Libyan officials tried to 'buy time' to stop rebel onslaught
Libyans in Benghazi celebrate rebel advances against Gadhafi regime Photo By: AFP/Getty Images
August 22nd, 2011
11:05 AM ET

Libyan officials tried to 'buy time' to stop rebel onslaught

CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty

Up until the last minutes before the rebel offensive on Tripoli began, senior Libyan officials close to Muammar Gadhafi were trying to reach out to the United States in a desperate attempt to stop the "inevitable," a senior State Department official told CNN Monday. '

In a telephone interview from Cairo Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said that, until Saturday night, six officials with whom the United States had previous contact were still trying to reach out to the Obama administration but were taking a "defiant" approach, saying they were ready to negotiate but it would not be about Gadhafi leaving.

"It hinted to us that there's a sense of desperation," Feltman, who leads State Department efforts on Libya and who was in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi over the weekend, said, "that they're trying all channels to reach us, that the balance was tipping on behalf of the rebels or why would these people be so desperate to find us?"

"I think they were looking for a way to find a lifeline, buy time, to prevent what was then becoming inevitable, which was the uprising in Tripoli," he said.

The contacts stopped Saturday night when the rebellion started inside Tripoli. "In hindsight," Feltman says, "I think it's clear it was an attempt to buy time. When they looked at a map and saw Tripoli starting to be surrounded I think they saw what was inevitable."

As rebels struggle for final control of Tripoli, U.S. officials tell CNN that initial signs are "encouraging," with no reports of any widespread looting or people taking justice into their own hands for retribution.

"I'm encouraged by these reports that they've set up check points to promote public safety and around public buildings," Feltman said. "Tripoli does not look like Baghdad looked after the fall of Saddam Hussein and I think that's encouraging."

Feltman also said he is encouraged by the amount of contact "clearly going" on between the National Transitional Council in Benghazi and rebel forces inside Tripoli.

"There was more communication between Tripoli and Benghazi than certainly I knew was there," he says. "For example, Saturday night we were seeing high-level officials in Benghazi who basically said, 'OK, in an hour Tripoli's going to rise up and this is what's going to happen. It's going to start in this neighborhood, they're going to go out to the mosques and start doing the call to prayer... So it was clear from that description that there's a lot more communication than what was apparent publicly between the NTC in Benghazi and Tripoli."

Feltman said "the NTC did its homework" but cautions, "This is a very fluid situation and I wouldn't want to predict with any kind of accuracy that it's all going to work. You have 42 years of the Libyan people basically being in a political coma and all of a sudden they're having to rule themselves in a far different way, and I can't imagine that that's going to be without challenges."

Separately, a senior U.S. official, who spoke on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, tells CNN that the NTC has a series of plans that are "quite detailed" about running public services in an interim period" as well as how to make sure that the government is properly inclusive.

"Because right now they've got to make sure that they do not end up looking to be a sort of Eastern colonial power... they've got to make sure they're inclusive and have enough popular legitimacy to go forward," this official says.

One issue is when the NTC leadership might move from Benghazi to Tripoli. This official has heard reports that some NTC officials now are re-locating from Benghazi to Misrata and the Western Mountains of Libya with the idea of going to Tripoli as soon as there is sufficient security to protect them. "They would be primary targets for any remaining Gadhafi forces," the official says.

The NTC's plans "for not the day after but for the weeks after are pretty good," this official says. "They have set up a timeline but it's getting from today through Gadhafi's actual departure altogether, to where they're all sitting in Tripoli implementing a transition - that's the period I'm a bit concerned about and I think that they are doing a good job, but we'll just have to see. They have lots of good stuff on paper but it's translating it from paper into practice that remains to be seen, particularly in the initial period."

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Anon

    Aniti war people have an unfair disadvantage since lost US Govt funds both coprporate media like this one and funds the military and wars. SO anti war people are paying for wars that are illegal and that they dont support. The fact is Gaddaffi is innocent of over a dozen terror acts he was wrongly accused and punished for including he never did the Garman nor Lockerbie bombings.Millions of people wordwide support in the past and continue love and support Gaddaffi even if they are non Libyans and cant fight in Libya. 99% of Libyans support and love Gaddaffi and this is proven with research, and thousands of public displays. The rebels and NTC dont want an election and probably will postpone foreever because Gaddaffi or his sons would win a fair general election. The war to overthrow is treason punishable by death of the rebels,NTC, and Nato committed terrorism aid,funding,arming al-qaeda.Obama,Clinton,Biden,sarkozy,Cameron,Merkel,Clegg,Berlusconi,Medvedev all face re-election and all will be defeated based on thwir war terrorism against Gaddaffi including murdering his family. These leaders deserve execution and impeachment, disbarment if they have a law degree and punished at the Hague. Gaddaffi and his forces never took war against his people they defended the country as their legal un and intl law rights to use the military against armed overthrow. Nato,spies, Nato military and Gulf Arab states had ground forces posing as armed protestors. Russian and China aerospace and satellie info proved Gaddaffi never bombed or use aircraft against his own people. Nato committed war crimes and NTC,Rebels,Nato,the West refused to prevent or stop war. The war caused further derioration of the West countries economies and Gaddaffi is more loved as a superhero. The rebels and NTC will fail, they kill each other they have burned,pillaged,looted,beheaded, used cannabalism, all types of atrocities witness by human rights, also by US politicians and Nato ground forces beheaded and raped not only soldiers but civilians. Nato and Nato countries are hated more than ever, their citizens face more 911 attacks and All Nato colaition people face boycotts,shame,condemnation as well as all types of criminal cases and civil lawsuits and war claims. UN,ICC,Nato all proved their war crimes and there are over a billion calls for these orgs to be shut down. Gaddaffi can return to power by military force or an election or other means. It will happen. It is just not now able to say what date. No Nato overthrow has ever been an improvement since Saddam there is less oil output and in Libya less oil output so no one wins a war everyone loses.The pro war politicians approval ratings have gone down due to these wars and they will not get re-elected.Gaddaffi has millions of sympathizers he and his family lost half their people they have suffered enough. Leave them alone.

    September 13, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  2. rajeev

    August 23, 2011 at 7:05 am | Reply
  3. rajeev

    August 23, 2011 at 7:04 am | Reply
  4. rajeev

    August 23, 2011 at 7:02 am | Reply
  5. rajeev

    August 23, 2011 at 7:00 am | Reply
  6. rajeev

    The Libya War argument

    (updated below)

    In April, 2003, American troops entered Baghdad and Saddam Hussein was forced to flee; six months later, the dictator was captured ("caught like a rat in a hole," giddy American media outlets celebrated) and eventually hanged. Each of those incidents caused massive numbers of Iraqis who had suffered under his decades-long rule to celebrate, and justifiably so: Saddam really was a monster who had brutally oppressed millions. But what was not justifiable was how those emotions were exploited by American war advocates to delegitimize domestic objections to the war. Even though opposition to the war had absolutely nothing to do with doubt about whether Saddam could be vanquished by the U.S. military - of course he could and would be - the emotions surrounding his defeat were seized upon by Iraq War supporters to boastfully claim full-scale vindication (here's one of my all-time favorites from that intellectually corrupt genre).

    So extreme was this manipulative way of arguing that then-presidential-candidate Howard Dean was mauled by people in both parties when he dared to raise questions about whether Saddam's capture - being hailed in bipartisan political and media circles as a Great American Achievement - would actually make things better. Dean's obvious point was that Saddam's demise told us very little about the key questions surrounding the war: how many civilians had died and would die in the future? What would be required to stabilize Iraq? How much more fighting would be unleashed? What precedents did the attack set? What regime would replace Saddam and what type of rule would it impose, and to whom would its leaders be loyal? That a dictatorial monster had been vanquished told us nothing about any of those key questions - the ones in which war opposition had been grounded - yet war proponents, given pervasive hatred of Saddam, dared anyone to question the war in the wake of those emotional events and risk appearing to oppose Saddam's defeat. That tactic succeeded in turning war criticism in the immediate aftermath of those events into a taboo (the same thing was done in the wake of Mullah Omar's expulsion from Afghanistan to those arguing that the war would result in a "quagmire").

    As I've emphasized from the very first time I wrote about a possible war in Libya, there are real and important differences between the attack on Iraq and NATO's war in Libya, ones that make the former unjustifiable in ways the latter is not (beginning with at least some form of U.N. approval). But what they do have in common - what virtually all wars have in common - is the rhetorical manipulation used to justify them and demonize critics. Just as Iraq War opponents were accused of being "objectively pro-Saddam" and harboring indifference to The Iraqi People, so, too, were opponents of the Libya War repeatedly accused of being on Gadaffi's side (courtesy of Hillary Clinton, an advocate of both wars) and/or exuding indifference to the plight of Libyans. And now, in the wake of the apparent demise of the Gadaffi regime, we see all sorts of efforts, mostly from Democratic partisans, to exploit the emotions from Gadaffi's fall to shame those who questioned the war, illustrated by this question last night from ThinkProgress, an organization whose work I generally respect:


    The towering irrationality of this taunt is manifest. Of course the U.S. participation in that war is still illegal. It's illegal because it was waged for months not merely without Congressional approval, but even in the face of a Congressional vote against its authorization. That NATO succeeded in defeating the Mighty Libyan Army does not have the slightest effect on that question, just as Saddam's capture told us nothing about the legality or wisdom of that war. What comments like this one are designed to accomplish is to exploit and manipulate the emotions surrounding Gaddafi's fall to shame and demonize war critics and dare them to question the War President now in light of his glorious triumph.

    Of course, ThinkProgress could have just as rationally directed its question to President Obama's own Attorney General, Eric Holder, and his Office of Legal Counsel Chief, Caroline Krass, and his DOD General Counsel, Jeh Johnsen, all of whom argued that the war was illegal on the same grounds as Boehner did. Or they could have directed their comment to the numerous House Democrats who vehemently protested the war's illegality, and to the 60% of House Democrats who voted to de-fund it. Or they could have even directed it to ThinkProgress' own Matt Yglesias, who repeatedly expressed doubts about both the legality and wisdom of the Libya war, and last night wrote:

    Let’s wish the best of luck to the people of Libya. Part of the problem with this intervention has always been that the fall of a dictator seems to me just as likely to lead to a bloody civil war or a new dictatorship as the emergence of a humane and stable regime. The effort to build a better future really only starts today.

    Those are among the key questions that remain entirely unanswered. No decent human being would possibly harbor any sympathy for Gadaffi, just as none harbored any for Saddam. It's impossible not to be moved by the celebration of Libyans over the demise of (for some at least) their hated dictator, just as was the case for the happiness of Kurds and Shiites over Saddam's. And I've said many times before, there are undoubtedly many Libya war supporters motivated by the magnanimous (though misguided) desire to use the war to prevent mass killings (just as some Iraq War supporters genuinely wanted to liberate Iraqis).

    But the real toll of this war (including the number of civilian deaths that have occurred and will occur) is still almost entirely unknown, and none of the arguments against the war (least of all the legal ones) are remotely resolved by yesterday's events. Shamelessly exploiting hatred of the latest Evil Villain to irrationally shield all sorts of policies from critical scrutiny - the everything-is-justified-if-we-get-a-Bad-Guy mentality - is one of the most common and destructive staples of American political discourse, and it's no better when done here.

    UPDATE: Former MSNBC Donahue producer Jeff Cohen, in his book "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media,” documented the following from MSNBC in April, 2003, as U.S. forces entered Baghdad:

    On April 10, three weeks into the war which he portrayed as mission accomplished, [Joe] Scarborough delivered a wacky commentary demanding that "disgraced" war skeptics like Jimmy Carter and Dennis Kucinich admit that “their wartime predictions were arrogant . . . misguided . . . and dead wrong.” This on a show in which he spoke of Iraq possessing WMD. Scarborough was gleeful that antiwar "elitists" like Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Janeane Garofalo were facing cancellations and boycotts. [Michael] Savage joined the conversation to say that "Hollywood idiots" are “absolutely committing sedition and treason." Scarborough responded, "These leftist stooges for anti-American causes are always given a free pass. Isn't it time to make them stand up and be counted for their views?"

    With Gadaffi reportedly on the verge of falling, there certainly is a lot of similar chest-beating and boastful demands that war critics confess their shameful error - as though anyone ever doubted that Gadaffi would fall - and it all seems every bit as premature and manipulative as this April, 2003, orgy of self-celebrating war dances that took place on the MSNBC precinct of The Liberal Media.

    August 23, 2011 at 7:00 am | Reply

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