Today is the eighth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, and today the US is preparing to once again join a military action against an Arab country, Libya.
I wonder how many of Pres. Obama’s advisers have ever even heard the term “Tripartite Aggression”? That is the way Arabs refer to the military action– which also had a veneer of UN respectability– that Britain, France, and Israel launched against Egypt in 1956.
Now, those two long-faded European powers have once again been preparing to take part in a tripartite act of war against an Arab country. And this time, the third party is the United States.
At a time when U.S. allies Bahrain and Yemen have been cracking down very lethally on internal protesters, it is hypocritical in the extreme for the “western” powers to send their military in to punish Col. Qadhdhafi for doing the same in Libya.
What makes the contrast even more poignant is that in Bahrain, at least– and to a large extent also in Yemen– the protesters restrained their actions to acts of nonviolent mass protest, whereas in Libya from very early on the anti-Qadhdhafi movement took on the full aspect of a military insurrection. The Libyan protesters stormed armories and barracks, handed out weapons to all comers, and worked actively to persuade serving military officers to turn their arms against the government forces.
So it is that armed insurrection that the “western” powers are now supporting, while Bahrain’s nonviolent democracy activists are being mown down by western arms in their own streets.
How will it end in Libya? Who knows? The animal spirits of warfare take their own course, as we have seen in Iraq over the past eight years. The invasion of Iraq has notably not turned out well– either for the Iraqi people themselves, whose society was largely destroyed during the fitna (social chaos) that followed, or for the “west”, since the political upshot in Iraq has been an extension of significant Iranian power into the whole country.
55 years ago, the British-French-Israeli aggression against Egypt didn’t turn out well for the “western” powers involved, either. For Britain, 1956 was essentially a last gasp of empire that completely overstretched the London’s capabilities and led almost directly to the collapse of Britain’s ability to extend its power “East of Suez”.
How will this all end in Libya? I suppose there is still time for determined diplomacy by well-meaning non-belligerent powers to get both sides to back down and agree to the ceasefire earlier specified by the Security Council. If so, that ceasefire needs to be monitored. A monitoring body acceptable to both sides needs to be formed. The terms of national reconciliation would need to be negotiated.
The French, however, and the British, and several of those Arab countries that have been so eager to crush the nonviolent democracy in Bahrain, all seem determined to get into the fight against Qadhdhafi, most likely with the aim of bringing him down. (Correction: the Arab powers have been eager to instigate others to get into the fight, not to do it themselves.)
The attempt to act through imposing (among other things) a “no-fly zone” that would, in the view of the authors of this proposal, serve to handicap the Tripoli forces considerably met with a rather severe challenge today, when a first plane was shot down over the rebels’ stronghold in Benghazi– but it turned out to be a rebel-controlled Mirage. If both the rebels and the government forces have planes in the air liable to being shot down, how can the western forces discriminate between them? (And anyway, the no-fly rule is definitely supposed to apply to everyone.)
But let’s say the western forces do take military action. What then? All the commentators in their capitals say they are ready only for a short engagement– nothing like the no-fly zone and tight blockade that the US and UK maintained around Saddam’s Iraq for 12 long years, 1991-2003, causing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and costing the US a huge amount of money to maintain. So if they are really planning on a “short” engagement this time, it’s likely they are including a decapitation element in their plans. That is, killing Muammar Qadhdhafi in the presumed hope that something better might follow.
Do these people have no memory? Can they not even cast their minds back to the tragedy Iraq suffered after the regime was forcibly toppled there?
In the imagination of some, like Samantha Power and perhaps her boss Barrack Obama, war can be harnessed to worthy humanitarian ends.
Neither Samantha Power nor Barrack Obama has ever, as I have, lived in a war zone. War is quintessentially anti-humanitarian. It visits terrible suffering on children, women, and men– usually for many, many years.
Yes, the humanitarian/political challenge in Libya was searingly acute. (As has been the challenge in Bahrain, and Yemen.) All the powers in the world should be applying themselves to the goal of ratcheting down the violence and finding nonviolent ways to resolve both the underlying political problems and the host of new problems that have been caused by the act of armed insurrection itself.
I pray there is still time.