According to The New York Times on March 12th:
“The Arab League asked the United Nations Security Council on Saturday to impose a no-flight zone over Libya in hopes of halting Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s attacks on his own people, providing the rebels a tincture of hope even as they were driven back from a long stretch of road and towns they had captured in the three-week war.”
What is occurring in Libya is not like Burundi or Rwanda, where nearly one million or more innocent men, women and children were slaughtered and the world stood by outraged but not intervening. It is not comparable to the Congo, where hundreds of civilians have been killed or raped, some reportedly by the very UN soldiers sent to protect them. It is not akin to Bosnia where Serbian generals were conducting a war of genocide against a Muslim population.
No, this is a civil war and the deservedly unpopular government of Gadhafi (unpopular with the U.S. and NATO) is currently winning that war with the rebels who, so far as I know, have not yet established that they are any better in their philosophy of government.
If a no-fly zone is desired, why don’t the 22 states of the Arab League provide the military force to enforce it? Why should our young men and women be put at risk?
Didn’t we not long ago enter into an arms deal with Saudi Arabia agreeing to replace its current Air Force — supplied by us — with a new one and with the most advanced planes costing billions of dollars? What do they do with these planes and the pilots who fly them? Isn’t the same true of the armies and air forces of Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and others as well?
The Times reported on March 13:
“American officials also said that the Arab League would have to do more than endorse action — it would have to participate in it, too. ‘That doesn’t mean they have to fly airplanes,’ one official said, ‘but there is much they can do, from providing airfields to gas and maintenance.’ ”
I beg to differ. I think the members of the Arab League should fly the planes to enforce a no-fly zone against Libya, which is a member state. Why do we have to fly the planes at risk of being shot down?
When and if we were to enforce a no-fly zone and innocent Libyan civilians are injured or killed by us, will we then be excoriated as we were last weekend by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at a memorial service for civilians killed by American troops? The Times reported on March 13:
“In an emotional speech on Saturday in the eastern city of Asadabad, in Kunar Province, the Afghan president told relatives and neighbors of civilian victims that he sympathized with their plight. ‘With great honor and with great respect, and humbly rather than with arrogance, I request that NATO and America should stop these operations on our soil,’ he said. ‘This war is not on our soil. If this war is against terror, then this war is not here, terror is not here.’
“Mr. Karzai’s remarks were made at a memorial service for the victims, in the presence of local officials as well as the second highest ranking American general in Afghanistan, David M. Rodriquez. ‘Our demand is that this war should be stopped,’ Mr. Karzai said. ‘This is the voice of Afghanistan.’ ”
Mr. Omer, a Karzai spokesman, later said: “The president had meant that such operations leading to civilian deaths should be stopped.”
Let’s take Karzai at his initial word and get out now before another American soldier is blown up.
A speech made last weekend by Defense Secretary Gates to our NATO allies in Brussels, Belgium, contained in a transcript released by the Pentagon and reported by the Times on March 12 the Secretary stated:
“‘Frankly, there is too much talk about leaving and not enough talk about getting the job done right,’ he said. ‘Too much discussion of exit and not enough discussion about continuing the fight. Too much concern about when and how many troops might redeploy and not enough about what needs to be done before they leave.’ ”
This statement was apparently prompted by increasing signs that our NATO allies are preparing to leave Afghanistan. The Times reported:
“The defense secretary’s speech was aimed at a Europe where the war, a retaliation for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that was supposed to be over in months, has become more and more unpopular. Mr. Gates mentioned no specific countries, but two important nations that have announced or are considering withdrawals are Germany and Britain. Between them they have 13,900 troops in Afghanistan. The United States has about 100,000 soldiers in the country.
“The German Parliament voted in January to begin withdrawing its 4,900 soldiers by the end of this year, the first time that Germany, which has the third-largest number of troops in Afghanistan, set a time frame for bringing its men and women home. Britain, which has the second-largest contingent, about 9,000 troops, said in December that it was "possible" that its forces would start leaving this year.
“Poland has said it will bring its 2,600 troops home by 2012, and Canada is scheduled to pull its 2,800 troops out by the end of this year. Last year, the Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in Afghanistan when it withdrew its 1,900 forces.”
The Times went on to report:
“Although American troops do most of the fighting in Afghanistan, the United States relies on the European allies to provide trainers for the Afghan National Army and the police, a critical mission if the Afghans are to defend their own country by 2014. NATO is still 750 trainers short of what it promised after Mr. Obama committed an additional 30,000 American combat troops to Afghanistan in late 2009.”
Note: We do most of the fighting and have about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Our NATO allies in Europe, long protected by us from the threats of the Soviet Union, are leaving us in the lurch. Why are we keeping troops in Germany 66 years after World War II ended and 22 years after the Berlin Wall came down?
Karzai doesn’t want us in Afghanistan unless he controls our troops and their rules of engagement. Our NATO allies no longer believe in the maxim of “all for one and one for all,” except when it applies to them. And now the world looks to us to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya? When will we wake up?
Edward I. Koch, who served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, is a partner in the law firm of Bryan Cave.