Growing the War in Libya

By Steve Weissman,

RSN Special Coverage: Egypt’s Struggle for Democracy

If America and its NATO allies flew into battle over Libya to prevent a bloodbath in Benghazi, as President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, and President Nicholas Sarkozy of France continue to claim, the big three are now escalating their war to defend “the defenseless civilians of Ajdabiya” and end the “medieval siege” of Misrata.

Their barely camouflaged declaration of intent came in a joint letter that appeared last week in the Times of London, Le Figaro and the International Herald Tribune. “Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians,” they wrote. “It is not to remove Qaddafi [Kadhafi] by force.”

But, they added, “So long as Qaddafi [Kadhafi] is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds.”

Regime change was always what the big three wanted, as they never stopped repeating. But now they have effectively rewritten the UN resolution to make Kadhafi’s ouster their officially stated goal. Continuing to describe their intervention in humanitarian terms, they have moved from protecting innocent civilians to openly backing one side in a Libyan civil war.

With the original UN resolution, the nations that voted for it — and those that abstained — were motivated in part by Col. Muammar Kadhafi’s murderous threat to “chase the traitors from Benghazi.” He would, he said, “track them down, and search for them, alley by alley, road by road” and show them “no mercy.”

Source Respected scholars argue [1] that those who favored intervention “grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat” and falsely raised the specter of genocide to justify military action. But who in power cared? Having already boxed themselves into a corner by repeatedly calling for Kadhafi to go, Obama, Sarkozy, and Cameron would never run the risk that the Libyan strongman might follow through on his bluster while they refused to act. Tune in to Al Jazeera English to watch both the bloodshed and the squirming.

Now, with all sides contributing to a very real humanitarian crisis in Misrata, the big three have greatly upped the stakes. The rhetoric remains hot and heavy, with far more media coverage of Kadhafi’s sins than those of the armed civilians NATO is now backing. And, amid the grisly recitation of atrocities, the allies are openly putting more of their own military boots on the ground. [2]


On Tuesday, Cameron sent a small group of military advisors to Libya, to do what is not exactly clear, while Sarkozy is sending in a French contingent following a meeting Wednesday with the leader of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, Kadhafi’s recently-resigned Minister of Justice, Mustafa Abdul Jalil. The meeting came after one of Sarkozy’s allies in the French parliament called for putting 200 to 300 French special forces on the ground to help direct NATO planes in bombing Kadhafi’s forces.

Lawyers will argue at what point the build-up of British and French forces violates the UN resolution’s explicit prohibition of “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” But, contrary to official statements, these are not the first foreign troops to enter the war, nor are they likely to be the last.

As early as February 25, the Israeli news service Debkafiles reported that British, French, and American special forces had landed off Benghazi and Tobruk, while the Wall Street Journal, UPI and London’s Daily Mail reported the presence by early March of foreign arms and military advisers, including some from Egypt.

Another report in the right-wing Italian daily Libero claims that French soldiers secretly met with one of the military planners of the Benghazi uprising as early as November 18 of last year. This is yet to be confirmed, but French media [3] Source have widely reported that the first of Kadhafi’s top officials to defect, protocol chief Nuri Mesmari, came to Paris in October asking for political asylum. Known as the Libyan WikiLeak for his intimate knowledge of Kadhafi’s inner circle, Mesmari and his discussions with French intelligence appear to have been the initial impetus behind Sarkozy’s push for the Libyan intervention.

Additional Sources:




A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes on international affairs.

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