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How the NATO Leadership Bungled the Libya Campaign

It was a hasty campaign, the fastest humanitarian intervention in history: On February 15 a series of peaceful demonstrations in Libya turned violent, when Libya's dictator, Muammar Gaddafi turned his forces against the protesters.

On March 17, only a month later, the UN Security Council voted to authorize military action, including airstrikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery and a no-fly zone in order to protect civilians. At this point there are battles between rebels and Gaddafi's security forces, and the rebels aren't winning.

From this point things begin to go wrong. USA is overstretched, involved already in two unpopular and costly wars, and eager to stay clear of accusations of more unilateral action against an Arab or Islamic nation, the main responsibility for the intervention in Libya is handed over to NATO under the leadership of Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

First of all, there is no coordination with the rebels on the ground. For the same reason it is difficult to identify from the air who are rebel forces and who are Gadaffi forces, and errors are made. On April 7 NATO bombs a band of rebels, killing at least four but prompting no apology from NATO.
"This is a very unfortunate incident. I strongly regret the loss of life," secretary-general of NATO Fogh Rasmussen said. "I can assure you that we do our utmost to avoid civilian casualties."
In another report from the ground the chief rebel spokesman told reporters that coalition warplanes had killed 13 people, four of them civilians, in an air raid some 15 kilometres east of Brega.

NATO: We'll look into it.

New problems keep arising: The bombings are more or less spontaneous, individually planned and carried out by NATO members with no apparent coordination. The NATO Secretary General also seems unable to stop the most involved European powers from carrying out their individual agendas in Libya.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen refuses the allegations. Nevertheless it is conspicous how he, as former Prime Minister of a country with 5.4 million citizens and no notable international clout or experience is pressed by strongly represented, former colonial nations with significant trade interests in Libya and surrounding African countries, such as France, Italy and UK.

The Curious Case of Fogh Rasmussen

The NATO Secretary General is a politician who is infamous for bungling international events. On of his last appearances on the international scene - before he abanded his elected office as Prime Minister in a rush, leaving his governing party scattered and confused behind him - was to bungle the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009.

'It is not what everyone has hoped for,' UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told journalists at the conclusion of COP 15, as the Copenhagen summit was known.

Greenpeace described the outcome as a 'huge missed opportunity' due to the lack of a legally binding agreement.

Former UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said the process became "paralyzed" by "rumour and intrigue", a typical trait of amateurish conference management. Blame was thrown around on all participants, but ultimately a large portion of responsibility was placed on the Danish hosts.

The European diplomats said the Danes were throwing the talks into jeopardy by not producing the text fast enough, while the emerging superpower, China, speaking on behalf of all the developing countries to which it has been busy forming trade relations, said the Danes were deliberaty excluding representatives from the drafting process.

'This is a multiparty-driven process. You can't just put forward some text pulled from the sky,' China's chief negotiator, Su Wei, said. The Danish hosts presented a draft to USA, China and Russia at an unannounced, informal meeting, causing anger among other participants, when they saw the interim paper published by The Guardian.

'[The Danish text] destroyed two years of effort in one fell swoop,' de Boer wrote in the email to colleagues after the talks. 'All our attempts to prevent the paper happening failed. The meeting at which it was presented was unannounced and the paper unbalanced.'

Character Deficiencies and Political Tensions Transferred to War

Discriminating, rushed, unbalanced, all terms that would fit the NATO campaign in Libya. There was no communication with the "troops" on the ground, because they weren't really considered troops.

The Western powers were in two minds about them - CIA had forces in Libya, "boots on the ground", to assess the nature and agenda and composition of rebel forces, even while NATO was bombing installations.

In the press "experts" and all the rest were discussing whether it was even a good idea to promote democracy in unstable regions, which means regions that may turn Islamist, as if they weren't already Islamists under the various dictatorships.

"The rest", of course, includes politicians who are notoriously ignorant about international affairs, but like to pretend they know all about a conflict 24 hours after it has been breaking news.

The rebels on the ground announced, before the UN resolution was passed, that the Western powers could participate in securing a no-fly zone, but they wanted "their brothers" in Turkey and the infant democracy of Egypt to carry out the bombing.

As reasonable as it sounds - considering the Western indifference to body counts and "collateral damage" with an Arab face - that may have been a tall order. It was, however, not a requirement that the exact two countries were sidetracked in the operation, with Turkey reduced to pretty much an air-lift and Egypt sending forces in to train Libyan rebels and provide them with arms on its own account.

It is about more than signal effect: If the relationship between Fogh and Turkey had not been so strained already, and had he been more of a statesman, he would likely have seen the advantage of coordinating, even with military powers with a slightly different agenda than USA and Europe.

It was the grand opportunity for collaboration between two blocks, the "Christian" and the "Islamic" around a common goal, to foster democracy and human rights and good governance, and it was dropped even before the proposition was made.

NATO the Last Place for a Man Like Rasmussen

Arrogance and haste was the Danish style of leadership under Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Now the predictably negative effects of the weak points of his unquestionable management skills are transferred into the realm of multi-cultural geopolitics, exactly where a man with his specific mindset should not be.

It was one hundred percent predictable for anyone who had taken the time to study Rasmussen's attitude towards foreign nations, particularly in the MENA region:

In 2005, serving as the Prime Minister of Denmark - a small, wealthy, secure and rather inconspicuous nation in Northern Europe - Anders Fogh Rasmussen managed to turn a minor dispute about actual or perceived racism in some cartoons printed by a right-leaning Danish daily into a major international incident.

"Not quite a diplomat", as the British would put it, Anders Fogh Rasmussen sat on his hands as the furore among local immigrants with an Islamic background took pace. Truth be told most of the Muslims in Denmark, a small and relatively well integrated bunch, did not respond to the cartoons of Muhammed.

No doubt many were upset that Muhammed was portrayed with a bomb in his turban, and about other denigrating pictures among the 12 cartoons that made the front page of Jyllands-Posten, but there were no death threats, calls to Jihad or bombs going off in the country or anywhere else in the world.

It was an isolated incident, but nevertheless a matter of concern, particularly among local imams and to the delegation of Arab ambassadors who sought to meet with the Prime Minister regarding the controversial pictures. Their concern was for the various minorities in Denmark.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen turned down their request, and as the news hit the streets, a group of imams decided to fight back against what they perceived as much a threatening racist gesture against immigrants of Middle Eastern descendance as a violation of their faith.

At this point Anders Fogh Rasmussen's coalition government rested on the support from a Danish ultra-right wing party, The Danish People's Party. His government had to barter for every major piece of legislation, caving into the populist party's demand for ever stricter policies against immigration and in many cases discriminating legislation, often resulting in reprimands from EU.

The meeting with the Arab ambassador's was very inconvenient, because it could paint him as soft on Islamic fundamentalism. He let it slide, and the next thing he knew his country was in an international crisis, as demonstrations erupted, often violently, in several Middle Eastern countries, resulting in the burning of a Danish embassy, burning of Danish flags and at least a hundred deaths - all Muslim protesters.

The rest is history: Even George W. Bush, having stressed that the two US-led wars in the Middle East in no manner represented a crusade against Islam, felt inconvenienced and unwilling to support the publishing of the controversial cartoons.

After some deliberation he came around, since the press in one European country after another decided to show solidarity with Denmark and republish the cartoons.

In retrospect Anders Fogh Rasmussen's passivity paid out, since the radical Muslims managed to paint themselves into a corner, producing a picture more startling than that of Western self-censorship, European racism or a holy crusade against Islam. The Danish Prime Minister was redeemed by reverse justification: The fierce response to the publication of the cartoons made the act itself look like finger painting in kindergarten, no matter how ominous the demagogic symbolism.

However, the end result for Denmark was discomfiting: At least four journalists resigned from the media house in question over concern about the repetitive threats and increased security measures. One of the cartoonists - the one who had drawn Muhammed with the bomb - had to go into hiding, protected by secret intelligence agents, and yet he was nearly murdered by a Muslim zealot with an axe.

Overall, Denmark had become a target for terrorism, several times topping the lists of prospective targets in the recurring warnings from the intelligence community.

Turkey Has a Beef With Fogh

How a politician with such a fumbling diplomatic approach could ever become the Secretary General of NATO defies all reason:

Not only did he pass on the most realistic opportunity to calm the tempers, before the Muhammed Crisis rose to a storm of international proportions, but he also alienated the closest ally to the West in the Islamic region, Turkey, the sole Islamic member of NATO on several occasions when Denmark held the presidency of the European Council.

The first was not a moral error per se: Anders Fogh Rasmussen's stance against Turkey, a prospective member of EU, is no doubt shared by the majority of Christian EU nations.

But he did manage to make a series of critical remarks about Turkey's policy against defamation of the nation and the prosection of Orhan Pamuk at at time when they were not critically important for the process: nobody seriously consider Turkey a full-grown member of the European Union for another decade, if not for any other reason, then due to the economic demands the union poses as barriers of acceptance.

His utterances, sowing doubt about Turkey's membership status, were likely motivated by partisan voter gains in a country, resentment against Islam transcends the political divide and in a Europe increasingly occupied with anti-Islamism on one side and its own vicious form of neo-nationalism on the other.

On top of that, Rasmussen crudely dissmissed taking action against a Kurdish television station broadcasting in Denmark, in spite of repeated demands from Turkey, who - without direct evidence other than the Kurdish language and the Kurdish political rhetoric about a free Kurdistand - consider it sponsored or tied to PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by EU.

According to AP more than 37,000 people have been killed since 1984 when the PKK launched an armed campaign for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey's southeast.

The controversy has become so personalized that it is common knowledge that Turkey's Islamists rooted ruling party has a beef with Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Part of the exaggerated focus on the Kurdish Roj TV may be animosity, because they perceive Anders Fogh as a relentless critic of Turkey and at least formerly one major obstacle to acceptance for EU membership.

Regardless of what you can say about the issues - even Turkey does have a point with regards to PKK sympathizing if you go by the rules - Anders Fogh Rasmussen has, once again, displayed a very specific form of diplomatic clumsiness: The kind that kicks in as arrogance and fear of contact when exposed to Muslims.

Rasmussen Opened the Eastern Floodgates

It was an error of huge proportions when the new Democratic administration under Barack Obama decided to invite Anders Fogh Rasmussen to become the new Secretary General of NATO. Studious, generally competent and very, very ambitious, Anders Fogh Rasmussen could easily have looked like an ideal candidate, if you took the vetting process or the role of NATO lightly.

In that case one might have seen a man who had steered his nation through a crisis, supported the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan more firmly than any other nation in the Coalition of the Willing - in Denmark there is still no widespread public resentment against the wars - and a man who had headed EU, when the union expanded to the east, incorporating 10 Eastern European countries.

This too, however, can be seen as a major miscalculation. Not that the countries do not belong in Europe or are unacceptable in the union as such, but with significantly lower productivity, economic growth and average income level the Eastern countries pose as much of a challenge - if not a threat - as they do an advantage.

It was a part of the risk assessments for the expansion, which might have benefited from some mulling over and a more premeditated pace, but Anders Fogh Rasmussen was always a determined man, who rarely misses an opportunity for career advancement.

At that point in time, in 2004, nobody thought of the escalating and multi-tiered economic crisis to hit the world economy three years later. Business was booming, and the now Secretary General of NATO stood triumphant. Today the European Union looks much different, with severe financial problems in long standing member countries like Greece, Spain and Ireland, and doubt about the sustainability of the entire project.

The open border policy can also be felt on the employment market, where scores of underpaid workers from the former Eastern region now march into the affluent Western European nations, pressing wages below minimum and occupying jobs, often at haphazardous conditions and with little to no legal protection against exploitation. On top of it organized crime has taken a nasty turn with Eastern European gangs setting new brutal standards.

This was Rasmussen's personal prestige project, and this time one that brought many an accolade from the leading European politicians and industrialists. He was in his prime, organizing and delegating and already formulated assignment, but far closer to being hit by the Peter Principle than he could imagine.

US Predator drones to bail out NATO

The Peter Principle states with some sarcasm that everyone is promoted to the point of their incompetence. With Rasmussen, however, something strange took place: He was not exactly on a winning streak, when he got tapped for Secretary General of NATO.

He was already showing gross incompetence on the level of politics he was attempting or forced to attempt, and then he was promoted, raptured, elevated to the highest echelons of power, in charge of coordinating the armed forces of the combined European nations and Turkey with its key role as an ally to the West.

It was conspicous all along that particularly in those areas relating to international diplomacy, and  particularly when diplomacy involves Muslims, and particularly when a crisis or what is known as unexpected opportunity in the military lingo - both calling for improvisation - his weaknesses come to bear.

Due to the specific nature of the main contemporary conflicts USA and NATO are involved in it is fair to say that Rasmussen's relentless drive took him straight from his point of incompetence to a place, where he was bound to lose any level of control.

The intervention in Libya was not only the fastest consensus for a humanitarian intervention achieved ever, it was a relatively limited assignment served on a gold platter with full American supervision and backup on the side.

You can argue that it was also a dead-end to begin with, due to the limitations of the mandate and the restrictions to air strikes only, but at this point Barack Obama has authorized Predator drones, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, to be sent into Lebanon to bomb and execute targeted assassinations.

Only weeks ago Washington was adamant that NATO was in charge.

The development can only be taken as further proof that the NATO leadership was not even capable of effectively carrying out a no-fly zone on behalf of the UN Security Council.

And it can only be seen as a sign that the Obama administration and its advisors from Pentagon and CIA have finally woken up and realized that they picked the wrong man for NATO.

The airwaves are full of talk about the American empire waning, losing its grip on overseas operations while at the same time struggling with insurmountable financial problems at home. They say it is the end of American hegemony. The secrets of its illicit operations in the world for half a century are blown wide open.

But that's not all. It is also the end of the era of conceiled European colonialism and imperialism, cleverly disguised as goodwill and charity. And at the helm of the great defeat stands a great Dane, caught in a conflict he does not have the faculties to understand and struggling to make an impression on a ship that has long been sinking.

National Interest has this opinion-piece on the bungled NATO campaign: NATO: A Victim of US Smothering. GD cannot wholeheartedly concur with its premises or its conclusion, but it does raise a major point about the ability of NATO to handle its own security issues.

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