take a stand against the war in Afghanistan. The House is scheduled to vote on a resolution that would require the president to withdraw all U.S. military troops by the end of this year.
The bipartisan resolution, introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH), Walter Jones (NC), and nine others, is unlikely to pass, but the administration and congressional leaders will be closely following what individual members of Congress say during the two hours of floor debate and how many votes the resolution receives.
The vote comes as new polling suggests that a strong majority now wants the war to end. A Washington Post-ABC News poll published today finds that almost two-thirds of people in this country think that the United States should withdraw
a “substantial number” of combat troops from Afghanistan this summer.
Today or tomorrow, please call the Capitol Switchboard toll-free at 800-530-1748.
Your call will take less than a minute.
When you are connected to your representative’s office:
- Let the person who answers the phone know who you are and where you live.
- Urge the representative to vote “yes” on the Kucinich resolution (H.Con.Res. 28) calling for the withdrawal of U.S. military troops from Afghanistan.
Please ask 5 friends to also make a call today or tomorrow.
Your Phone Calls + 150 Lobbyists = A Clear Message
This vote in the House comes as thousands of people prepare to gather in Washington, DC this weekend to oppose the ongoing war in Afghanistan and Iraq. FCNL is also expecting at least 150 people at our
Spring Lobby Weekend, which begins on Saturday.
These lobbyists will be on the Hill early next week urging the United States to abandon the failed U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan and work toward a new strategy based on:
- Beginning a withdrawal of U.S. troops,
- Halting offensive operations against the Taliban,
- Engaging Afghanistan's neighbors, and
- Channeling U.S. development aid through Afghan, multilateral organizations, and other civilian humanitarian organizations not working with military.
15 March 2011: The International Trade Union Confederation has condemned the decision of the ruling authorities in Bahrain this afternoon to impose martial law, as increasing numbers of foreign security forces move into the country.
“The decision to impose martial law is totally unacceptable, and an affront to human rights. We are more deeply concerned than ever for the welfare and rights of everyone in Bahrain, and we call upon the authorities to rescind this decision immediately. Such heavy-handed repression will only put the prospects of a negotiated outcome to the crisis there even further out of reach, and will do enormous harm to Bahrain’s economy and society,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
The ITUC affiliate in Bahrain, the GFBTU, has confirmed reports of brutal aggression against a number of workers, including security forces in civilian clothes shooting at workers on their way to and from work. The GFBTU has condemned the interference of forces from other Gulf countries in Bahrain, and called their presence in the country an “occupation of Bahrain”.
In addition to some 1,000 troops with armoured vehicles from Saudi Arabia, the ITUC understands that security forces from other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are also entering the country. The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Oman.
The ITUC is launching a global appeal to call on governments to press Bahrain to end martial law and send all the foreign forces home.