Republicans Missing the Point on Benghazi

American secretary of state Hillary Clinton testifies to the House Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, December 2, 2009
American secretary of state Hillary Clinton testifies to the House Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, December 2, 2009 (DoD/Chad J. McNeeley)

Opposition Republicans interrogated former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for eleven hours last week about the September 11, 2012 attack on the American CIA and diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Nothing new emerged from the marathon hearing.

The reason, argues Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Week, is that Republicans keep missing the point. Read more “Republicans Missing the Point on Benghazi”

Libya: French Soft Power in Retrospect

If a state possesses sufficient “soft power,” it has acquired the ability to frame and shame events and actors in international relations. The ability to frame enables the protagonist to package a debate in terms that are conducive to its own interests. The power to shame refers to the possibility of trapping other countries rhetorically and changing their behaviour.

The French role in last year’s intervention in Libya was a perfect example. Read more “Libya: French Soft Power in Retrospect”

Libyan Interim Government Urges Militias to Disband

Libya is facing a lot of problems, even after the successful defeat of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s loyalist forces and the murder of the once dictator himself. But officials in Libya’s National Transitional Council, the interim body that has been criticized over the past few months for its lack of transparency, are gearing up all of their resources to ensure that Libya’s future is a little bit easier going into the New Year.

Improving Libya’s economic and political future cannot be achieved until the council is serious about mending fences with former Gaddafi fighter and bringing the nation’s dozens of independent militias firmly under the central government’s authority.

Like any postwar transition process, reconciliation across the board is key — an effort that not only demonstrates the government’s goodwill to those who fought on the wrong side but a move that helps ensure that everyone is given a say in the new governing arrangement. With eight months of conflict pitting Libyan against Libyan, reconciliation and reintegration, as well as rebel disarmament and the establishment of and strong transparent national institutions, is an urgent priority for the NTC.

Accomplishing this objective has been a difficult and painfully slow endeavor since the civil war was officially termed over after Gaddafi’s capture and death last October. At least two hundred civilians turned fighters continue to patrol Libya’s two largest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, with the most powerful militia in the capital resisting the city council’s disarmament efforts until the transitional government proves that it can take over the security function.

Residents in Tripoli have been complaining about the presence of militias from out of town, with fighters from Misrata and Zintan, both cities in the west, acting as if the capital were their personal fiefdom. The same rebels who were cheered on by Libyans from both the east and the west are increasingly resembling bands of renegades who are menacingly patrolling neighborhoods with their machine guns and anti-aircraft weaponry.

For their part, Libya’s roving militias continue to view themselves as their nation’s guardians — the only people capable of providing the type of stability that is needed to defend against a Gaddafi loyalist comeback.

Libya’s rebels are also getting impatient, demanding that the NTC expand its membership so more revolutionaries can join.

The interim body’s chairman, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, is making an effort to do just that. The defense and interior ministries, both critical to defending and operating Libya’s borders, oilfields and ports, are sending out applications to former rebels through municipal councils, encouraging them to lay aside their weapons in return for full employment. Security jobs are just the kind of work that the thousands of militiamen have been asking for. Soldiers and policemen require many of the same skills that Libya’s diverse militias have been honing since the revolution began last February, including arms training, basic command and control, issuing orders, taking them, building camaraderie and taking care of wounded.

Yet upon entry in the security forces, militiamen will also be forced to learn skills that they have not performed previously, like abandoning their freelancing ways and pledging allegiance to a state that is only in its infant stages. Rounding up people on mere suspicion will have to be replaced with issuing arrest warrants upon probable cause. Prisoners will need access to an attorney instead of rotting in a jail cell, indefinitely. Those who are found not guilty of their crimes or those who cannot be linked to a violation through credible evidence are to be released back into the population. A system of laws then must be drilled into the heads of Libya’s politicians, generals, police officers, bureaucrats and armed citizens.

No one said rebuilding Libya will be an easy task. Thanks to Gaddafi’s obsession with himself and his ideology, any of the national institutions that were functioning have been worn down or like the Libyan army, purposely destroyed for fear of a faction emerging powerful enough to rival his own.

The NTC’s job opening is a big step forward but one that cannot be sustained without good natured international assistance, from military liaison teams and military education, to election observers and creation of employment in Libya’s petroleum industry and outside of it.

The present situation in Libya, where militias clash among each other over prisoners and territory, cannot be sustained. Converting the militias into a national army and police force will not end all of the country’s problems but could set a good precedent.

Steps Toward “Real” Freedom for Libya

Take a quick glance at Tripoli from the TV, and you will see scenes of celebration and jubilation that the Libyan people haven’t been able to enjoy for 42 years. Columns of armed rebels have streamed into the center of the Libyan capital to the sound of cheering civilians kissing the ground and large billboards of Muammar al-Gaddafi being torn down. The trademark green flag of the colonel’s Libyan Revolution — a symbol of the regime’s oppression for decades — are ripped and replaced with the pre-Gaddafi red, black and green banner. The last-ditch effort by Gaddafi soldiers to stall the rebel offensive, with the exception of a few pockets of resistance near Gaddafi’s fortress like compound, proved to be a misnomer, with hundreds laying down their arms and blending into the general population. Even if no one knows where he is, Gaddafi is a beaten man, holding on to the delusion that Libyan tribes will come to his rescue and millions of supporters will desert their families to beat back the rebels in the streets of Tripoli.

The international reaction to Gaddafi’s imminent downfall was optimistic and predictable. President Barack Obama issued a statement reiterating his call that the Libyan leader should recognize that his people have no love for him and should stop resisting immediately. NATO, which has paved the way for the rebel advance, has pledged to continue its airstrikes until Gaddafi no longer poses a threat to civilians.

After six months of civil war, France, Great Britain and the United States are finally patting themselves on the back and congratulating one another on a job well done. Indeed, if it weren’t for NATO, there was a very high probability that Gaddafi would have survived the armed revolt against his opponents. Only six months ago, the rebels were days away from being squashed by Libyan security forces in the city of Benghazi.

Sensing that a massacre was imminent, NATO decided to intervene with airpower, helping push Libyan forces to the periphery. Close to 8,000 strike sorties later — and with the rebel’s determination on the ground complementing NATO’s efforts — Gaddafi’s military infrastructure is nonexistent.

Yet at the same time Libyans are dancing in the streets and shooting celebratory gunfire into the air, the work of rebuilding the country and its institutions is only just beginning. As history has demonstrated countless times over the past four decades (from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to Mobutu Sese Seko’s Congo), driving a dictator into hiding is a whole lot easier than ensuring that peace and inclusiveness will define the transition process. The United States found out the long way how difficult establishing a postwar order was both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the new governments have failed to be impartial and fair to all sectors of society.

Libya, with its tribal, regional and ethnic dimensions, is no different. The North African country may have its own political history but the comparisons to post-Saddam Iraq could be a self-fulfilling prophecy if certain steps are not taken immediately to edge the country in the right direction.

Gaddafi was a lot of things but he was certainly not a developer. He leaves in his wake a debilitating set of national institutions that were designed specifically to promote his bazaar brand of Arab socialism.

With rebels streaming into the capital, the official Libyan army and police force has essentially disbanded themselves, leaving open a security vacuum that rebel militias have tried to fill. Oil production, which has long been Libya’s main industry, is pumping and selling oil at a trickle of what it once was before the civil war began. The postwar period in Libya, therefore, will be an especially combustible period — but one that Libyans and the world must turn into a success.

Courtesy of foreign journalists on the ground, Libya watchers in the private sector, academics specializing in postwar reconstruction and my own ideas, here are a few steps (some small, others large) that could be taken in the first few months to smooth the process toward a fair and representative interim authority.

Keep Gaddafi technocrats in their positions

The last thing the Libyan rebels and the National Transitional Council in Benghazi need are ministries that are run by incompetent people with ulterior motives. Not all of the men and women who worked for the Libyan dictator were supportive of his ideology. Like those who worked under Saddam Hussein, many of the middle managers and midlevel technocrats joined Gaddafi’s administration for a steady paycheck, benefits and a sense of security for their families. Most of them also possess an acute knowledge of the social fissures in their own society.

Rather than shutting these public servants out and wasting their experience, the NTC must work with them to begin the reconstruction.

Secure ammo dumps and provide basic law and order

Libya is a huge country, with the entire territory larger than the state of Texas. Libyans are also armed to the teeth and with rebels now in the capital, the desire to raid government ammunition dumps (either to sell or to maintain the battlefield advantage) borders on the certainty.

If the NTC were smart, it would issue an executive order demanding that all rebel factions under its control resort to guarding the dumps rather than stealing what is inside.

Unfortunately, some of the rebels may not listen. The looting of Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound is a case in point. But better to issue an order and attempt to deal with the problem now than face a situation in the future where thousands of untrained men are strapped with AK-47s and ground to air missiles.

Unfreeze Gaddafi’s assets

The United States and the United Nations hold approximately $32 billion in frozen Libyan government assets. That money can go a long way to jump starting a number of projects in areas that were destroyed by the fighting. 

The NTC is the legitimate government in Libya today and with Gaddafi loyalists melting away, their authority will only increase as the days go by. Releasing the frozen funds, which after all belong to the Libyan people, is a great first step that the world can take toward building confidence in the new Libya and promoting a deep relationship with Libya’s new rulers. 

The news coming out of the United Nations Security Council, which authorized the release of $1.5 billion on Thursday for humanitarian and reconstruction needs, is a positive example that should be used as a precedent. The funds, however, should not be released all at once, as postwar reconstruction expoert Daniel Serwer has suggested. Iraq and Afghanistan have both taught us that billions in the open market are more likely to fuel corruption than fund local, regional or national growth.

Promote reconciliation

While eastern and western Libyans both participated in ousting Gaddafi from power, the two areas of the country hold specific grievances and remain suspicious of one another. A large part of this animosity is due to Gaddafi’s abandonment of eastern Libya, which is precisely why Benghazi was the first major city to push for an alternative form of government. 

Easterners view western Libyans as the main beneficiaries of Gaddafi’s oil-producing economy. The colonel’s hometown of Sirte has seen development, while Libya’s eastern frontier is wracked with leaking sewage systems and blackouts.

For their part, western rebels paint a poor picture of a Benghazi based leadership that is laissez-faire on too many issues, the most important being the NTC’s cumbersome support for western rebels during the Nafusa Mountain offensive.

Giving all of Libya’s regions and tribes an equal say in the transition process is a necessity if the NTC wishes to hold on to power before elections are scheduled. Fortunately, NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil has called for a conference emphasizing just that.

Bring the NTC to Tripoli

Once Gaddafi and his men are gone for good — and the neighborhoods of the capital city are relatively secure — the NTC leadership should move their permanent headquarters from Benghazi to Tripoli. The move would be a symbolic gesture to western Libyans and Gaddafi loyalists who might otherwise fear that Libya’s interim government plans on marginalizing them.

Get Libyan oil up and running

Libya’s oil industry is the primary income generator for the government. Civil servants, policemen, militiamen, schoolteachers, diplomats and construction workers all need to get paid — and paid consistently. Opening up Libya’s oil to outside markets and using profits from those contracts and sales for salaries could be the fastest way to make everyone happy in the short term.

Prepare for elections and draft a constitution

For the past 42 years, a functioning constitution never came into play. The entire government structure was predicated on Gaddafi’s personal beliefs, down to the local level. With the man now gone, Libyans have an opportunity to draft a national constitution of their own liking.

Libyans above all should be the sole drafters of the Constitution after reasonably free and fair elections have taken place. Western nations should keep their involvement in the Constitution drafting process to a minimum, eliminating the concern that is prevalent in Libya over a possible return to colonialism.

Don’t get ahead of yourself

Tripoli may be in rebel hands but Gaddafi loyalists will continue to stage fierce resistance elsewhere in the country. Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte and villages in the southern desert are still held by loyalist forces and may be held for many more months. Declaring victory, even as Gaddafi remains at large and towns in the Sahel are still contested, could very well hurt the NTC’s credibility with its supporters if the security situation deteriorates. Avoiding a “Mission Accomplished” moment while recognizing that Libyan territory is still not entirely free from Gaddafi’s influence would be a demonstration of realism in an otherwise hyped atmosphere.

Everything in this list is pivotal to lifting Libya off the ground after six months of armed conflict. More work will need to be done as the NTC meets its initial deadlines, particularly on the important task of drafting a constitution that every tribe, region and ethnicity can live with. But with a post-Gaddafi Libya now progressing, preventing political disintegration, lawlessness, looting, factional infighting, retribution against former Gaddafi supporters, economic distress and regional rivalry must be on the top of any “to do” list.

None of this will be quick or easy but it is essential if Libya is to divert from the path of other postwar countries.

Contemplating a Libya Without Gaddafi

Anti-government combatants closed in on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli on Sunday night and continued their advance into the heart of the capital on Monday. After six months of civil war, during which NATO, aiming to protect civilians from the brutalities of the Gaddafi regime, helped the rebels with bombardments of loyalist forces, the demise of North Africa’s last dictatorship seemed imminent.

Gaddafi would be the last of three North African autocrats to be ousted during the Arab Spring. Longtime Tunisian and Egyptian presidents previously relinquished power in the face of popular uprisings. Unlike its neighboring countries, Libya has virtually no government structure in place outside of Gaddafi’s family and loyalists. The country of six million has been ruled by the eccentric dictator for over forty years. During that time, there was no organized opposition while the army, which took control of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak resigned, was kept at bay by the colonel who always feared a repetition of the 1969 military coup which had propelled him to power.

The interim government established by Libya’s anti-government forces in the eastern city of Benghazi lacks coherent leadership although several former Gaddafi ministers and military officials defected to the rebel camp during the uprising. There also isn’t much coordination between rebel fighters in different parts of the country. United in their struggle against the regime, the opposition has little else in common.

After more than four decades of authoritarian rule, Libya seems ill prepared for the sort of inclusive democracy that the National Transitional Council claims it intends to establish. Among their numbers, the rebels count Islamists and secularists, socialists and pragmatists who all want a different Libya.

One possible unifying figure is former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil who chairs the transitional council in Benghazi, the rebels’ legislative body. He resigned from Gaddafi’s government in late February in disapproval of the violence that was deployed against anti-government demonstrators during the early phrase of the uprising. “We want a democratic government, a fair constitution, and we don’t want to be isolated from the world anymore,” he declared after his defection.

Despite his work for the regime, Abdel Jalil won praise from human rights groups and Western powers for his efforts to reform Libya’s criminal code.

Abdel Jalil hasn’t indicated a willingness to become Libya’s first president, whether transitional or elected. The rebels’ Mahmoud Jibril, who acts as something of an interim prime minister, seems more posed for a leadership role. An economist and political scientists by training, Jibril headed Libya’s economic planning board for nearly four years until he resigned in protest five months ago. In that position, he had promoted liberalization of the country’s economy and privatization of its many state-owned enterprises.

Jibril’s many foreign trips as chairman of the rebels’ executive board have made him probably the most recognizable figure in the transitional government. He led negotiations with French president Nicolas Sarkozy which culminated in France’s recognition of the National Transitional Council as the sole representative of the Libyan people.

The third most visible rebel leader is Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, a human rights attorney who acted as the revolutionary movement’s spokesman during the early days of the revolt and became the National Transitional Council’s vice chairman in late March.

Little is known of Ghoga but he suggested on Monday that the transitional council could move to Tripoli and prepare elections within a month of Gaddafi’s fall.

Perhaps the greatest threat to stability in the short term would be a widespread purge of the ancien régime and everyone who collaborated with it.

After the United States defeated Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003, they removed virtually all members of the Ba’ath Party from office as well as senior, mostly Sunni security personnel in the majority Shia country. Iraq’s entire institutional leadership evaporated in a matter of weeks, leaving a power vacuum that was filled by religious extremists and insurgents.

The Allies similarly implemented a policy of denazification in Germany in the aftermath of World War II which exacerbated the country’s economic hardship after more than a year of destructive warfare on its territory. That policy was reversed in 1951 because it proved impossible to rebuild Germany by excluding every petty bureaucrat and businessman who might have worked for or with the Nazis. So it will be extremely difficult to rebuild Libya, especially its energy industry, without taking advantage of the experience of people who worked for Muammar Gaddafi.

For Gaddafi, End is Nigh

(AUG 22) Anti-government combatants closed in on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli on Sunday night and continued their advance into the heart of the capital on Monday. After six months of civil war, during which NATO, aiming to protect civilians from the brutalities of the Gaddafi regime, helped the rebels with bombardments of loyalist forces, the demise of North Africa’s last dictatorship seemed imminent.

Two of Gaddafi’s sons were reported captured by the rebels’ National Transitional Council while the leader himself twice urged supporters to fight his antagonists over radio on Sunday. When anti-government forces entered the capital however, they were largely welcomed by protesters and Tripoli residents who had suffered several months of depravation and shortages as the regime’s lifeline, Libya’s oil industry, had been shut off by sanctions and disturbances in the major oil ports of Brega and Ra’s Lanuf.

The rebels’ interim government in the eastern city of Benghazi lacked coherent leadership and there wasn’t much coordination between anti-government fighters in different parts of the country. After more than four decades of authoritarian rule, Libya seemed ill prepared for the sort of inclusive democracy that the National Transitional Council claimed it intended to establish. Read more “For Gaddafi, End is Nigh”

Beware Gaddafi’s Tripoli

In a less than a week’s time, disappointment turned into optimism for Libya’s opposition. After months of incremental progress on the ground and hundreds of NATO airstrikes, the North African country’s band of rebels have had an impressive string of victories against Muammar Gaddafi’s struggling army, with cities just a few dozen miles away from the capital now under the transitional council’s umbrella. Gaddafi’s soldiers are battered, rebel commanders say, and increasingly tired of putting their own lives on the line for a regime that is destined to fall this summer.

The rebel capture of Az Zawiyah, strategically located between Gaddafi’s Tripoli and the Tunisian border crossing, has had the intended effect of squeezing the Libyan government’s access to vital resources. Gas to fuel trucks, food to feed the troops and weapons to fight the rebels are all running low. While the Libyan-Tunisian border checkpoint is technically still in the hands of Gaddafi’s men, supplies are unable to reach beyond a third of the way to the capital. Large swaths of the Libyan desert, which until recently were contested, are now mainly held by rebel forces. Absent the occasional loyalist sniper or a few GRAD rockets fired at rebel positions, the opposition has a strong foothold in the western area of the country, starting from the Nafusa Mountains to a mere thirty miles from Tripoli.

By cutting of highways and other roads leading into the north, Libya’s opposition managed to encircle the capital from all directions, depriving the city of the materials that are needed to sustain the battle — all the while limiting Gaddafi’s options.

The news is encouraging for a NATO coalition that has backed the anti-Gaddafi movement to the fullest extent possible short of direct military intervention.

While it is tempting to predict the strongman’s imminent demise, Libya is still prone to a violent showdown. Gaddafi has lost all semblance of credibility in the south, east and west of his country but retains some popular support in Tripoli. Most of his active duty soldiers who were previously defeated along the country’s western frontier have been called to redeploy into the city center, a move that might indicate the regime’s willingness to fight to the last man.

A popular uprising against Gaddafi’s forces in Tripoli before the rebels enter is a possibility, though a distant one at that. The Transitional National Council know that many Tripoli residents are too scared to revolt, having been locked by Gaddafi’s men in a perpetual state of fear throughout the uprising. Tripoli is the one city in Libya that is still fortified by government compounds and patrolled street to street by Gaddafi loyalists. Most of the anti-government demonstrations that surface in the city, however small, are snuffed out.

The TNC also understands that a brazen advance into the capital could be the most violent battle of the entire war. This makes the siege of Tripoli all the more central to the rebels’ battlefield strategy. By isolating the coastal enclave and choking off fuel shipments into neighborhoods, electricity shortages and rising food prices will hopefully annoy some of the more pragmatic Libyans in the capital to join the opposition’s side. However, these developments will be moot unless the rebels actually consolidate their gains, which has been exceedingly difficult as Gaddafi’s soldiers rely on mortar and rocket counterattacks to stall their advances.

The regime is clearly at its weakest since the start of the uprising in February but an embattled Gaddafi could actually transform the Libyan conflict into a more catastrophic one in the short term. A ruler is far less likely to resort to Scud missile attacks if he thinks his authority is relatively secure. But with Gaddafi’s men folding over the last three days to rebel and NATO pressure, the likelihood of the dictator using long range weapons increases. Given Gaddafi’s insistence on fighting rather than surrendering, more Scuds flying around northern Libya may be his final act of desperation.

Everyone hopes that Gaddafi would rather save his skin rather than ruin the country he has governed for the past 42 years. Unfortunately, his past indicates that may be more prone to lashing out than compromising. With the rebels near their doorsteps, the Gaddafi family’s determination is at its peak.

The Way Out of Libya

Whether referred to as indirect negotiations, unofficial peace overtures or feelers from the international community, Britain, France, the United States and their NATO partners are sending out signals to Muammar al-Gaddafi that diplomacy is increasingly an option for ending the conflict in his country.

For Gaddafi and what remains of his military force, talk of diplomacy from a NATO coalition that just weeks before predicted that his regime was ever closer to collapse is an encouraging development. Gaddafi’s loyalists may be equipped with old military equipment and cash may be running out, but they are obviously doing something right if the world’s strongest military alliance is having trouble turning the tide of the war to its advantage.

Indeed, what Gaddafi’s military has lacked in weaponry it has made up for in tactics — evolving from a conventional military force to an asymmetrical guerrilla movement fighting the rebels to a standstill. And with official soldiers difficult to pick out from regular civilians, the strike sorties that NATO has depended on to enforce its no-fly zone and help the Libyan opposition on the ground are jeopardized to a certain degree. The rebels’ shortage of weapons and, in some distinct cases, fundamental disagreements among the Transitional National Council’s (TNC) numerous tribes, has dampened their ability to progress on the battlefield.

It is this frustration on the frontlines, coupled with the rising impatience in Western capitals that Gaddafi is still hanging on, why the leading partners of NATO’s coalition are concentrating on a more civilized approach. With rebel positions stalled as the desert heat of summer continues to set in, NATO is undeniably hoping that a nice bribe will convince Gaddafi to step down from power and make way for a democratic transition. France, the most outspoken member of the anti-Gaddafi alliance to date, is voicing tepid support to such an alternative. The United States, a longtime Gaddafi adversary, is not necessarily opposed to the strongman remaining in Libya as long as he completely relinquishes power and ensures that he will not work behind the scenes to impede the transition.

Making peace with a tyrant who has the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians staining his hands is hard for any diplomat to stomach. Backpedaling on the military operation is also a tough thing for any military organization to do, since easing the bombing is basically an admission that the alliance has not been able to achieve its objectives through force alone. But conditions inside Libya today are not getting any better. The TNC, despite receiving international support and defections from Gaddafi ministers, is still not in control of the majority of the Libyan people. The prospects for negotiation get dimmer every time the rebel advance toward Tripoli is stalled. Finding an agreement that Gaddafi’s family will accept is therefore a course of action that should be considered.

In order to speed up the process and make a peace offer as credible as it can get, NATO would find it helpful to commission two countries that are seen as neutral players in the conflict.

Turkey and South Africa, one representing the Muslim world and the other representing the African Union, might be two acceptable choices for taking the lead in those talks. Gaddafi has enjoyed a good relationship with South Africa over the years, a country whose former president Nelson Mandela once referred to Gaddafi as a “brother leader.” Turkey, a rising star in the Muslim world and an actor that has championed the same Arab causes that Gaddafi has shown an interest in (the rights of Palestinians) could possibly sweeten the negotiating atmosphere. Russia, which holds considerable economic interests in Libya, could also be a trustworthy partner in the eyes of the Gaddafi regime — that is, if the Russian government is willing to concede further military action in Libya if the talks prove to be unsuccessful.

With the diplomatic chops of Turkey and South Africa and with the weight of Western nations to back them up, sweet talking Gaddafi and assuring the safety of himself and his family could be the quickest, and least bloody, mechanism to send him packing. Human rights organizations may not agree with the tactic but it will save the lives of thousands who would perish from more violence.

McCain: Obama “Made a Mess” of Libya

President Barack Obama “made a mess” of the situation in Libya, said Senator John McCain on Thursday. The former Republican presidential contender blamed the Democrat for not deploying full American airpower in North Africa, for not declaring a no-fly zone “when it counted” and failing to recognize the rebels’ Transitional National Council as the legitimate voice of the Libyan people.

McCain previously supported a deeper American involvement in military action in Libya, telling NBC’s Meet the Press in April that the European allies “neither have the assets nor, frankly, the will” to see the operation through.

He reiterated that sentiment on Fox News’ On The Record this Thursday, pointing out that of the 28 NATO states, only seven have been involved in Libya. “We are supporting these other air assets with assets that they don’t have,” he said.

Most importantly, we could have gotten the job done with the use of American air assets rather than relying on our allies who simply don’t have the capabilities that we do. If the president says Gaddafi has to go, we ought to at least do from the air what would hasten his departure.

France and the United Kingdom, which pushed for military action in March after a popular uprising against the forty year reign of Muammar Gaddafi was violently crushed, have requested eight or so heavily armed AC-130 ground attack aircraft and A-10 planes to provide close air support for rebel forces on the ground — airplanes which neither of them have in service.

American involvement was crucial in enforcing a no-fly zone to prevent air forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi from targeting rebels and protesters on the ground but since the initial phase of the intervention, the American role has largely been reduced to a logistical one, including coordination and refueling, and providing intelligence to Arab and Western partners.

The Republican Party is divided on the merits of the Libyan intervention but McCain has urged support for the country’s rebels from the start, even visiting the city of Benghazi in April where the anti-government forces established their interim government. The Arizona senator told Fox that the rebels are prepared to “take over” and warned that to have Gaddafi remain in power “would mean renewal of terrorist attacks.”

It would mean Al Qaeda would have a more fertile breeding ground in both areas. And it is in our interests to see Gaddafi go and then give the responsibilities to our European allies who have much more at stake than the Libyans do.

Although McCain insists that removing Gaddafi from power is in the interest of the United States, it probably matters far more to their allies. “It is more in the vital interest of Europeans,” former national security advisor General James Jones said in April, “when you consider the effects of massive immigration, the effects of terror, the oil market.”

Could the Harrier Have Made a Difference?

In May 2011, the Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, told a parliamentary defense committee that the retention of Britain’s aircraft carrier capacity would be his top priority if the Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) were rewritten. Had this been the case, the carrier would in all likelihood be participating in operations against the regime of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi right now.

Today in an interview with The Telegraph, Sir Mark argues that had HMS Ark Royal and her Harrier aircraft been available, they would have made the mission in Libya more effective, faster and cheaper and allowed Britain a more reactive force. But just how valid is his argument?

While the Harrier is a capable aircraft, it is unable to use the Royal Air Force’s latest air to surface munitions, the Storm Shadow and Brimstone, both of which are being used by the Tornado and in the case of Brimstone also by the Eurofighter Typhoon. The Harrier also lacks a standoff anti-radiation missile and even air to air radar. It would therefore have been forced to rely on American or French strikes against Libyan air defenses to permit any operations. The French and other NATO allies would have had to enforce the no-fly zone while Harrier craft carried out ground strikes.

The Harrier would have allowed a faster reaction time — twenty minutes as opposed to an hour and a half because the current aircraft operate from bases in Italy. The Harrier is slightly more expensive per hour to operate than the Tornado however and the deployment of an aircraft carrier with an escort and support vessels could cost a significant sum in fuel, supplies and wages at a time when the Treasury and Ministry of Defense are desperate to cut costs.

The Tornado and Eurofighter require the deployment of support personnel from Britain, the support of tanker aircraft en route to Libya, the leasing of Italy’s Gioia del Colle air base and the movement of munitions from Britain to Italy so operational costs are also high, especially when the use of Tornado aircraft based in Britain flying directly to strike targets in Libya is included.

Having Harrier available would have made little or no difference to the campaign itself. It would have been unable to participate in the opening strikes due to the threats posed by Libyan air defenses, unable to enforce a no-fly zone owing to its lack of anti-aircraft and air defense capability and its contribution to supporting Libyan rebels with ground strikes would rely on hitting tanks inside Misrata with Paveway bombs; a recipe for collateral damage!

Sir Mark is quite right that Britain cannot maintain its operational tempo in Libya. However this is as much due to the fact that after almost three months of sporadic bombing there are few targets that can be “justifiably” bombed to pressure Gaddafi as it is due to government cost cutting. No amount of aircraft carriers or strike aircraft would have altered this. As Sir Mark goes on to say, there is no going back and we have to look forward, presumably to next month when he tells us again of his desire for an aircraft carrier capability.

Perhaps if Sir Mark had been as determined to retain the Royal Navy’s carrier capability before the SDSR had taken effect, he might still have had it? As it is, Sir Mark joins a long list of British military chiefs who have failed to stand up to the government to the detriment of the service personnel they command.