The Security Council Votes, and the “Great Leader of the Libyan Revolution” Loses His Airspace

I’ve never been so happy to hear that the French were coming.

Just one week ago, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam (“Sword of Islam”) Gaddafi boldly threw down to foreign powers that, if they were to intervene in Libya, they would meet their match:

“The French, the Europeans, they should talk to the Libyan people…If they want to support the militia, do it. But I tell you: you are going to lose. We will win,” Saif al-Islam said. “And we are not afraid of the American fleet, NATO, France, Europe. This is our country. We are here. We will die here.”

Well, it seems that this sort of machismo (I know that technically isn’t the right word, but it gets the point across) had little effect, because shortly before 7:00 pm yesterday evening the United Nations Security Council voted to impose a no-fly zone on Libya.  In fact, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 goes farther than that, including in its mandate recourse to “all necessary measures” in order to protect Libyan civilians from the violence of the civil war erupting around them.  This represents a substantial and surprising vindication of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine of just foreign intervention.  More to the point, it is a broad-enough mandate that it might have been designed to permit broader participation in the war to advantage the Rebels over the Loyalists.  The vote was 10-0, with abstentions:

Voting in favorFrance, the United Kingdom, the United States, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Portugal, Nigeria, and South Africa.

AbstainingChina, the Russian Federation, Brazil, Germany, India

Shortly after its abstention, the German government announced that it would assist military operations to enforce the no-fly zone.

To those worried that the resolution passed too late for a no-fly zone to protect the rebels, a spokesman for the French government gave assurances that the air strikes against Libyan air defenses necessary to establish a no-fly zone could be carried-out within a few hours–indeed, by the time of this writing.  The BBC and others report that the United States will provide assistance from the rear–at least initially, and that the United Kingdom, and France are prepared to deploy quickly; Norway has committed F16s and transport aircraft.  The CBC notes that Canada is planning to deploy 6 CF-18 fighter jets to participate in enforcement of the no-fly zone–and that Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are possible participant enforcers of the no-fly zone as well.

Col. Gaddafi (or Qaddafi, or Gadafi, or Ghadafi, or Gadhafi, or Ghaddafie as may be your preference) promised on Wednesday that the civil war in Libya would be ended over the following 48 hours.  “It’s already been decided,” he said.  It’s past noon on Friday in Libya, however, and so far the Rebels still securely control their headquarters in Benghazi.  Gaddafi has been “fudging” the extent of his advance eastward, pounding rebel positions with air strikes then running tanks into an out of coastal towns in an effort to push them back towards Benghazi.  The only way he has made this rapid progress, apparently, has been by declining to consolidate his gains along the road.  Gaddafi claimed to have taken Ajdabiya, a large town south of Benghazi on the Cyrenaica coast, but rebels flatly deny this.  While Gaddafi has regained some ground, these recent and precipitous gains appear to be cosmetic.

But it’s too early to declare victory for democracy in Libya, and the jubilation in Benghazi last night on the announcement of the Security Council’s resolution is understandable but presumes their rapid implementation.  The available data, while preliminary estimates, indicate that the Rebels have lost a lot of manpower.  This Friday morning, a now-desperate Gaddafi launched another attack on the city of Misurata, east of Tripoli.  For whatever (political) reasons President Obama and the several NATO and Arab League members who intend to enforce Security Council Resolution 1973 waited this long, they aren’t good-enough.  But while the Liberal Ironist has no illusions that “it’s never too late” to protect a democratic movement, as a more-forgiving Benghazi resident said during an al-Jazeera interview before the Security Council vote yesterday, the fact remains that it’s better late than never.

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