Serbia 1999 vs Libya 2011

Leading Australian academic Scott Burchill has some thoughts about Libya:

1. Military intervention like this can make the humanitarian crisis worse, as it did in Serbia in 1999. Milosevich’s attacks on Kosovars only escalated after NATO’s bombing campaign begun. So even though the West controls the skies over Libya, expect ground attacks by Gaddafi loyalists to intensify. Eg Misurata today.

2. Clinton had to bomb for 3 months before Milosevich gave up. Would Obama have the stomach for that? Would public opinion in the West? Whilst more Americans currently support the NFZ than oppose it, the figure is substantially below 50%.

3. NATO’s bombing campaign against Serbia did not produce regime change in Serbia. That happened later. Is there any example of an air campaign (alone) producing regime change?

4. Wars are unpredictable and rarely go to plan. Sometimes attacks like this galvanise nationalist opposition, something Gaddafi is trying to exploit.

5. Without Western “boots on the ground”, neither Gaddafi nor the rebels are likely to be able to defeat the other.This will probablyproduce a stalemate, followed by a partition and a protracted civil war. Most of Libya’s oil in the east where the rebels are trying to extend their reach.

6. Why no protection (or UNSC resolutions) for citizens currently being attacked by US allies in Bahrain and Yemen (to say nothing about Palestine)?

7. Obama was clever to let France and the UK take the lead, even though the Pentagon is directing the operation. He wants to minimise anti-Americanism in the Middle East and is already overstretched in Afghanistan. He is adamant there will be no US foot soldiers, as Clinton was in 1999. Better to have encouraged Turkey and Egypt to lead and to have told the UAE and Qatar to put heir money where their mouth was.

8. Who are the rebels we are supporting? What type of government would they install? Most seem to be former Gaddafi acolytes with no history of supporting democratic processes. This doesn’t bode well.

9. I think David Gardner in the Financial Times is right. Washington actually has very little interest in North Africa despite Libya’s oil. I think this partly explains Obama’s reluctance to get involved, limitWashington’s contribution, refuse to deploy troops and encourage Europeans to run the campaign. It is, however, desperately worried about the Gulf stateswhere it has vital strategic and commercial interests. It worries that Saleh’s successor in Yemen will not play ball in attacking Al Qaeda there (estimated at no more than 300). It worries about Bahrain, which plays host to the 5th fleet and what the Saudi’s will do there and possibly in Yemen. Despite the rhetoric, it knows that Iran has little if any leverage in either place. Washington is also concerned about Jordan, has no idea what is happening in Syria, and knows Israel is increasingly isolated (if that is possible). In other words, for Washington Libya is a sideshow.

UPDATE: Burchill has updated this piece and it’s published today on ABC Unleashed.

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