Libya’s unfinished revolution - Mahir Ali - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

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AS forces loyal to Col Muammar Qadhafi ruthlessly push back against Libyan rebels who sought to replicate the transformations in Tunisia and Egypt, the clamour for western intervention against the reprobate regime has been growing.
It focuses primarily on the imposition of a no-fly zone — an idea supported by a majority of nations in the Arab League as well as the African Union — that would ostensibly prevent Qadhafi from deploying his air force against those seeking his overthrow.
In the opinion of proponents, it would be a relatively low-cost means of supporting Libyans desirous of bidding adieu to one of the most totalitarian regimes in the region. As the death toll mounts, the question on some rebel lips — echoed, not surprisingly, by neoconservatives and liberal interventionists alike — has been amplified: Where is America?
One obvious answer is that, well, it is in Iraq — where, after a dozen years, no-fly restrictions had to be followed by a full-fledged invasion before regime change could be procured — as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Would Saddam Hussein have succeeded in murdering more of his compatriots in the absence of a no-fly zone (which, inevitably, entailed its own civilian toll)? Possibly. He could hardly, though, have hoped to match the destruction wreaked by ‘shock and awe’ and its extended — and yet to be delineated — aftermath.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, whom the Obama administration meekly inherited from its predecessor, is unimpressed by the idea of a no-fly zone in Libya because he fears that the intervention, once initiated, would inevitably entail progressively greater military involvement. Gates may not be the likeliest opponent of neocolonialist adventurism, but in this respect he’s a step ahead of those who ought to know better.
It isn’t uncommon for dedicated interventionists to cite the example of Nato’s role in the Balkans as a desirable template. This tendency emanates both from a reluctance to look at the details — in terms not only of the destruction wreaked by Nato forces, but also how forces loyal to Slobodan Milosevic grew considerably more barbaric in the wake of the invasion — as well as the fact that any western military role in Libya is much more likely to echo what happened in Iraq.
That includes affording an opening, and medium-term sustenance, to Al Qaeda. Qadhafi was egregiously wrong in ascribing the revolt against his regime simultaneously to Osama bin Laden’s minions and to western interests keen on acquiring control of Libya’s oil. Euro-American intervention would make him seem prophetic on both fronts.
Calls from within Libya for a western role have been mounting in recent weeks. That is hardly surprising. The rebels obviously lack the firepower to match forces loyal to the dictator, which have more or less steadily been advancing towards Benghazi, the primary hold-out. They are being massacred. That is profoundly tragic. But is there any conceivable international response that could counteract the impunity of Qadhafi’s forces without leading to bloodshed on an even bigger scale?
Let us not for a moment forget that Saddam opponents as well as proponents found themselves in the firing line when the world’s policeman descended on their doorsteps. To the average American soldier, they were all ‘hajis’ (regardless of whether they had ever been to Makkah) who were somehow responsible for the destruction of the twin towers in New York.
Petrified by the fate of Saddam and his regime, Qadhafi quickly volunteered to abandon his effort to build weapons of mass destruction (overlooking the fact that Saddam had been targeted a decade after he gave up his nuclear weapons programme). Generous compensation for the relatives of those killed in the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie was also forthcoming. And the West — particularly in the shape of Britain, France and Italy — barely hesitated in responding to the overtures from Tripoli.
It is not surprising, then, that London and Paris are among the keenest proponents of a show of force in Libya. (Silvio Berlusconi has his own survival to contend with.)
There are at least two examples in the late 20th century that militate against the conclusion that foreign intervention in domestic conflicts is always a bad idea.
In 1971, India intervened to successfully put an end to the widespread killings by the Pakistani Army in what was to become Bangladesh. Far too many lives had already been lost, but had Indira Gandhi faltered at that juncture, a great many more would, in all likelihood. have been sacrificed.
Eight years later, Vietnam, barely recovered from its drawn-out struggle against western imperialism, invaded Cambodia to boot out the Khmer Rouge. The latter has since been almost universally deployed as a symbol of what can go wrong with national liberation struggles, but it is extremely useful to remember that it was diplomatically and militarily supported by the West in its subsequent efforts to subvert the government in Phnom Penh.
In both cases, noticeably, the West — notably in the shape of the US — lent its support to the forces of oppression.
Which is not to say that the US isn’t allowed to alter its historical trajectory and forcefully support the opponents of tyranny. But as long as the imperialist urge — whether fired by ideology or economics — remains intact, its credibility remains as suspect as that of Qadhafi’s regime.
Analysts have advised that the Arab revolution will be thwarted unless Qadhafi is unseated. They may well be wrong. But even if they are right, it is highly dubious that a dictator unseated through western intervention could serve as a useful example for tyrants elsewhere in the Arab world who continue to enjoy the imprimatur of American endorsement.

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