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Conyers: Congress Should Bar U.S. Ground Troops From Libya

2:33 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

In the wake of President Obama’s decision to go to war in Libya without Congressional authorization or debate, there’s a heightened level of public and media cynicism about the ability of any Congress to constrain any Administration on warmaking in any way whatsoever.

This is dangerous. It’s important for Congress to assert its war powers: important to prevent the U.S. from being sucked into another quagmire, important to build pressure for a negotiated resolution in Libya by shutting down the possibility of further military escalation, important for future efforts to prevent and limit U.S. wars that Congress act affirmatively to impose limits.

Unfortunately, the approach of the Administration has limited Congress’ options. Apparently the Administration does not intend to respect the limits Congress enacted in the War Powers Resolution. Thus, although every measure pursued by Members of Congress helps in some way to limit the Administration by adding political pressure, there is a specific need for measures that can attract majority support: the Administration cannot ignore action by the majority that has the force of law.
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How Many Should Die To Send Qaddafi to the Hague?

11:52 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Here is a question I would like pollsters to ask American voters about the Libya War:

Is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for?

I haven’t seen any pollster ask this question. Indeed, the fact that sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a de facto military goal of the United States in Libya isn’t even being clearly acknowledged yet in the U.S. media.

However, we can make an educated guess what he response might be, because a Quinnipiac University poll recently asked some questions that are closely related.

Voters say 61 – 30 percent that removing Qaddafi from power is not worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for, the poll reports. They say 48 – 41 percent that the U.S. should not use military force to remove Qaddafi from power. Furthermore, 74 percent of voters are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” that the U.S. will get embroiled in a long-term military conflict in Libya.

This strongly suggests that if American voters were asked, is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for, more than 61% would say no and fewer than 30 percent would say yes. Because sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a military objective that includes removing Qaddafi and more.

Yet, with a super-majority of Americans opposed and without Congressional authorization, that is what we are doing: fighting a war to remove Qaddafi from power and send him to the Hague.

It’s very likely that you wouldn’t know this if your only source of information were the U.S. press, which hasn’t been reporting on the divisions among US allies on what an acceptable agreement to end the war would be. But the British press is reporting it.
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Contrary to the President, Removal of Qaddafi is the Military Objective

1:01 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

The most important content of Presidential speeches is often what they don’t say. Here are some things that President Obama didn’t say about Libya in his speech last night.

The President did not answer his critics who asked why he took America into war without authorization by Congress. This question was made sharper on Sunday when Jake Tapper of ABC asked Defense Secretary Gates,

“Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?”

“No, no,” was Gates’ reply. “It was not – it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about.”

The significance of Tapper’s question was that Tapper used the exact language that Obama used as a candidate for President in describing the limits of the authority of the President under the Constitution to initiate hostilities without Congressional authorization:

“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

Apparently Defense Secretary Gates does not think that the situation in Libya met the standard that candidate Obama set in December 2007 for acting without Congressional authorization.

But in President’s Obama’s speech, the word “Congress” was only mentioned once: the President says he ordered military action “after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress.” Of course, a meeting with Congressional leaders is not at all the same thing as Congressional debate and authorization. Congressional debate and authorization allows the public to have a say through their representatives. A meeting with Congressional leaders does not. This military operation was planned for weeks and discussed with other countries for weeks; there was plenty of time to seek Congressional approval.

The President did not in his speech clarify what the exit strategy is.

He told us “the lead” will “transition to our allies and partners.” But the US is the lead country in NATO, which is taking responsibility for the military operation. As long as NATO is fighting in Libya, the U.S. is fighting in Libya, and U.S. taxpayers are paying for it. Others will be paying too, but the consolation of knowing that others will be sharing your burden is decreased substantially if no-one will tell you how big the burden will be.

Nor did the President clarify what the true military objective is. The President said, “our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives.”

But as the New York Times reports, “Even as President Obama on Monday described a narrower role for the United States in a NATO-led operation,” the US military has been carrying out an “expansive and increasingly potent air campaign,” amounting to “an all-out assault on Libya’s military.”

According to the Times, the real military mission is this:

The strategy for White House officials nervous that the Libya operation could drag on for weeks or months, even under a NATO banner, is to hit Libyan forces hard enough to force them to oust Colonel Qaddafi, a result that Mr. Obama has openly encouraged.

According to the Times, the US has established a military strategy of removing Qaddafi from power indirectly: keep killing Libyan soldiers until they demand that Qaddafi leave.

The Administration says this is not going beyond what was approved by the UN Security Council. But that doesn’t pass the laugh test. The UN Security Council never approved a military mission to overthrow the Libyan government.

Now that removal of Qaddafi has apparently been established as a U.S. military objective, suppose that the current means of achieving this military objective – keep killing Libyan soldiers until they demand that Qaddafi leave – fails to achieve it. Which is more likely, in the absence of an external constraint: that the U.S. will abandon this military objective, or that the U.S. will pursue more aggressive military means to achieve it?

This is why Congress should pass legislation now limiting the scope of the U.S. military operation in Libya, whether by prohibiting the introduction of ground troops, or by establishing a timetable or financial cap beyond which the Administration will have to seek explicit Congressional authorization. In the absence of Congressional action, if we get to a point where the Administration concedes that achievement of its military objective would require further military escalation, it may be too late politically to stop that escalation.

When the House Comes Back, You’re Gonna Get In Trouble

1:55 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Here is some unsolicited advice for the Obama Administration: you essentially have four days to put US involvement in the Libya war on a path that doesn’t look like open-ended quagmire.

Otherwise, when the House comes back next week, you’re going to get in trouble.

Many people have difficulty imagining the possibility that Congress could give the Obama Administration difficulty over the Libya war. Since 2001, many people think, Congress has rolled over for both the Bush and Obama Administrations on questions of war and peace. Why should now be any different?

The view that Congress has only rolled over misses important history. For example, the legislative fight over a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq was a significant contributor to the fact that we have such a timetable for withdrawal today, even though such a timetable was never enacted legislatively. Congress lost the issue legislatively, but eventually won the issue politically.

But the more important point here that many people aren’t thinking about yet is that the political dynamics of the coming debate over the Libya war could be very different from the debates over Iraq and Afghanistan. If the Libya war is going full-bore next week with heavy US involvement, there could be significant opposition in Congress, especially in the House, from both Democrats and Republicans.

One key difference from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is that regardless of what many regard as the “true” motivations of those conducting the Libya war – control of energy resources, maintaining U.S. domination over the Middle East, etc., which would be broadly consistent with what many have believed to be the true motivations of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – the public presentation of the Libya war has been fundamentally different than for those wars. At the heart of the public justifications of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars there were national security stories: weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. Of course, in both cases there were also humanitarian intervention stories overlaid on the national security stories. But the absence of a public national security story – a threat to Americans – for the Libya war makes it fundamentally more vulnerable politically.

A critic of the Libya war can’t easily be accused of being soft on terrorism, or unconcerned about defending the United States. Indeed, Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Gates, made sharp public criticisms of calls for U.S. military intervention in Libya, and everyone knows it. So it will be extremely difficult to bully critics of the war by portraying them as soft on defense.

A second key difference from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is that regardless of whatever else may be true about them, they were authorized by Congress. By taking the US to war without Congressional authorization, the Obama Administration has opened itself to criticism of usurping Congressional authority. This is always a good way to make Congress angry, regardless of the issue at hand, and doing so gives Congress a political opening to pass legislation to limit the Administration’s actions.

A third factor is that half of the House Democratic Caucus is already livid over the Obama Administration’s repeated escalations of the Afghanistan quagmire. In just the last month, half of the House Democratic caucus has voted to essentially eliminate funding for the war in Afghanistan; half of the House Democratic Caucus has voted to require that US forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year. Numerically, these votes were drowned out by the fact that the overwhelming majority of House Republicans have continued to vote for the war; but on the Libya war, House Republicans aren’t tied down to a previous position, and have much more room for maneuver because there is no public national security justification. Meanwhile, The Hill notes, the Libya war is burning through the cuts that House Republicans won to reduce the deficit.

Of course, if a significant number of Congressional Republicans turn against the Libya war, then we can expect a major effort to bully Democrats to “support the President,” regardless of what they think about the merits of the war, or the fact that the Administration did not seek Congressional authorization. But it may be hard to bully some Democrats to “support the President” on the Libya war while the President is burning them on Afghanistan; indeed, many Democrats, not just the most liberal ones, have already spoken out against the Libya war and the Administration’s decision to launch it without Congressional authorization.

Moreover, many Democrats understand that a dangerous precedent will be set if President Obama is allowed to bomb Libya without Congressional authorization; if Obama can bomb Libya without Congress’ approval, a future President Palin could bomb Iran without Congress’ approval.

If Congress decides to take action, it can do many things.

One thing Congress could easily do is expressly prohibit the introduction of US ground troops to Libya. Such action would be hard for the Administration to oppose politically, because it is an overwhelmingly popular position politically, and because President Obama has promised not to introduce US ground troops into Libya. So Congress would simply be nailing President Obama’s promise to the wall.

A second thing Congress could do is prohibit US manned aircraft from flying over Libyan airspace. This would ensure that no US pilots are shot down over Libya, or crash in Libya for any other reason, as happened this week. Thus, no US pilots could be killed or injured or become hostages.

A third thing Congress could do is establish a timetable for the withdrawal of US military forces from the conflict.

A fourth thing Congress could do is establish a ceiling – for example, a billion dollars – of what the Administration can spend on the Libya war without further authorization.

Of course, Congress could do many other things if it so chooses, including shutting down US participation in the war immediately.

Making such proposals the subject of legislative debate is an intrinsic good, regardless of whether they are enacted into law; they are a form of pressure that will limit the ability of the Administration to escalate the war.

There are important historical precedents.

As a 2004 CRS report on the history of the War Powers Resolution notes, in 1990-1 the first Bush Administration tried to argue that it did not need explicit Congressional authorization to attack Iraq. Then, as now, the President argued, among other things, that he was implementing a UN Security Council resolution and that he did not need additional Congressional authority. But Members of Congress disputed this claim; 45 Democrats sought a judicial order enjoining the President from offensive military operations unless he consulted with and obtained an authorization from Congress. The request for injunction was denied, but on grounds that did not address the underlying legal claim. In the event, Congressional leaders announced that they were going to debate the issue and there was a Congressional authorization of force.

In October 1995, the House, by a vote of 315-103, passed a resolution asserting that “no United States Armed forces should be deployed on the ground in the territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to enforce a peace agreement until the Congress has approved such a deployment.” In December 1995, the House narrowly defeated H.R. 2770, which would have prohibited the use of Federal funds for the deployment “on the ground” of U.S. Armed Forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina “as part of any peacekeeping operation, or as part of any implementation force,” by a vote of 210-218. The House then approved H.Res. 302 reiterating “serious concerns and opposition” to the deployment of U.S. ground troops to Bosnia.

On April 28, 1999, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1569, by a vote of 249-180, prohibiting the use of funds appropriated to the Defense Department from being used for the deployment of “ground elements” of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia unless that deployment were specifically authorized by law.

The same day the House defeated, in a dramatic 213-213 tie vote, S.Con.Res. 21, the Senate resolution passed on March 23, 1999, that supported military air operations and missile strikes against Yugoslavia.

Two days later, the ACLU sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott:

We are writing to urge that you insist on strict compliance with the Constitution in connection with the commitment of U.S. troops in Kosovo, Yugoslavia and surrounding areas. The possible commitment of U.S. ground troops requires prior congressional authorization under the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Resolution. In fact, such authorization is also required for any air and missile strikes by U.S. forces in connection with any air war in Yugoslavia. Mere consultation with members of Congress, while a step in the right direction, does not meet the constitutional requirement that congressional authorization precede U.S. military intervention.

The air war was never authorized. That didn’t stop it; a legal effort to block the air war on this basis was ultimately dismissed in the courts on the grounds that 1) Congressional action had sent contradictory messages, and if it had wanted to explicitly prohibit the air war from continuing, Congress could have done so and 2) the Members of Congress who sued did not have standing since they did not represent the majority of Congress.

Nonetheless, the failure of the House to pass the resolution in support of the air war had a salutary political effect on the Clinton Administration: it made the Administration less intransigent in international diplomacy to resolve the crisis. After the vote, President Clinton suggested that there could be a “pause” in NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia to allow space for diplomacy. There was a peace accord a month later, in which the Clinton Administration accepted terms it likely could have achieved without the bombing.

So far, there has been no serious diplomatic effort backed by the West to resolve the crisis in Libya without the escalation of violence; efforts by others to achieve a diplomatic resolution have been dismissed. It seems likely that the only way to convince the US, France and Britain to give negotiations a chance is to put some obstructions in the current path towards military escalation. Therefore, the best thing Congress can do to help save lives in Libya right now is to construct some political obstacles to further military escalation.

Moreover, as we all know from bitter experience, there is an intrinsic tendency of wars to escalate and expand. Those who support the current military operations, but do not want them to expand and escalate, should support efforts to prevent their expansion.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Congress Must Debate the Libya War

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

The U.S. is now at war in a third Muslim country, according to the “official tally” (that is, counting Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya but not Pakistan or Yemen, for example.) But Congress has never authorized or debated the U.S. military intervention in Libya. (A sharply disputed claim holds that the Pakistan and Yemen actions are covered by the 2001 authorization of military force, but no-one has dared to argue that the 2001 AUMF covers Libya.)

Some will no doubt claim that the President is acting in Libya within his authority as Commander-in-Chief. But this is an extremely dangerous claim.

To put it crudely: as a matter of logic, if President Obama can bomb Libya without Congressional authorization, then President Palin can bomb Iran without Congressional authorization. If, God forbid, we ever get to that fork in the road, you can bet your bottom dollar that the advocates of bombing Iran will invoke Congressional silence now as justification for their claims of unilateral Presidential authority to bomb anywhere, anytime.

Some Members of Congress have strongly objected to President Obama’s bombing of Libya without Congressional approval.

On the Democratic side, John Larson, chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, called for President Obama to seek congressional approval. Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Donna Edwards, Mike Capuano, Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, Rob Andrews, Sheila Jackson Lee, Barbara Lee and Eleanor Holmes Norton “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions” during a Saturday call organized by Larson, the Politico reports.

“They consulted the Arab League. They consulted the United Nations. They did not consult the United States Congress,” one Democrat[ic] lawmaker said of the White House. “They’re creating wreckage, and they can’t obviate that by saying there are no boots on the ground. … There aren’t boots on the ground; there are Tomahawks in the air.”

“Almost everybody who spoke was opposed to any unilateral actions or decisions being made by the president, and most of us expressed our constitutional concerns. There should be a resolution and there should be a debate so members of Congress can decide whether or not we enter in whatever this action is being called,” added another House Democrat opposed to the Libyan operation.

“Whose side are we on? This appears to be more of a civil war than some kind of a revolution. Who are protecting? Are we with the people that are supposedly opposed to [Qadhafi]? You think they have a lot of people with him? If he is deposed, who will we be dealing with? There are a lot of questions here from members.”

On the Republican side, Senator Richard Lugar, ranking Member on Senate Foreign Relations, told CBS‘ Face the Nation yesterday that if we’re going to war with Libya, we ought to have a declaration of war by the Congress:

A memo distributed to Republican aides in the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee made the case that Congressional authorization is necessary and used Barack Obama’s own words to make the case, ABC reported.

The memo quotes Obama when he was in the Senate and there were concerns that then-President George W. Bush would take strike Iran.

“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” the memo quotes then-Senator Obama saying on Dec. 20, 2007.

In times like this, you can be sure some journalist will marvel at the “strange bedfellows” coalition of Democrats and Republicans standing up to the President. But there’s nothing strange about this bed. Everyone who wants to live in a constitutional republic belongs in this bed. Everyone who wants to hold the Administration to its promise of a “limited intervention” aimed at “protecting civilians,” rather than overthrowing the Libyan government, and to avoid “mission creep” from the former to the latter, belongs in this bed.

Congressional debate is a key means of compelling the Administration to clearly state its case and its objectives, to be honest and transparent about the potential cost of its proposed policies, and to limit its actions to its stated objectives; and to force Members of Congress to go on the record, in opposition or in support, and to state clearly, if they support, what it is that they support. On cost, for example: each Tomahawk missile is reported to cost on the order of a million dollars. So, firing 110 of them over the weekend cost about $100 million, far more than House Republicans cut from National Public Radio with great fanfare. Shouldn’t Congress consider this expenditure?

Two days into the military intervention, there was already sharp dispute over whether the military intervention that has unfolded has already gone beyond what the UN Security Council authorized and what the Arab League endorsed.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported:

A day after a summit meeting in Paris set the military operation in motion, some Arab participants in the agreement expressed unhappiness with the way the strikes were unfolding. The former chairman of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, told Egyptian state media that he was calling for an emergency Arab League meeting to discuss the situation in the Arab world and particularly Libya.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” he said, referring to Libyan government claims that allied bombardment had killed dozens of civilians in and near Tripoli.

Today, Moussa appeared to walk back these remarks.

But with Benghazi apparently no longer under Libyan government threat, and with Western bombs falling in Tripoli, this dispute over the scope of Western bombing is virtually certain to intensify.

You can debate the constitutional issue of war powers until the cows come home; but as a practical matter, if Congress doesn’t formally address the issue, such debate isn’t very relevant. If a majority of the House and the Senate support the present US military intervention in Libya, let them say so on the record, at least, by voting for a resolution to authorize military force. If the majority of the House or Senate are opposed, let them say so on the record. A minimum standard for transparency in government is that the House and the Senate go on the record for or against a new war.

UPDATE: Former MoveOn and Democracy for America staffer Ilya Sheyman, who is exploring a run for Congress in Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, has a petition calling for Congress to debate the war in Libya.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

The UN Security Council Has Not Authorized Regime Change in Libya

10:30 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

It’s a great thing that the Obama Administration has resisted calls for unilateral U.S. military action in Libya, and instead is working through the United Nations Security Council, as it is required to do by the United Nations Charter.

Now, the Administration needs to follow through on this commitment to international law by ensuring that foreign military intervention remains within the four corners of what the UN Security Council has approved. If it does not, and instead Western powers take the view that we now have a blank check to do whatever we want, the certain consequence will be that it will be much more difficult to achieve Security Council action in a similar situation in the future, and those who complain that the Security Council is too cautious will have only themselves to blame.

Some of the reporting on the Security Council resolution has been misleading. The Security Council has not authorized military action for any purpose. The Security Council has authorized military action necessary to protect civilians. It has not authorized military action to overthrow the Libyan government. Clearly, some people do want foreign military action to assist in the overthrow of the Libyan government, but such action has not been approved by the Security Council.

The text of the UN Security Council resolution can be found here.

Here is the first action item:

1. Demands the immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians;

The Libyan government has announced a cease-fire. It is certainly true, as Western leaders have noted, that announcing a cease-fire is not at all the same thing as implementing one. But before Western military forces start bombing Libya, efforts to achieve a cease-fire must be exhausted. To do otherwise would be to make a mockery of the Security Council.
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“No Fly Zone”? Senator Kerry, the UN Charter is Supreme Law

12:47 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

United Nations Headquarters

United Nations Headquarters by United Nations Photo, on Flickr

Surely no-one has been surprised to see Senator McCain engaged in what Defense Secretary Gates has rightly called “loose talk” about the use of U.S. military force in Libya.

But to see Senator John Kerry, the Democratic head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – the man who as a Vietnam veteran joined other anti-war veterans in asking who would be the last American to be asked to die in Vietnam – engage in such “loose talk” – that is a more painful cut.

Of course, this is the same Senator Kerry who voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in October 2002, even though such action was never authorized by the UN Security Council, and was therefore a major war crime in international law – the crime of aggression. And this is the same Senator Kerry who, as a presidential candidate in August 2004, stood by his vote for the war.

Here is a basic fact about the world that mainstream U.S. media – and politicians like John Kerry – generally find distasteful to acknowledge. The Charter of the United Nations rules out the use of military force by one UN member state against another except in two cases: self-defense against armed attack, and actions approved by the UN Security Council.

Obviously, Libya has not attacked the United States, and there is no realistic prospect that it will do so.

Therefore, because it is an act of war, in order to be legal under international law, the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya must be approved by the UN Security Council. There is no way around it.

The United Nations Charter is not an obscure document that can be safely ignored when it is convenient to do so. It is the founding document of the United Nations. It is the Constitution of the world.

And it is legally binding on the United States, because it is a treaty obligation. According to the U.S. Constitution, treaty obligations are “the supreme law of the land.”

So a no-fly zone over Libya must be approved by the UN Security Council. For anyone to claim otherwise is to use the same argument that the Bush Administration used when it ignored the UN to invade Iraq. If it was illegal for the U.S. to invade Iraq – and it was – then it is illegal for the U.S. or NATO to unilaterally impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

If a no-fly zone must be approved by the UN Security Council, then it must be approved by Russia and China. This is not a mistake. It is not an accident of history. The Framers of the UN Charter gave the power to approve military action to the Security Council, and gave five countries a permanent veto, because approving military action was supposed to be hard. The Soviet Union and the United States each held one of the five vetoes. In this sense, the world isn’t different than it was in 1945. Getting UN approval for military action is supposed to be difficult. It’s supposed to require a broad consensus.
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In Libya, Diplomacy Could Save Lives and the World Economy

10:18 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman


LIBYAN MONEY by Libda's Gallery, on Flickr

Secretary of State Clinton defended the State Department budget in Congress this week by pointing out that diplomatic interventions can prevent expensive wars. Now the State Department has a spectacular opportunity to demonstrate Secretary Clinton’s argument by example. It can support robust diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya without a further escalation in violence.

Pipe dream? The Wall Street Journal reports today that the price of oil fell on world markets when Al Jazeera reported that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had accepted a plan proposed by Venezuela that called for a multinational commission to mediate the conflict with rebel groups; Reuters reports that Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the peace plan was “under consideration.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that peace is about to break out. For example, a leader of the rebels has reportedly rejected the call for peace.

But here are some facts that should create an opening for diplomacy: the armed rebels seem to have very little military prospect of taking Tripoli. The Libyan government seems to have very little military prospect of retaking most rebel-held territory…
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