United Nations Authorizes Military Action Against Libya

Late today, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing military action in support of the Libyan rebellion:

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council approved a measure on Thursday authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from harm at the hands of forces loyal to Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The measure allows not only a no-fly zone but effectively any measures short of a ground invasion to halt attacks that might result in civilian fatalities. It comes as Colonel Qaddafi warned residents of Benghazi, Libya, the rebel capital, that an attack was imminent and promised lenient treatment for those who offered no resistance.

“We are coming tonight,” Colonel Qaddafi said. “You will come out from inside. Prepare yourselves from tonight. We will find you in your closets.”

Speaking on a call-in radio show, he promised amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away” but “no mercy or compassion” for those who fight. Explosions were heard in Benghazi early Friday, unnerving residents there,  Agence-France Presse reported.

The United States, originally leery of any military involvement in Libya, became a strong proponent of the resolution, particularly after the Arab League approved a no-fly zone, something that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called a “game changer”

With the recent advances made by pro-Qaddafi forces in the east, there was a growing consensus in the Obama administration that imposing a no-fly zone by itself would no longer make much of a difference and that there was a need for  more aggressive airstrikes that would make targets of Colonel Qaddafi’s tanks and heavy artillery — an option sometimes referred to as a no-drive zone. The United States or its allies might also send military personnel to advise and train the rebels, an official said.

In the most strident verbal attack on Colonel Qaddafi to date by an American official, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that the Western powers had little choice but to provide critical military backing for the rebels. “We want to support the opposition who are standing against the dictator,” she told an applauding audience in Tunisia on Thursday. “This is a man who has no conscience and will threaten anyone in his way.”

She added that Colonel Qaddafi would do “terrible things” to Libya and its neighbors. “It’s just in his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.”

The Qaddafi government responded to the potential United Nations action with threats.

“Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military facilities will become targets of Libya’s counter-attack,” it said in a statement carried on Libyan television and the official news agency, JANA, Reuters reported. “The Mediterranean basin will face danger not just in the short-term, but also in the long-term.”

There were reports on Thursday that warplanes were already bombarding the outskirts of Benghazi for a second day, opening shots, perhaps, in the battle. And after days of batterings at the hands of Qaddafi loyalists, the opposition forces welcomed the promise of Western assistance.

It’s probable we will see the beginnings of military action within the next several hours. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.


FILED UNDER: Africa, United Nations, World Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    I think I’ll just sit here and wait for all the conservatives who’ve attacked Obama for “failing to do something.” I’m sure they’ll be along at any moment to attack him for “doing something.”

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I will venture a guess. France takes a bigger role than in the past, we’ll take a somewhat smaller role. Some Arabs will pitch in a few missions.

    We’ll lose few or no people, few or no planes.

    We’ll manage to keep the opposition alive. Whoever the hell they are. Does anyone actually know? Are any of them named Washington?

    Will Gaddafi fall? I’d say 60/40 he’s gone within two weeks. A lot of his force is stretched out a long way from Tripoli. Easy targets.

    On the up-side we’ll probably avert a massacre of innocents. And maybe we’ll create a new paradigm where other people occasionally do some trigger-pulling, not just us and the Brits.

    On the down side: money, stress on troops, and one way or the other Libyans will manage to be mad at us.

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    Michael, I thought the UN was doing something here? My complaint is it’s late and now likely irrelevant. The ditherer in chief failed to make up his mind in a timely manner like a leader should.

    There is no defense for Obama on this one.

  4. michael reynolds says:


    Nice try.

    Here’s what I think is probably the truth: Hillary Clinton was just over there talking to various interesting people. News just came that Egypt is shipping arms across to the rebels. And I’m guessing we just got a basing deal with Tunisia for French, Arab and US planes.

    That would be diplomacy.

    Also, we just got the Chinese and Russians to allow this. That took time to work diplomatically.

    We could have gone off half-cocked a couple weeks ago, or full-cocked (um . . .) now.

    Since the surgical no-fingerprints no-fly zone was always a fantasy, and since if we went in we’d have to blow some stuff up, we now do it was a coalition of. . . wait for it . . . the willing.

    None of that goes to the essential wisdom of the action. But the criticism of the way it was managed is now spurious and without merit. This is the best that could have been done with a mission of questionable wisdom.

  5. john personna says:

    I really have no idea. I’m not partisan enough to make this about “my” party’s position, or about “the other party.”

    I’d hope that the generals and admirals know what can be hit and what effect it will have. Tank busting is easy? I don’t know. And I don’t know where that leaves “the rebels.”

  6. michael reynolds says:

    I’ll tell you one thing: this was masterful diplomacy. I mean it was something when George HW Bush pulled off the same thing for the first Iraq war, but Obama and H. Clinton just pulled this together in what, a week? Ten days?

    Security Council and Arab League brought together, support from the neighbors, and all of it so quick and quiet that the conservatives still don’t realize it happened.

    They’ll be teaching this is international relations classes for a long time as a sweet piece of diplomacy. Whatever the long-term effects of the action itself.

  7. john personna says:

    “Security Council and Arab League brought together, support from the neighbors, and all of it so quick and quiet that the conservatives still don’t realize it happened.”

    Are you sure we really wanted them to?

    “They’ll be teaching this is international relations classes for a long time as a sweet piece of diplomacy. Whatever the long-term effects of the action itself.”

    So will you now, like the neocons before you, make promises about the future of Libyan democracy?

  8. john personna says:

    (If we just “bomb and go away” that may have limited downside, but still … it has more downside potential than letting Muammar pop off on his own.)

  9. Tony says:

    To quote a certain clever fellow: Tell me how this ends. I have no idea. To be clear, I think it’s perfectly possible that the pro-intervention camp will be abundantly vindicated. But we are balls-deep in Law Of Unintended Consequences country here, chaps.

  10. Tony says:

    I would also note that the same Arab League that has made this intervention diplomatically possible is currently engaged in actively supporting splitting the heads of unarmed protesters open in Bahrain and stoking sectarian conflict in a manner that may well end up in religio-ethnic massacres. That doesn’t in itself render intervention in Libya morally dodgy, but there’s an element of cognitive dissonance going on.

  11. michael reynolds says:


    I made clear here and in the other thread that I had doubts about the policy.

    I’m talking about the diplomacy.


    And I would note that we won WW2 in alliance with Stalin.

  12. Tano says:

    “Michael, I thought the UN was doing something here?”

    Jeez Steve that is lame. What the heck do you think the UN is anyway? When “the UN” does something like this, it is. of course, actually the coordinated diplomacy of the permanent members of the Security Council that is doing whatever gets done. And with the abstention of the Russians and the Chinese, that means what was done was done by us, the Brits and the French. Which boils down to basically, us.

    “The ditherer in chief failed to make up his mind in a timely manner like a leader should.”

    Seems pretty obvious that Obama was working to build a consensus in the SC (or at least abstentions from those with the power to veto). IOW, not grabbing headlines with cheap bellicose talk, and certainly not making this publicly a US-led effort (which would be the kiss of death). Rather, do the less -glamorous, but far more valuable hard work of crafting an response that would have broad buy-in, even from Arab countries.

    It seem like you value comic-book heroics over the actually effective hard work of real leaders operating in the real world.

  13. john personna says:

    Successful diplomacy to an uncertain end? That might risk the word “successful.”