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Libya: Arab League Support, and the Targeting of Gaddafi

28 March 2011 by Administrator

Yesterday the Arab League met in Cairo for an emergency session to discuss recent developments in Libya. The support of the Arab League was crucial to the passing of UN resolution 1973, and remains vital to the legitimacy of the ongoing Western-led military offensive in Libya that followed that resolution. However, on Sunday, the League’s Secretary-General Amr Moussa expressed concerns that: “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians.” The following day, perhaps in response to US and European pressure, Moussa clarified that: “We are committed to UN security council resolution 1973. We have no objection to this decision, particularly as it does not call for an invasion of Libyan territory.” This equivocation has caused alarm in many Western capitals.

Meanwhile, debate continues over whether or not UN resolution 1973 authorises the deliberate targeting of Colonel Gaddafi. In the UK, chief of defence staff Sir David Richards said no, while defence secretary Liam Fox and Prime Minister David Cameron said maybe. Head of the U.S. Africa Command, General Carter F Ham, has said that attacking Gaddafi was not part of his mandate, whereas President Obama publicly stated yesterday that it is the policy of the U.S. government that Gaddafi must leave office.

While the British government focused on whether the text of the resolution authorised direct action against Gaddafi, Obama took a more nuanced approach. He justified the apparent contradiction between the positions of the White House and the Pentagon by drawing a distinction between the aims of the US government and the US military in relation to Libya. The US government was focused on the removal of Gaddafi he said, but it was looking at diplomatic, rather than military methods to achieve this. The US military by contrast were instead acting under a separate “international mandate” granted by the Security Council that was focused on protecting Libyan civilians.

The practical reality of this distinction might be questionable, but it at least does not require legal debates over whether resolution 1973, which was passed ostensibly for the purpose of protecting Libyan citizens, would permit a direct strike against Gaddafi. Such debates surely make it far easier for Gaddafi to denounce the military operation in Libya as “colonialist-crusader” attacks, as he did this morning. They are also surely not helpful to the Arab League’s attempts to build a consensus for political and practical support for the Western-led military activity in Libya. There has been much talk about the “emotional optics” or public perception of the manner of the West’s involvement in Libya. It is hard to see how the “emotional optics” in respect to debates over whether or not Gaddafi can be legally assassinated by the West can be anything other than negative.


Posted in International
Tagged Gaddafi, Libya







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