LaborTalk for March 25, 2011

While Labor Leaders Remained Silent on Lybia,
The Nation Hotly Debated U.S. Military Mission

By Harry Kelber

While the United States took exclusive responsibility to use its air power to establish a “no-fly zone’ that prevented Colonel Qaddafi’s troops from attacking rebel forces from the air and ground, many questions have been raised by bipartisan lawmakers and the public about the reasons for the mission, how it was initiated and, most important, would it involve the U.S. in a war in Libya.

As with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change-to- Win refused to have any comments on their web sites or in their public statements on Libya, claiming that the wars were issues left to individuals and not the concern of the labor movement. Unions were busy with their own war: to fight off anti-worker legislative attacks in a dozen states where Republicans held a dominant position.

President Obama, returning from a trip to Latin America, said the purpose of the “no-fly zone” initiative was to save the lives of Libyan civilians who were being slaughtered by Qaddafi’s troops. Obama said America’s pre-eminent position in the Lybian campaign would end in “days, not weeks,” but that did not mean that the U.S. would have a minor role, when a “coalition” of allies takes over.

There was considerable anger in Congress from both Democrats and Republicans because of the failure of the White House to give them advance notice and obtain congressional approval for the air warfare in Libya. While public opinion favored Col. Qaddafi’s removal from Libya, it was concerned about the political and financial costs. of the campaign. It was noted that Libya is the biggest oil producer in Africa.

While President Obama could claim to be acting in accordance with the resolution of the U.N. Security Council, five important nations had abstained from voting for it: China, Russia, India, Brazil and Turkey.

Obama praised the “coalition of the international community,” including NATO and Arab states, but many seasoned diplomats said the U.S. would still bear the brunt of the Libyan campaign in providing hardware, leadership, resources and funding, that could come to billions of dollars if the war in Libya reached a stalemate. They pointed to the fact that in the initial allied air attack, the United States had fired 124 Tomahawk missiles, while the British had fired just two.

Can the U.S. Become Involved in a Full-Scale War in Libya?

It would be catastrophic if the United States became enmeshed in a war in Libya that might last weeks or months or even years if Col. Qaddafi continues to hold on, and ground troops have to be brought in from the allied coalition to end his 42-year despotic rule.

And if Qaddafi is removed by defeat or assassination, who will take his place? What do we know about the rebels? Who will take possession of the Libyan oil wells in Africa? Will the coalition of allies repay the United States for the billions of dollars we will have poured into the campaign?

The outcome of wars is often unpredictable.. The results may not be what the participants had expected, Remember when we invaded Iraq, we were told that our soldiers would be greeted with smiling citizens welcoming our soldiers with flowers and kisses. Did we think the Iraq war would last ten years? Did we think the Afghanistan War would last ten years? Are we so sure that the war against Qaddafi will be over in a matter of weeks or months?

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With hindsight, if U.S. labor leaders had spoken up in protest against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars instead of giving President Bush a blank check by their silence, conceivably our pressure might have stopped or curtailed those two wars.

Think of the tens of billions of dollars we spent on killing people we did not know. With all that money, we could have created public works jobs for hundreds of thousands of unemployed people, if not millions.

We hope the AFL-CIO and Change-to-Win will end their ban on discussions of an America at war. Union members should have a right to speak their collective minds on these life-and-death matters, particularly on the Libyan crisis.—Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on March 29, 2011 and on our two web sites and on