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The West bombs, the Arab League ducks

By Pepe Escobar

History will surely register the irony that the new war doctrine of United States President Barack Obama took shape on board Air Force One on the way to deeply pacifist Brazil; then in a message delivered to America from Brasilia (yes, Operation Odyssey Dawn was launched from the tropics, and not from the Mediterranean); and finally in a war room set up in sunny, sexy Rio.

Here are the parameters.

1. The Pentagon must conduct a “limited operation” with no ground troops involved (think the 1990s Bill Clinton approach to Bosnia and Kosovo).
2. The US is part of a “coalition” (of the willing), but is not leading it (think the opposite of George W Bush in Iraq).
3. The operation is to “protect civilians”, and not about “regime change” (once again Clinton trumps Bush).
4. It’s all based on “solid international legitimacy” – conferred by UN Security Council resolution 1973, which is more explicit than the one authorizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to act in Kosovo (not to mention the non-existent resolution for Bush to bomb Iraq).

Yet immediately after the Tomahawks started flying the White House ran into trouble. The “limited operation” – as in bombing Muammar Gaddafi’s air defenses and military installations – may be practically over, and the Americans are dying to be relived of the heavy lifting. But who’s going to be in charge? General Carter Ham, the head of the US Africom and the present commander of Odyssey Dawn, pretty much summed it all up, saying, “The first thing that has got to happen is identification of what that organization is.”

You fight, we watch
It won’t be the Arab League, whose vote for a no-fly zone over Libya has been extensively pimped by every single Western diplomat as laying the groundwork for the United Nations resolution. But then Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa backtracked, saying the attack had gone beyond the initial objective, which was to protect, not kill, civilians. And finally the demagogue, opportunist Moussa got his marching orders again from the House of Saud (who pushed heavily for the no-fly zone); another about face and he said the resolution was fine.

What is never mentioned by Western corporate media is that among the 22 Arab League members it was Saudi Arabia – as leader of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – which obsessively lobbied for no-fly to apply (thanks to visceral bad blood between King Abdullah and Gaddafi (see The Odyssey Dawn top 10 Asia Times Online, March 22); and that only Qatar will actually send a maximum of four of its Mirage fighters (no one knows when). Even though Obama personally called Sheikh Khalifa, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) backtracked from sending its jets and will only assist in “humanitarian” matters.

The head of the GCC, Abdul Rahman bin Hamad al-Attiyah, insisted in Abu Dhabi that Qatar and the UAE were part of the “coalition” – but he refused to explain how. As for the King of Bahrain, Hamad al-Khalifa, he preferred to dabble on how the tiny kingdom had thwarted an “external plot” to undermine its security and stability; he also profusely thanked the Saudi invasion forces who are now helping him to repress any peaceful protests.

The GCC/Arab League astonishing dithering and hypocrisy is compounded by the outright hostility of the African Union (AU) to the “coalition”, expressed by a communique from Nouakchott, Mauritania, calling for “an immediate end to all attacks”. The AU only demands that Gaddafi makes sure “humanitarian aid” arrives for those who need it.

This explodes the myth that the “international community” is behind Odyssey Dawn. The Arab dictatorships – which once again have sanctioned an attack on a Muslim country – are scared to death of the backlash from their populations if “collateral damage” balloons.

The Arab blogosphere is saturated with accusations that the UN and the Arab League have sanctioned a shameless Western plot to get Libya’s oil. The African countries are mostly against it. The key emerging powers – Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey – are not part of it. The four top BRIC members (Brazil, Russia, India, China) all abstained from the UN vote.

China has been very much aware that in both Africa and South America – where its business interests are now rivaling America’s – support for the “coalition” is minimal. And Russia has gone one step beyond; according to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, “The resolution is defective and flawed … It allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades.” True: Russia has weapons contracts with Libya to the tune of US$4 billion, half of it pending. No wonder Pentagon supremo Robert Gates has not managed to convince Moscow to support the “coalition”.

This means this “coalition” is in fact all about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Or is it?

There’s a major catfight going on inside NATO. No one knows how to interpret this “allow everything” resolution. In Britain, the Ministry of Defense swears that taking out Gaddafi is not part of the mandate (mirroring Gates, who said it would be “unwise”). But the David Cameron government thinks this is all about regime change. As it is in practice for the Obama administration – see everyone from President Obama to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisting “Gaddafi must go”.

France – following President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Napoleonic syndrome – doesn’t want to relinquish command to NATO. Other NATO members loudly complain that the Anglo-French plus the US monopolize all the decisions.

Turkey, extremely worried about civilian deaths, and most of all worried about preserving its current very good standing in the Muslim world, is adamantly against a NATO intervention – calling instead for a review of other possible strategies and even for an immediate Western ceasefire. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “Military intervention by NATO in Libya or any other country would be totally counter-productive”.

In this context, it’s absurd to believe – like the proverbial think-tank suspects – that a NATO intervention modeled on Kosovo would be “a success”. In 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days; dropped no less than 20,000 tons of bombs; and produced thousands of “collateral damage” – all in the name of humanitarian “protection” of Albanians in Kosovo. The Srebrenica massacre, by the way, happened after NATO imposed a no-fly zone over Bosnia.

League of crooks
The Anglo-French-American consortium leading Odyssey Dawn has fallen for its own propaganda – blindly convinced that the Arab League is on board. And even if the Arab League were totally on board, this means Odyssey Dawn is endorsed by the very nasty people the great 2011 Arab revolt is trying hard to get rid of.

The Arab League’s position is based on two very shady motives. One is King Abdullah and the House of Saud’s obsession on taking out Gaddafi. The other is Moussa’s campaign to become the next Egyptian president. Moussa takes orders from the House of Saud while trying to seduce Washington to support his bid for the presidency.

The UN resolution has nothing to do with a ceasefire. The “rebels” themselves already said they would settle for nothing except regime change. The resolution points towards regime change – no matter what the British and American militaries are saying. Expect more cruise missiles visiting Gaddafi’s compound in Bab al-Aziziya.

If Gaddafi holds, things will get even messier. Under international law, his regime will still be legitimate. He may even invoke the right to fight against an armed insurrection trying to topple his regime – in fact much more of a right than the dictatorships in Yemen and Bahrain, who have been shooting unarmed protesters.

The real test for the new Obama war doctrine – and its European minions – will be how to get regime change without a land war. Yet history may rule that just like in Georgia, Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo or North/South Korea, we may be on our way to kiss unified Libya goodbye.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).