The Arab League and the No-Fly Zone

| Mon Mar. 21, 2011 1:21 AM EDT

After a mere 24 hours, the Arab League is already reconsidering its support for a no-fly zone over Libya:

The Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, deplored the broad scope of the U.S.-European bombing campaign in Libya and said Sunday that he would call a league meeting to reconsider Arab approval of the Western military intervention.

Moussa said the Arab League’s approval of a no-fly zone on March 12 was based on a desire to prevent Moammar Gaddafi’s air force from attacking civilians and was not designed to endorse the intense bombing and missile attacks — including on Tripoli, the capital, and on Libyan ground forces — whose images have filled Arab television screens for two days.

Most of the commentary I've seen about this has basically consisted of derision: either of the Arab League itself, for doing a U-turn so fast, or of the Obama adminstration, for believing that the Arab League was ever likely to maintain its support in the face of a genuine military effort.

But I'd rein in the mockery a bit. Moussa is right, after all: aside from taking out Libya's anti-aircraft capability, Operation Odyssey Dawn has turned out to be a major assault anchored by dozens of ships, B-2 stealth bombers, Marine Harrier jets, Tomahawk cruise-missile strikes, and attacks by French and British fighters. This may or may not be necessary to accomplish whatever it is that the coalition is trying to accomplish (that's less than clear at the moment), but it really does go pretty far beyond what the Arab League thought it was signing up for.

For more on all things Libya, see our continually updated Libya explainer here.

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