Thursday, March 31, 2011

It’s a very problematic situation

The US issues a warning that it will bomb anyone in Libya, government or rebel, who kills civilians. Or as a spokesmodel puts it, “whether pro-Qaddafi or pro-opposition.”

“Pro-opposition?” Don’t the positive and negative in that phrase cancel each other out?

And we will do so because UN Security Council Resolution 1973 applies to both sides. Of course so does Resolution 1970, the arms embargo on Libya, but we’re still planning to arm the rebels (I assume we actually already are).

But who counts as a civilian? In the past, ambassador to the UN Susan Rice refused to say whether rebels were civilians or combatants. And it’s not like there’s an official rebel army that people enlist in, put on a uniform, and serve in for the duration (when such un-uniformed irregulars fight American forces in Iraq or Afghanistan, we call them “unlawful combatants”).

And on the other side, the Libyan government is handing out assault weapons to pro-Qaddafi civilians, further confusing the definition of “civilian,” which some might consider a problem, since the only stated rationale for Operation Turd Sandwich is the protection of civilians. Obama in his speech Monday said that our military activities (i.e., blowing shit up) have no broader goals. An anonymous “legal adviser to the military campaign” says that Libyans “are so intermixed that it is not feasible to discern where the boundary between the civilians and opposition forces lie”. “There are also those civilians entitled to protection that may be armed in order to protect their families, homes, businesses, and communities. Other civilians may join the rebels at certain stages, becoming armed combatants, and then decide to return home for whatever reason, thus transitioning back to civilian non-combatants.” General Carter Ham, proud possessor of the WASPiest name in all Christendom, said “it’s not a clear distinction, because we’re not talking about a regular military force — it’s a very problematic situation.” These are admissions that the just-protecting-civilians rationale is effectively meaningless.

And what does it mean for the Libyans? Basically, if civilians and combatants are mixed together, as they are everywhere, neither side can attack territory held by the other side without fouling afoul of Resolution 1973. So stalemate forever, and effective division of Libya, is that our policy?

(Update: IOZ notes the natural extension of threat to bomb anyone who kills civilians.) (Belgium has it coming; I’ve always said so.)

(Update updated: Glenn Greenwald comment on Twitter: “We sit in the sky, over Libya, threatening to shoot lighting bolts at anyone who sins.”)

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