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'We are seeing escalation in Libya'
Tue, 26 Apr 2011 11:53:27 GMT
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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says his country will take part in NATO-led operations on Libya.

The decision was made following a phone call with US President Barack Obama. Italy said it joined the operation in Libya to better contribute to protecting civilians.

Following is a transcript of an interview with Chip Pitts, a political commentator from Dallas, to discuss the issue in more detail:

Press TV: How do you assess the US role in Libya?

Pitts: Well, I do believe an astute analysis must raise the larger geopolitical issues that are often neglected when looking at this. I don't think that the evidence that this was a strictly humanitarian action was there; in fact, I've actually been very concerned that the US and NATO seem oblivious about to the fact that in supposedly trying to stop a humanitarian disaster that was supposedly going to happen in Benghazi, now we are actually seeing - in a self-fulfilling prophecy -- an escalation, a mission-creep, a militarization, and an intervention in the civil war that's resulting in hundreds of deaths on the ground. And they are deaths that are not speculative; they are deaths that are actual: you know, women and children are being killed. And we actually see the possibility of a spreading conflict where we go even beyond a civil war to truly Hobbesian, internecine tribal warfare in an environment like Libya.

So, once again, it seems to me that in the name of humanitarianism, the US is actually undermining its true security interests by increasing instability in the region.

Press TV: How much do you think the attack on Libya is because of the isolation of Libya in international diplomacy and the isolation of Muammar Gaddafi in particular?

Pitts: I think that is actually a hugely significant factor: the fact that Libya was easy to attack certainly is a factor. As contrasted with the fact that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, for example, are allies, so we are standing by there, as we stood by Yemen until it became impossible to do so any longer, just as we stood by Mubarak in Egypt until it became evident that he was on the way out.

So, it makes it easy when you've got someone as stigmatized and as much of a pariah as Gaddafi is. It's easy to attack. But what happened, in addition, is that that the US misunderstood the actual composition of the rebel forces, not really knowing what their capabilities [or lack thereof] were. And I think that we in the US also underestimated the degree of support that Gaddafi has both in his country still, but also in other countries as in Africa, such as the countries in the African Union. So there really was not the sort of accurate strategic analysis that needed to occur before this action was undertaken.

Press TV: Mr. Pitts, there's talk of Libya becoming divided in the future. And many say the situation in Libya is becoming more like Somalia. How do you assess the situation?

Pitts: Well, clearly a divided Libya is one possible scenario in the future. At present there's the stalemate going on that could continue for years. It's quite clear, unlike what many people said at the outset, that rebels are not capable, that they are very small force. Even their most ardent supporters now admit that they are incapable and require the training that's now being offered by advisors from the UK and Italy, France and so forth. But it's quite clear that they cannot win by themselves, even with the additional air power. So whereas John McCain said that “hope is not a strategy,” it seems to be the strategy.

So, one scenario is that the stalemate continues. The other scenarios are that what [US] Defense Secretary Robert Gates articulated happens and that there is a “solution” by what he called “a bullet in the back of the head” …in other words, that someone will kill Gaddafi. Another “solution” is that there are enough defections that the regime sort of crumbles under its own weight. Or - and I think this is the solution that we should all strive for -- there is a negotiated solution: there is actually a negotiated departure of Gaddafi. But the risk is that by increasing the war with this escalation, the enhanced airstrikes, the drones, you actually may make that much less likely. To a much greater extent than even in the International Criminal Court resolution from the UN, by actually having Gaddafi, his sons, his family and his supporters in fear of their lives - backing up against a wall like cornered rats - you might make it much more difficult to reach the sort of solution that you had for example with [former Libyan] foreign minister Moussa Koussa, who was excused in a sense. He was allowed to leave and given a sort of immunity. Sometimes we just don't realize the unintended consequences of these overly harsh actions.

So while the vision of a divided Libya and continued stalemate for a long time is a possibility, I don't think that's a possibility that's politically palatable either to NATO forces or to the Obama administration (which after all is already is in the midst of the 2012 presidential election).

Press TV: How much do you think the US war on Libya is for business interests rather than being in the interest of the revolutionaries in Libya?

Pitts: I actually think it's important to recognize that there are multiple strands of causes for this action. You know some people in the administration in Washington were authentically trying to validate the so-called “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine -- this nascent notion that if the government is unable to protect its citizens, or acts affirmatively to torture or kill them (as Gaddafi has been doing for years), then it's up to the international community to step in. But then, as you say, there are these other interests, such as the geopolitical situation with China, the fact that Libya does have the second largest oil reserves. All of these factors can come into play.

But what we have now is that it's obvious that the action that the Obama administration and its allies --[President Nicolas] Sarkozy in France, [Prime Minister David] Cameron in the UK and now NATO -- have taken, was very precipitous and unthoughtful. Because we now have a confusion over the ends of the action, the objectives -- is it “regime change” or is it merely defensive protection of civilians as required by the UN Security Council resolution? We also have major questions about the means taken. We are seeing the sort of escalation and mission creep that we saw in Korea, that we saw in Vietnam. So we are not learning the lessons of history. I think what's important to realize at this point -- and it is imperative and in everyone's interests -- is that we need to have a more sensible and rapid focus on a negotiated end to the crisis.

Press TV: We see Italy in between the crisis here. What role does Italy play here?

Pitts: As the former colonial power, Italy was reluctant to get involved originally, even though it was pressured strongly by the Obama administration, the UK and so forth. I think that the current involvement of Italy in airstrikes was likely taken and now trumpeted in part to make it seem that NATO has unwavering and growing commitment to the Libyan action. But that's misleading. Deep divisions continue, as many people have noted including supporters of the Libyan action like John McCain. Only six of NATO's country members are actively taking part.

Now the actual role of Italy could produce a backlash. As the former colonial power, it could actually be used by Gaddafi loyalists in propaganda: they could more readily say that there are these “foreign interveners.” That risk is made even more significant with the use of these drones -- these robotic predator drones that have caused such problems in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, leading to even the governments involved (as in Pakistan's case) objecting that their citizens are being killed. And the drones have resulted in the disproportionate death of innocent people. That's inevitable. It's supposed to be a very precise technology and yet the collateral damage is significant even with the drones. The fact that you've got these superior technological forces, the robots killing from the sky, can be very, very harmful symbolically. That's why I personally think it was a grave strategic error to begin to rely on the drones in this situation --yet another war the United States is involved in.

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