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Obama in 2007: ‘Nobody Disagrees with the No-Fly Zone’

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Biden said he’d been calling “for three years to stop talking and start acting.” And by “acting” he meant both a no-fly zone and ground troops. “If need be, if the rest of the world will not act, we should, and should have already – two years ago – imposed a no-fly zone, and we should have two years ago, absent the willingness of the rest of the world to act, put American troops on the ground to stop the carnage.”

Later in the exchange, Obama reiterated his support for U.S. intervention. “The no-fly zone is important. Having the protective force is critical.”

There are many similarities between Sudan and Libya, which share a border: A repressive regime using airpower to slaughter anti-government forces; a fractured, under-armed opposition; and complicated religious, ethnic and tribal allegiances.

But there are significant differences, too, including the fact that the fighting in Darfur had been raging for years and in Libya it has been weeks. And Obama administration officials argue that the level of air activity in Libya has been decreasing.

Daalder, on the same conference call Monday, said: “We have actually seen a decrease in both fighter and overall air activity over the weekend. It really peaked late last week and it’s starting to come down. And indeed, to date, the overall air activity has not been the deciding factor in the ongoing unrest…It’s important to understand that no-fly zones are more effective against fighters, but they really have a limited effect against the helicopters or the kind of ground operations that we’ve seen, which is why a no-fly zone, even if it were to be established, isn’t really going to impact what is happening there today.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at it – and we are and we will – but it is not going to be the solution to every problem.”

Skeptics of a no-fly zone in Libya also argue that it would have limited impact on helicopters. But much of the damage done from the air in Sudan came from helicopters, so it's hard to understand why proponents of a no-fly zone in Sudan would oppose one in Libya because of concerns about helicopters. 

According to Africa expert J. Peter Pham, vice president of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, enforcing no-fly zones over Libya and Darfur would present “slightly different challenges.” Pham believes that setting up a no-fly zone over Libya would present fewer challenges than the one expressed in the context of Sudan and that it could also be more effective. But it would also create more risks.

Whereas Darfur is “far form the coast of Africa, [and] enforcing a no-fly zone is strategically more difficult,” Pham said, Libya is on the coast so the U.S. would be able to utilize an aircraft carrier from the waters to support the mission. But there’s another difference, according to Pham: Libya might be “more of a challenge, since Qaddafi could fight back.” Libya spends more, as a percentage of GDP, on its military – “and bought more sophisticated weapons systems.”

Still, if the reasons for U.S. intervention in Sudan were self-evident and if Barack Obama believed that the imposition of no-fly zone was an obvious part of the solution – “nobody disagrees with the no-fly zone” – why are top Obama administration officials claiming without qualification that a no-fly zone will not work, and why are those who make similar arguments today derided by the White House as video gamers?

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