Ultimatums Work -- Sarkozy and Cameron Intervene

03/20/2011 02:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last week I posted a piece (11/3/11): "The Power of Ultimatums -- The Forgotten Diplomatic Tool." In it, I pointed out that this could easily be applied to the Libyan situation -- though with a little more difficulty the Iranian, North Korean, and ultimately even the Pakistani.

Well, wonder of wonders, yesterday afternoon the Security Council voted 10-0 with 5 abstentions (Russia, China, Germany included) to basically give such an ultimatum to the Libyan Government; and Barack Obama (probably with Hillary Clinton's and William Daley's encouragement) actually made a short speech on it from the White House Oval Office, extending its provisions and emphasizing the point about using "all necessary means" to remove Gaddafi before taking off for Brazil.

Excluding the First Iraq War -- which had many anomalies associated with it -- this was almost a Security Council first since the Korean War sixty some years ago, a resolution which only succeeded at that time because the Russian Delegation inexplicably walked out and absented itself. For its part, the First Iraq War resolution was achieved in the aftermath of Perestroika; but this time the Russians and Chinese, obviously unwillingly and with considerable discontent only abstained. 

Now French planes are actually flying over Libya, ostensibly to enforce the resolution and over 100 tomahawk and cruise missiles, etc. have already been launched by the British backed by the Americans --obviously to take out "command and control" installations. Who knows what will follow? British Prime Minister Cameron has made forceful statements to the same effect as French President Sarkozy's, though the former's options are a good deal more limited than the latter's, since Britain no longer even possesses any aircraft carriers or Harrier jump jets, which have been mothballed.

Still, surrounding countries like Spain and Italy, have expressed their willingness -- even if perhaps unenthusiastically -- to allow their bases to be used in line with their NATO commitments. An American flotilla, including a carrier is on its way. Ok, ok, but I admit to having been wrong about one thing. I never expected the UN Security Council to come to agreement on this matter. Rather, I predicted that, if it came, such unanimity and such a resolution would only be able to come through NATO. I was wrong.

What blandishments were offered the Russians and Chinese to, at least, refrain from using their vetoes and abstain will probably never be known; but it appears Gaddafi contributed to this with his completely ill-advised and certainly unhinged bloodthirsty threats about what he was going to do to Benghazi when he captured it - go house to house and clean out all who had resisted him and "show no mercy".

These intemperate harangues in the midst of the clearly delicate negotiations that took place in New York probably tipped the balance for Russia and China towards an abstention rather than a veto; as few could with equanimity stand by and watch this. Little else, under the circumstances, can really explain this puzzling turn-of-events and both nations are already voicing their displeasure at the speediness with which action has been undertaken. No doubt, as well, favored terms were being offered them to enter the World Trade Organization, which Russia was hungering to enter; but by itself, this cannot explain it.

So I was obviously wrong here, but right about most of the rest.
This is an incredible military and diplomatic event - as I have said, the first really combined action of this kind since the Korean War. If it goes well, everyone is going to get a lot of credit for it. First, the French - for almost the first time since DeGaulle withdrew from NATO and, if one likes, the Indochina and Algerian Wars (misguided or otherwise), French war planes are flying in combat over enemy ground. This is all due to Sarkozy - his predecessors like Jacques Chirac having thrown every barrier imaginable in George Bush's way when Bush sought to acquire similar international backing for the Second Iraq War. 

Can one imagine what this means to the French People and Air Force, to witness what will be perceived by many -- particularly those in the Center and the Right -- as the resurgence of national power? French planes are once more the first to be flying in a military manner, not completely depending on American, after almost fifty years. It might even be enough to tilt the balance towards the positive where Sarkozy's Presidential re-election chances are concerned in the future if the operation turns out to be both effective and successful and with a minimum loss of blood on both sides.

The pride such an event will evince in some quarters -- though, admittedly, not in others -- should not be underestimated. The same might be said for Obama, though he will deny this aspect of things completely; and British newspapers are almost unanimous in praising David Cameron and he has received almost full backing for his actions in the usual fractious British Parliament.

But in addition, in an article on Thursday, 3/16/11, "Israel has the Right to Attack Iran's Nuclear Reactors Now" -- the response to which was rather vitriolic -- Alan Dershowitz echoed a few of the points I was making in my "The Power of Ultimatums" piece earlier, when I cited the Israel-Iran conflict as a possible additional area where an ultimatum with a timeframe might have some applicability.

Now Prof. Dershowitz has taken my point a step further, giving the legal arguments why carrying armaments through the Suez Canal meant for war supplies in Gaza, not to mention the subterfuge of carrying false cargo manifestos, and the transfer of said equipment in Syria to cargo vessels headed for Egypt -- carrying equally false cargo manifestos - in effect, constituted a "causus belli."

For my part, I was arguing for a little more cautious, slow-moving approach to the problem, comparing it elsewhere to the U.S.-U.S.S.R. "Cuban Missile Crisis," and suggesting that in a case such as this, an ultimatum might be given carrying a timeframe which would allow ample time for a given government to back down and so persons could evacuate the areas concerned and take themselves out harm's way just as those in today's nuclear crisis in Japan. That being said, as already remarked, one can get a sense of the animus surrounding questions of this kind from the ferocity of some of the talkbacks to the Dershowitz piece (not to mention my own).

Finally, let me close with a word about the subterfuge of using "false manifestos," which some persons might find puzzling to even raise. Last week, in the midst of all this upset, the Israelis exhibited a rather large stockpile of the falsely-manifested military supplies, including dangerous shore-based anti-ship missiles and the launching mechanisms and instructions for their operation in Farsi that had originally been carried by the Iranian 'War Flotilla' and allowed un-inspected by the new Egyptian Authorities through the Suez Canal.

These were apparently meant for hostile, anti-Israel forces in Gaza and perhaps elsewhere. The parallel of this and what is happening in the Eastern Mediterranean generally with the 1962 U.S./Soviet "Cuban Missile Crisis," which Kennedy handled via surveillance, an ultimatum, blockade, and threatened inspections on the high seas, should not be missed by the reader.

At the moment, it should be sufficient to point out that many persons -- particularly the young and the "unschooled" thinking in the most tolerant and well-intentioned manner conceivable -- do not have a comprehension of or understand the Islamic concept of 'dissimulation'. This is very straightforward and recognized as legitimate (and even "recommended" by some) in all schools of Islamic law -- Sunni or Shi'ite. It allows that it is permissible "to dissimulate" or not tell the truth to pagans, non-Muslims and even backsliding or apostating Muslims (this of course depends upon who makes the judgement about who is doing the "backsliding" or "apostasy").

"Backsliders" are considered to have "apostated themselves from Islam" anyhow -- Salman Rushdie and the bans placed upon him are a good example of how this kind of thing can work in the extremist mind. Put in another way, it is permissible "to lie" to pagans, non-Muslims, or apostates in the interests of Islam. Western persons of good will sometimes have trouble digesting "multi-cultural" norms such as these and are, in fact, often "surprised" when confronted by them. In fact, Gaddafi is now using the strategy to good effect in his sudden return to "Islamism" and insistence that he is observing the UN Resolution and its call for a cease-fire. "False manifestos" and inaccurate cargo lists are just part and parcel of the same mindset. They are not a problem.