NATO bombards civilians in Libya 15

It’s never a surprise when a political act turns out to be a bitter mockery of the humanitarian values it’s supposed to serve.

So the news that civilians in Libya are being bombed by NATO, which intervened in the Libyan civil war to protect civilians, elicits little more than a world-weary sigh from our Roving Eye War Reporter.

REWR, having sent the news but no detailed dispatch home, refers readers to two posts of ours (find them through the research slot):  The danger of R2P, March 23, 2011, in which it is explained that R2P stands for Responsibility to Protect, a UN declaration which provided NATO’s pretext; and A siren song from hell, April 1, 2011. They trace the idea of invoking that piece of lethal self-righteousness to three women in the Obama administration:

  • Samantha Power, Senior Director of Multicultural Affairs at the National Security Council
  • Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State

To show just how NATO action in Libya is making a mockery of the R2P, we quote from a report by Mike McNally at PajamasMedia:

The fighters of Libya’s National Transitional Council, the rebel movement turned temporary government, have launched what they say is a “final assault” on Sirte — hometown of ousted dictator Colonel Gaddafi and one of the last redoubts of his supporters. 

Thousands of civilians have fled the town, but thousands more are trapped inside, unable or unwilling to leave. The Red Cross reports that conditions inside Sirte are deteriorating, with people dying in the main hospital due to shortages of medical supplies, fuel, and water; food is also said to be in short supply.

There are no reliable casualty figures, although pro-Gaddafi forces — not surprisingly — are reporting hundreds of civilian deaths caused by both NTC fighters and NATO airstrikes. …

Even if rebel forces aren’t intentionally targeting civilians, the ramshackle nature of the rebel forces and much of their equipment suggests that much of the shelling and rocketing is indiscriminate. Red Cross workers have reported rockets landing among the hospital buildings. …

You could be forgiven for wondering what the NATO forces who are still engaged in Libya plan to do about the situation in Sirte, given that UN Resolution 1973, under which they’re operating, authorizes them to take “all necessary measures” to protect “civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”.  

But far from defending the civilian population of Sirte, NATO warplanes were as recently as Sunday still conducting airstrikes in and around the town in support of the rebels. “Why is NATO bombing us?” asked one man who had fled with his family. It’s a fair question.

NATO had already put a highly elastic interpretation on its mandate under 1973, transitioning swiftly from protecting anti-Gaddafi protesters to flying close air support missions for the rebels.

And adding effective contingents of NATO soldiers to the feeble rag-tag rebel militia for the assault on Tripoli – a fact that NATO has tried to keep under wraps. (See our post Letting Arabs lie, August 24, 2011.)

But even if one takes the view that NATO’s actions from the start of its involvement up to the fall of Tripoli were legally and morally justified, it’s hard to argue that the Gaddafi loyalists besieged in Sirte and elsewhere present an imminent threat to the civilian population in areas now under NTC control. Far from protecting civilians, NATO now finds itself in the position of abetting a humanitarian crisis. Civilians in Sirte face a choice between enduring the shelling and the all-out assault on the town that’s likely within the next few days, and fleeing the city if they’re able. The Red Cross estimates that some 10,000 have fled, but that up to 30,000 more may still be trapped.

So why are NATO and the American, British, and French governments that were so eager to take charge of the “humanitarian” intervention, not doing more to ensure their safety? And where’s the media outcry, along the lines of the reporting which helped to persuade the West to get involved in Libya in the first place? …

At the very least NATO … could arrange the delivery of food, water, and medical supplies …

This is a civil war, and the only crime most of the civilians trapped in Sirte have committed is being on the losing side. Are they now to be denied the protection of the “international community” which a few months ago proclaimed itself so concerned at the loss of innocent life in the country? What happened to the UN’s much-vaunted “Responsibility to Protect”?

Commentators on both left and right raised doubts over NATO’s Libya mission, myself included. The removal of Gaddafi is of course to be welcomed, but while a stable and democratic regime that poses no threat to Western interests may yet emerge, recent events have suggested that outcome is still in doubt.

In doubt? A stable democratic regime in Libya? As in any other Arab country, it’s one of the most unlikely things in the world.