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Welcome to the new NATO quagmire

By Pepe Escobar

(Asia Times Online)


The minute Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the Anatolia news agency, “The coalition that was formed following the Paris meeting will abandon the mission and hand it over entirely to a single command system under NATO”, the issue was settled.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is about to enter the era of the double quagmire – as in Central Asia (Afghanistan) and northern Africa (Libya). And everyone thought NATO was supposed to be defending Europe from the commies. Libya now is an official victim of the endless war club.

This predictable coup de theater (see Endgame: Divide, Rule and roll with the oil Asia Times Online, March 25) does not alter the fact Odyssey Dawn remains an American war. Well, not a war, according to the White House, but a “time-limited, scope-limited military action”.

For the moment it’s a time-limited etc conducted by General Carter Ham, out of his Africom headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany (none among 53 African countries wanted Africom). Next week it will become a time-limited etc conducted by US Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s top military commander.

For all practical purposes it’s an all-American time-limited etc affair – enforced by Globocop NATO, with a handy Pentagon back up in the form of readily available “interdiction strike packages” – inimitable Pentagon speak for fighter jets loaded with missiles and ready to strike.

War by committee, revisited
As a crucial member of NATO and self-promoting preferential bridge between the West and the Muslim world, Turkey had to calibrate a very tricky strategy. The government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – with extensive business interests in Libya – spent the whole week making it crystal clear that the NATO mission must be totally restricted to protecting civilians, enforcing the UN arms embargo and providing humanitarian aid.

Predictably, the US and Britain were absolutely convinced that the military campaign in Libya could only be run by NATO.

The problem was how to deal with pesky France, led by neo-Napoleonic President Nicolas Sarkozy. The French government was lobbying hard for a joint Anglo-French military command – with France on top, bien sur.

The final decision spells out that NATO’s huge “assets” will run the whole show on the ground, while a political committee will provide the “governance”.

It’s a copy of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) arrangement in Afghanistan. (ISAF by the way does not provide much security and much less assistance). ISAF is led by NATO, and includes non-NATO countries such as Australia and New Zealand. The Libyan body will theoretically include those paragons of equality and equanimity – Gulf members of the Arab League. For the moment, that translates only into Qatar, which has pledged a huge fleet consisting of two Mirage fighter jets.

Sarkozy’s argument for France to lead was that a signal should be sent that the West was not once again imposing its will over a Muslim country. As if there’s much difference between NATO and a French-Anglo-Saxon committee.

But in the end Sarko dug his own tomb (where was Carla to teach her beloved Chou Chou some manners?) He treated the Turkish government like a bunch of illegal immigrants. France did not invite Turkey to last Saturday’s summit in Paris which was the prelude to the war, sorry, “time-limited, scope-limited military action”. Sarko wanted his Mirages to be the leading stars of the show.

Erdogan and Davutoglu saw right through it – the burning Sarko desire to launch not only the no-fly zone but his 2012 presidential re-election campaign as well. In a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan said, “I wish that those who only see oil, gold mines and underground treasures when they look in [Libya's] direction, would see the region through glasses of conscience from now on.” To top it off, Sarko had made it clear numerous times that he is against Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, saying it belongs in the Middle East, not Europe.

The tawdriest part of the whole spectacle is that Sarko was propelled to grab the limelight on Libya by another shameless self-promoter, French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, king of the chest-revealing white shirt, who flew to Benghazi sniffing a golden media opportunity, ingratiated himself with the “rebels”, and from there called Sarko and urged him to fulfill his glorious Arab liberator destiny.

But enough of these clowns. Which leaves Turkey on the spot. Last week, at the al-Jazeera forum in Doha, Davutoglu said, “The legal status and territorial integrity of states including Libya and Yemen should be protected.” Yet no one knows what NATO’s ultimate designs on Libya really are.

NATO will be in charge of enforcing the no-fly zone and the arms embargo. Sooner rather than later NATO will decide that’s not enough – that more air strikes on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces are essential. Turkey has not signed up for that kind of action – and has already said it won’t.

When the NATO secretary general, Danish right-winger Anders Fogh Rasmussen, says something like, “we must think how NATO can assist North African countries in their transition to democracy”, Turkey better have an exit strategy, or at least a good explanation to the Muslim world when a deadly quagmire sets in. Otherwise, from a bridge between East and West, it will be reduced to a bridge to hell.

Pepe Escobar is the author ofGlobalistan: 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).

He may be reached at


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