Thursday, March 24, 2011

It's Time For Arab States To Step Up

To paraphrase the great military blogger Tom Ricks, the only people not freaking over Libya are those who didn't like the idea of a no-fly zone in the first place. That noted, the U.S.-led NATO air forces have accomplished what they set out to do in a mere three days. Radar and anti-aircraft missile sites are in ruins and Moammar el-Qaddafi's air force is effectively grounded. So it's time for lesser air forces to take over. Like those from the Arab League.

Hello, Arab League. Anyone home?


The support of the Arab League was crucial in giving legitimacy to Operation Odyssey Dawn, but despite talking the talk, league member countries for the most part are reluctant to walk the walk, and league President Amr Moussa has criticized the air strikes as beyond the scope of the United Nations resolution, which it is not.

Moussa later did some walking back of his own, saying he only meant to voice concern over the protection of civilians, but the impression grows that the nations that have the largest stake in Libya, which is to say stabilizing a region that has reverberated with pro-democracy protests and now a civil war, are basically gutless.

That may be a bit harsh. After all, most of these nations are new at coalition building, ambivalent at best about the outbreak of pro-democracy movements, are run by autocrats and have miniscule air forces with little real-world experience. In other words, they have plenty of excuses for not wanting to take the responsibility.

So far
only the Qataris have contributed to the NATO task force despite early promises of support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Prince Saud of Saudi Arabia added insult to injury in stating after a meeting with British PM David Cameron on the no-fly zone that he strongly supported "the steps being taken by the international community to enforce it." Yeah, that and and five riyals will get you a cup of coffee at the Starbucks on Prince Abdullah Street in Riyadh.

Among the Arab League member countries struck deaf and dumb since the task force took to the skies are Algeria, Libya's eastern neighbor, and Jordan and Syria. Egypt, which abuts Libya's western border, would appear to be the perfect place to base Arab League aircraft, but no such offer has been forthcoming from the interim Cairo government.

The non-involvement of most league nations comes at a crucial juncture. The coalition shows signs of fracturing over who is in charge and what happens next.

The answer to that is obvious: While Arab League nations for the most part have 19th century societies and 18th century tribal rulers, it is time that they figuratively leave the sandbox, begin acting like grown-ups, take over the mission and determine, with ample Western materiel, intelligence and other resources, what should happen next.

Hello, Arab League. Anyone home?

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