Five Things the Conflict in Libya Is Not

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Libya-related chatter in the U.S. on Wednesday seemed to revolve around how the White House was going to wriggle away from stipulations of the War Powers Act — Swampland’s Jay Newton Small has the answer here. Evidently, the U.S. is acting in a “support” role, with no boots on the ground, and is “not engaged in any of the activities that over history have been considered [war-like] hostilities.” Quite simply, the U.S. according to the Obama Administration is not fighting a “war” in Libya.

The debate will surely continue, but it’s all semantic to the countless Libyans rationing food, hiding from rocket-fire and fearful of bombs in the night. The conflict there has been confirmed today by the Associated Press to be a “civil war” — a term us free-wheeling magazine hacks were throwing around long before. Of course, with NATO warships moored off the coast and British and French military “advisers” encamped with the rebels, the fighting there surely is more than just a domestic civil war. So what do we call it? Well, as we have noted more than once, it’s sort of a mess. So rather than scratch our heads any further, here’s what we can definitively tell you the conflict in Libya is not.

It’s not simply a “humanitarian intervention.” The U.N.-mandated bombing campaigns against Gaddafi’s forces hinged on this simple premise — that such an intervention would stave off an impending massacre of civilians. That was achieved, and a chastened Gaddafi regime has withdrawn from Libya’s east licked its wounds and is bogged down in a war of attrition with advancing rebels on mutliple fronts. The NATO missions have only intensified, with helicopter gunships now in the fray and the lurking possibility of Western boots on the ground. This is a war for regime change, plain and simple, and that’s a fact the Obama Administration and its European allies no longer bother to hide.

It’s not free of American “hostilities.” The Obama Administration argues that it has not directly engaged in hostilities in Libya since April, but it remains tactically involved with NATO and continues to deploy unmanned drones there. War by proxy is still war.

It’s not a colonialist crusade. Let’s be honest, the Crusades involved packs of medieval Western warriors leaving their snow-bitten lands for the opportunity to plunder and pillage the far more wealthy Levant — and, yes, they cloaked themselves in a shimmering piety. But as Gaddafi rages about NATO being a cowardly crusader, one must remind him that these infidels have Libya’s rebels on their side, and probably have no interest in hanging around Benghazi any longer than they have to. Well, maybe Bernard Henri-Levy might try to stay.

Nor is it a jihadist uprising. Nor is Gaddafi’s accusation — and Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s insinuation — that the Libyan rebellion is the first stage of an al-Qaeda takeover at all valid. Sure, there are some among the rebels who have links to Islamist militancy. But the rebels by and large reflect a wide cross-section of a country ruled for four decades by one rather crazy dictator, and include in their ranks esteemed secular figures — doctors, engineers, and CIA stooges.

It’s not a chess match. Really, it isn’t.


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