The Washington Post says that fears are gowing that a humanitarian catastophe will overtake cities beseiged by Khadaffi, whose forces are reputed to be shelling rebel cities once the aircraft overhead are momentarily gone.
Aid organizations scrambled Wednesday to prepare for large-scale relief operations in Libya, as fears grew of a potential humanitarian crisis in a key city besieged by government forces.
International military forces on Wednesday stepped up attacks on government troops in Misurata, 131 miles east of Tripoli. The airstrikes seemed to bring a temporary respite from the fighting that had raged for six days between forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi and rebels, as government tanks retreated from the city center.
But after nightfall, the tanks returned and resumed their attacks, according to a doctor at the city’s main hospital. “They are shelling everywhere,” he said by telephone.
The danger has now been recognized; Washington Post said the US military had warned Khadaffi to leave population centers alone, but quoted reports that there are 80,000 displaced persons already. AID agencies said they were scrambling to find supplies to meet the need. A conference was being convened in London to figure out the necessary response to get ahead of the curve.
Meanwhile, Britain said it would host an international conference in London on Tuesday for all countries involved in the Libya situation, including those not contributing military assets. In addition to discussing implementation of United Nations resolutions on Libya, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the gathering would “consider the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people and identify ways to support the people of Libya in their aspirations for a better future.”
The UN is now sounding the alarm. "UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya Rashid Khalikov on Wednesday expressed concern about reports of ongoing fighting in Libya and the humanitarian situation inside the country." Migrant workers were struggling to get out; people were stuck in makeshift camps, etc, etc.
Yet nothing about these developments is surprising. Any damned fool could see it coming. And as for getting ahead of the curve, one wag remarked that the sooner you fall behind, the quicker you can catch up. On March 19, 2011 at the start of the Libyan operation, this site noted that a humanitarian crisis was a distinct possibility. I wrote:
Can NATO Topple the Gaddafi Regime? Yes, if it can impose a blockade lasting several months, is willing to risk to risk the destruction of Libyan oil, and can eventually deploy UAVs over Libya. But the the worst thing they can do is let the fighting drag on, because it will almost inevitably lead to a humanitarian crisis in Libya. ...
The control of the Med would be largely wasted unless NATO can open the port of Benghazi to allied shipping. ... As can be seen from the map below, the water supply infrastructure is located to the west, again beyond Benghazi. If Khadaffi can drive, by terror or ethnic cleansing, his opponents into rebel lines, the onus of feeding and watering perhaps millions will fall to NATO. They cannot do this without a port. ...
Finally, for the rebels to hold on to the ground they will need persistent air support. European air power is limited by endurance. ... Persistent coverage is best provided by UAVs, which can be deployed after the Libyan air force is completely swept from the skies. ...
what can Khadaffi do? If he is suicidal and cares nothing for political consequences, he will probably attempt to create a humanitarian crisis as soon as possible. Such oil facilities as he cannot hold or feasibly protect, he may dynamite, in the dirtiest possible way. He can attempt to seize as many hostages from among the remaining Westerners as he possibly can. The Duck can also smash the system which brings water to the coast. Finally, he may unleash one last spasm of terrorism against the West and may, as a final act of self-immolation, blow all the oil facilities in his power before giving them up to the enemy. All of these tactics were used, in one way or the other, either by himself or by Saddam Hussein in Iraq, so they will instantly occur to Khadaffi.
This seemed so self evident as to be hardly worth mentioning. It was obvious that an early and decisive end to the Libyan operation would be the best way to avoid a prolonged torment of civilians. Victory, not a conference in London discussing the distribution of relief supplies, is the common-sense exit to a humanitarian crisis. And yet the objective of victory or regime change is the one thing neither the administration, nor whatever command structure comes after it relinquishes the initiative is at pains not to utter.
Not how do you not work for a victory and still be surprised by a humanitarian crisis? It staggers the imagination to think that professional military planners would not have anticipated these difficulties. And it is almost certain that they did. Gomer Pyle himself would have forseen it clearly. Therefore a fiasco of such proportions can only be the work of politics: politics, that dismal science in which the shortest way between two points is a trip in the opposite direction.
How could this happen? Maureen Dowd in an opinion piece titled The Flight of the Valkyries, half-seriously believes that President Obama was stampeded into Libya operation by the machinations of Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Gayle Smith and Hillary Clinton, assisted perhaps by the hovering spirit of Helen Caldicott. She writes:
When Mr. Obama listened to his militaristic muses, it gave armchair shrinks lots to muse about. As one wrote to me: "Cool, cerebral president chooses passion and emotion (human rights, Samantha, Hillary, Susan) over reason and strategic thinking (Bob Gates, Tom Donilon). Is it the pattern set up by his Mom and Michelle -- women have the last word?"
White House aides smacked back hard on the guys vs. girls narrative. A senior administration official e-mailed the Politico's Mike Allen that Ms. Power, Ms. Smith and Ms. Clinton weren't even in the meeting where the president decided to move forward and tell Ms. Rice to seek authority at the United Nations for a no-fly zone.
Except that it ain't cute, even in the words of Dowd, because such thoughtlessness can lead to deaths. Disturbingly, John Podhoretz argues that it might actually be true and that the Obama administration was guided in the Libya decision by a new doctrine, a concept called "Responsibility to Protect" or R2P, otherwise known as Do-gooding by B2. The strategic bomber, that is.
According to Rogin, the governing doctrine that helped Obama to make his decision to act was not an appeal to the national interest, but rather to a recent concept promulgated at the United Nations called “responsibility to protect,” or R2P.
R2P is an effort to create a new international moral standard to prevent violence against civilians.
In her career as a genocide expert, Power was an indefatigable proponent of R2P, and now on the National Security Council has been “trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward.” Hillary is her ally in this effort, it appears.
It seems scarcely credible that a military operation could have been based on so flimsy a strategic idea. But the concept might have proved a convenient pretext for other players, though what exactly they may have been thinking is hard to fathom.The fact remains that the Libyan operation, for whatever reason it was launched, will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe if it is allowed to drag on. You can't start a war without aiming to win it any more than you can start a humanitarian crisis in order to prevent it. But it is frightening to think that some people might think themselves smart enough to try.
Yet more worrisome still is what may follow: that when the defects of this genius strategy become undeniable its architects will attempt to patch it by designing little ground interventions in penny-packets. They will draw tidy lines on a map, like 'sanctuaries' and 'safe zones'. They may task "limited protective missions" and finally commando missions to swat away the worst nettles, all without reference to the politically incorrect word "victory".
Let's hope this doesn't happen. The worst thing possible is for me to write some new post at Belmont Club two months from now and find that I can quote myself again.
"No Way In" print edition at Amazon