Arab League’s Libya Jitters — Be Careful, These Jitters Are Super Contagious

So far only 1 of 22 members is prepared to send forces to help in the NFZ

One more flip flop from Mr. Moussa and my hair will all turn gray.  Apparently, after Monday’s meeting with the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, Amr Moussa and the Arab League now appears to be back on board after slipping badly over the weekend.  I’ve also heard the AL spokesman on NPR called that flip flop this past weekend, a misunderstanding. 

The Guardian reports:

Standing alongside the UN chief, he said: “We are committed to UN security council resolution 1973. We have no objection to this decision, particularly as it does not call for an invasion of Libyan territory.”

Moussa’s statement followed a frantic round of phone calls from several US officials. The UN and NATO also made contact, the latter seeking for itself a command-and-control role, a development that would allow an anxious US military to retreat to the sidelines.

An emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on Tuesday looms as a crucial test of will for the regional body, which has been caught between a desire to see Colonel Gaddafi gone and reluctance to be seen to have the US, or Europe, do its bidding.
President Obama’s reluctance to send in his air force and navy until the Arab League had taken a diplomatic lead leaves the body in the position of having sanctioned a US-led attack on a member state – a tough stance to adopt, with the wounds of Iraq still healing.

Secondly, finishing militarily what authentic popular uprisings have so far managed to achieve with little bloodshed in Tunisia and Egypt could set a precedent that struggling revolutionaries, particularly in Yemen, would like to see repeated.
So far, despite the broad support given to military action at an earlier Arab League meeting last month, only Qatar has been prepared to contribute forces. Four Qatari air force jets were expected to appear over Libyan skies this week.

Much of the bombing has already been done, with US commanders reporting that all radar installations used to guide surface to air missiles have been taken out.

A second league official said if this assessment were confirmed, it would be easier for more member states to send forces. “If it is just a no-fly zone, people will be a lot more comfortable,” he said.

In short, their strategery seems to be “leave the dirty work to others and then we’ll see.” Ugh! 

I don’t think these folks are pulling their weight.  It’s like they want their juice but they don’t want to squeeze the fruit. Pour the juice in that sparkling glass, please.         

The Guardian has put up a list of recent protests in the Arab League states here and notes that:

The Arab League’s support for military intervention in Libya has been pivotal in persuading the US and the UN security council to act. But a glance through membership reveals that the governments of 18 of its 22 states do not have democratic credentials: they are suppressing – often violently – protest movements inside their own borders, have already undergone popular revolutions or have a chequered history regarding their support for democracy.

Oh, and that’s why it’s so complicated.

Samer Shehata, an associate professor specializing in Arab politics at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at NPR says:

If one wants to be sympathetic to Mr. Moussa, he’s trying to influence the extent to which military force is used, to put pressure on countries to lessen military involvement. And he’s also trying to hedge his bets: He’s a presidential candidate and doesn’t want to be seen as someone who sanctioned a bombardment that could potentially kill many Libyan civilians or could become unpopular.

When asked what might this discomfort with Western intervention mean, not only for Libya but for other Arab countries roiled by dissent, Shehata explained:

These are countries that are not democratic, and there are fears that something like this could happen to them. We’re seeing continuing unrest and opposition movements in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria; this potentially sets a terrible precedent for those states. It makes their ability to use massive force against protest result in international intervention. The Arab League approving intervention puts them in a difficult situation. It could happen to them, as well.

Michael Rubin Rubin, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute in the same NPR program says that the “the Arab League is more about punditry than leadership. Rather than lead Arab public opinion, they amplify it. So while Arab public opinion demanded a no-fly zone, once the bombing started, that wavered.”

And that’s how it got to be for the NFZ before it was against it, but not anymore.

The SecDef during his press event in Egypt was asked why haven’t we seen any Arab participation in the military coalition so far?  And is this a wariness on their part of the Arab public opinion becoming less supportive of the effort?

Secretary Gates response?  “Well, I know that at least one country is participating, but I don’t know if they’ve announced it yet, so I’m hesitant to do so myself.  But there is — there is at least one participating, and a number are providing support and assistance — for example, overflight rights and access and so on.”

Qatar has been identified as providing four jets for the NFZ. The UAE has been mentioned as providing support, but since it was not announced that it will fly planes, presumably its type of support is not for the frontlines. CNN reported that Turkey (NATO member but not Arab League state), voted today to participate in the alliance’s naval operations but only in support of the arms embargo against Libya. It will not conduct military strikes.

On a side note, below is a summary of Humanitarian Funding for Libya per Donor as of 24 March 2011: