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Rizwan A. Rahmani Headshot

Security Council No-Fly Zone: Déjà Vu All over Again

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There is an old French saying, "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose" The more things change, the more they remain the same. When I heard that the UN Security Council had proposed a no-fly zone over Libya under the oh-so-very-benign emblem of humanitarian support of the rebels, it immediately brought about a familiar sense memory, and I thought to myself -- where in the world have I heard that before? Being older, my memory serves me like a lackey employee shirking his duties, but every once in a while it is actually on the job, and in this case it was definitely not lacking.

I remembered the no-fly zone and the inspections that Sr. Bush and his coalition imposed on Iraq without UN authorization after the first gulf war, and which Clinton and Blair actually took to enforcing (France withdrew from the enforcement in 1998): UN inspections finally embroiled us in the war that Jr. Bush undertook under spurious circumstances. I also remembered the sanctions that brought the Iraqis to their knees when it came to children's health and children's medical supplies -- suffering brought about by sanctions which were supposed only to keep weapons out of Saddam's hands but in this case--pun intended--the babies were definitely thrown out with the bath water: Madeleine Albright famously said that the sanctions were actually worth a few babies dying. Infant mortality in Iraq rose by four fold during those years, and this was all justified because Iraqis were ruled by an egotistical megalomaniac not of their own choosing.

But I was left with still another niggling thought echoing along the same theme in my mind, and I realized that an additional sense memory derived from an event in the early nineties, the no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Though this resulted in some limited success over a long period, despite the restrictions several hundred flight violations took place by the opposition, and even after a blanket denial of flights and NATO's involvement, the no-fly zone was still unable to prevent low flying crafts like helicopters. The operation lasted over two years, and the siege of Sarajevo lasted nearly four years. UN peacekeeping forces proved ineffective in keeping order on the ground and in preventing a brutal massacre of young Muslim men who were rounded up and shot execution style in Srebrenica under the order of Radovan Karadzic and his henchman Gen. Ratko Mladic. After the UN's ineffectiveness in curtailing the bloodshed, NATO, eager to cut its teeth in a post cold war conflict arena, actually took it upon itself to enforce the resolution by defying the UN.

Western European nations, who are effectively democratic now, having fought two bloody wars on their own soil (and innumerable others through the centuries, battles for power and control during Europe's royalist and papal era -- the figureheads are still there for nostalgia), the onus of western cultural heritage weighs heavy on their shoulders. With their land still ruddy from the last war, they didn't really have the stomach for another major sanguiflous event in their own backyard. After realizing that Europe sans the Iron Curtain was actually going to look a lot different (some of newly liberated nations were really Europeans before WWII), and after some prolonged squirming at the sidelines, Europe decided it needed to do something with or without the UN, and it needed to be done quickly.

So why was Obama -- the Nobel peace prize winner, the deliberater, the stoically cool headed -- so eager to take us into another quasi-war (after being depicted as wimpy by his conservative detractors and the Neocons, who really had an axe to grind with Qaddafi for being pro Palestine) despite the instructive lessons from this sort of undertaking? Consummate political narcissist that he is, Obama realized that this 'wimpy' moniker -- which already has some sting, even among his liberal supporters -- may prove potent during his second bid for office, and was thus bamboozled into helping to pass UN resolution 1973. Aside from the oil industry-related corporations bonanza (most Libyan oil ends up in Europe), the United States has little else to gain from this supercilious venture.

The archfiend inside me is laughing that characteristic laugh. I can almost anticipate an exact replay of what befell Iraq and to some extent former Yugoslavia. Once a no-fly zone goes into effect, it is an UN Security Council (i.e. NATO) mandate to commence assault on any nation weak enough to sustain. The United Nations is now functionally a NATO lapdog: I don't think it has any power to rein in NATO's over exuberance, and from what I have seen in the news, this is exactly what has been unfolding. Even the Arab league, which was initially on board, is dissociating itself after the gun slinging diplomacy of 'shoot first and ask question later' commenced. They were gullible enough to believe in the original agreement for a no-fly zone enforcement, but the Security Council playbook (namely US, UK, and France) sounds like a script plagiarized from the eighties and nineties.

Given the tribal complexities, with their regional overlords and loyalties that have been forged since time immemorial (before Roman times), Libya is fraught with inevitable political complications. Libya is more akin to Afghanistan than Iraq in that regard: it is an amalgamation of three regions that came under one state during the short Senussi reign after it gained independence in 1951. The Security Council's decision to meddle in this internal struggle for power is like poking a stick at the hornet's nest. There are no concise Cliff's Notes to this convolute diplomatic matrix, even with Qaddafi out of the equation.

There is another French saying, "Qui veut noyer son chien l'accuser de rage": which loosely translates as 'If you want to banish your dog with impunity, then let the people first know that the dog has rabies'. After the lifting of the sanctions on Libya, some of these same nations were eager to do business with Qaddafi, and shelled out serious monies to sign exclusive contracts with him. The Security Council usual suspects have been using this tactic quite effectively to get rid of any leader who stand in their way of doing business -- notwithstanding how corrupt a regime. But when a regime's ill repute gains international prominence, they are quick to revile their old partner in crime -- oh how quickly appellations change, in matter of days...