The Cable

Special Briefing Skipper: NATO takes over the Libya war

Two senior administration officials held a late evening conference call with reporters Thursday night to explain how NATO agreed to take over military operations in Libya and why the U.S. and NATO leadership seem to be giving totally conflicting messages on whether NATO is taking over political control of the war as well:

  • "Today we are taking the next step," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday evening. "We have agreed, along with our NATO allies, to transition command and control for the no-fly zone over Libya to NATO. All 28 allies have also now authorized military authorities to develop an operations plan for NATO to take on the broader civilian protection mission under Resolution 1973." She will go to London on Tuesday to meet with all the other foreign ministers, "to continue coordinating with our partners and charting the way forward," she said.
  • Clinton was involved intensively in working on this over the last couple of days. On Wednesday she spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and NATO Secretary General Anders "Fogh of war" Rasmussen. On Thursday she spoke with Davutoglu again and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. She then convened a four way call between her, Juppe, Davutoglu, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, "during which time they hammered out the deal which was later announced," a senior administration official said. Juppe remarked on the call "Bravo, Hillary!" the official said.
  • Clinton also spoke with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdulla bin Zayed Al Nahyan and thanked him for UAE's announcement that they will join the coalition with six F-16 and six Mirage aircraft to help patrol the no fly zone.
  • The other senior administration official said that NATO control of the no fly zone will start immediately but it will take a couple of days to complete the transfer. He also said NATO agreed to "take on responsibility for all aspects of UNSCR 1973," which would include the no drive zone. That directly contradicts what Rasmussen said. "What we have decided tonight is to take the responsibility for enforcing the No-Fly Zone with the aim to protect the civilian population, and the mandate doesn't go beyond that, of course we can act in self-defence, but what we will do is to enforce the No-Fly Zone and ensure that we protect the civilian population," said Rasmussen. "But we are considering whether NATO should take on that broader responsibility in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution, but that decision has not been made yet."
  • The senior administration official said he was right and Rasmussen was wrong. "NATO will take over the command and control of the other part, which is the protection of civilians," the official insisted. "NATO also reached a political agreement that it needs to include within that mission... all other aspects of UNSCR 1973, including the protection of civilian and civilian areas against the actual threat of attack." The North Atlantic Council will be in control of the political decisions, the official said. "That is a very significant political decision."
  • So did Germany really go along with this? Well, the Germans won't actually participate but they won't stand in the way either, the official said, adding that German assets would be increased in Afghanistan to allow other NATO allies to shift assets over to Libya. NATO bases in Germany will also be available for NATO's use for the Libya war.
  • From now on, the Libya war will be subject to the control of the North Atlantic Council and run through Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) Adm. James Stavridis, who will be testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday coincidentally. The "Joint Task Force" commander who will run the day to day out of Naples will be Canadian Lieutenant General Charlie Bouchard, the official said. "NATO does welcome the participation of non NATO members in this operation."
  • Does this mark the end of the French proposal to create a "political steering committee" of western and Arab foreign ministers to run the political aspects of the Libya war? The NAC will be the "guiding and deciding body" for all the military operations. "When it comes to deciding on what will or won't happen with the NATO operation, that gets done in Brussels," the official said.

The Cable

Ros-Lehtinen was for the Libya war before she was against it

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) was a fierce advocate for military intervention in Libya right up until the Obama administration decided to attack the country, after which she became one of the war's fiercest critics.

"The United States and all responsible nations should show in both word and deed that we condemn the Libyan regime's actions and that we will not tolerate such blatant disregard for human life and basic freedoms," she said in a Feb. 22 press release, shortly after protests broke out across the country.

"Additional U.S. and international measures should include the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone, a comprehensive arms embargo, a travel ban on regime officials, immediate suspension of all contracts and assistance which benefit the regime, and the imposition of restrictions on foreign investment in Libya, including in Libya's oil sector," she said in another press release four days later.

On March 15, President Barack Obama decided to support military intervention in Libya, and successfully pressed for a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the no-fly zone as well as any additional measures necessary to protect civilians. The resolution passed 10-0 on March 17; the following day, the attacks on Libya's air defenses began, setting the stage for the no-fly zone.

On March 19, Ros-Lehtinen criticized the intervention in an interview with CBS Miami.

"The bottom line is you've gotta ask what is the U.S. security interest in getting involved in Libya," said Ros-Lehtinen. "Because there's unrest everywhere. Today it's Libya, tomorrow it will be somewhere else."

Two days later, she told Reuters, "Deferring to the United Nations and calling on our military personnel to enforce the 'writ of the international community' sets a dangerous precedent."

Ros-Lehtinen's office said that she was upset with the Obama administration for its handling of the drive toward war in Libya, not the basic idea of a no-fly zone that she had supported.

"Suggesting a  no-fly zone as part of a range of options is not an endorsement of military action without a clearly defined mission and plan, without congressional consultation, and without a clear explanation of the national security interests at stake," her spokesman Brad Goehner told The Cable. "This is the president's policy, and he needs to explain it to the American people and to Congress."

Ros-Lehtinen has backed up her demand for an explanation of the administration's policy by calling for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify before her committee.

Still, her public statements call into question the pledge she made in a March 18 interview with Congressional Quarterly to support the administration's Libya approach.

"Whatever the president decides, I will support what the president wants to do. I'm not going to Monday-morning-quarterback him," she said.