International Intervention on Crazy Qaddafi?

Although Qaddafi seems to be preparing for a date at the Hague, the United States must not intervene

Over the last three days Colonel Qaddafi has given two speeches and his supposedly sane son Seif gave one of his own. The latest Qaddafi tirade was disturbing and humorous. Talking to perhaps fifteen people, Qaddafi crowed on about hallucination pills, talked about himself in third person and more often than not seemed genuinely lost. Here in Palestine, viewers reacted to the speech with sad laughs and knowing smiles; behind the goofy insanity of Qaddafi is a clear threat. The Libyan leader has no intention of following Ben Ali and Mubarak and has no qualms murdering Libyan civilians who stand in his way. Before the speech, there were reports that over 300 people were killed, that the government hired foreign mercenaries and that protesters were attacked using Libyan fighter jets. Removed from the brutality of the country, it is easy to laugh when the increasingly insane Qaddafi says that he will “fight on to the last drop of [his] blood,” yet Qaddafi’s insanity only makes his threats more credible.

Qaddafi’s son, Seif, hinted at the tenacity of the regime during his speech two days ago, in which he made clear the family’s intentions of maintaining power. Seif finished his speech with “We will live in Libya and we will die in Libya,” giving little doubt that Qaddafi plans to hold onto power. After the speech, Marc Lynch wrote a piece calling for foreign action to stop to bloodshed in Libya:

We should not be fooled by Libya’s geographic proximity to Egypt and Tunisia, or guided by the debates over how the United States could best help a peaceful protest movement achieve democratic change. The appropriate comparison is Bosnia or Kosovo, or even Rwanda where a massacre is unfolding on live television and the world is challenged to act. It is time for the United States, NATO, the United Nations and the Arab League to act forcefully to try to prevent the already bloody situation from degenerating into something much worse.

Lynch’s fears of continuing massacres of the Libyan people must have been augmented by Qaddafi’s speech. The leader offered in no uncertain terms the extent to which he would go to ensure his power: “I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when I do, everything will burn.” Clearly, the terrible situation in Libya is about to get much worse, leaving the international community trying to answer the seemingly unanswerable question of what can be done? Lynch suggests a NATO-enforced no fly zone over the country to prevent the use of the air force on protesters as well as a Security Council resolution against the Libyan government. The NYTimes agrees that something must be done and suggests sanctions by the Security Council.

Qaddafi, in both recent and historical actions, has proven that he has very little problem with mass murder. He backed Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh during the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leon – conflicts in which the leaders killed thousands of civilians and used amputation by machete and rape as weapons. Qaddafi ordered the bombing of a West Berlin disco in 1986 and was being the bombing of Pan Am 103 that killed 270 in 1988. Recently uploaded videos seem to prove how little the Libyan regime cares for its people, going as far as to burn soldiers alive who refuse to shoot unarmed protesters. Despite Qaddafi’s wandering speeches, it is clear that the people of Libya are in serious danger.

Witnessing such heartless, institutionalized murder inevitably brings pangs of helpless morality from the outside world, a desperate feeling of need to do something, to fix the problem. However, before committing international forces to Libya, one has to closely scrutinize the goals of such a move and the ability of the international community to reach those goals. Calling for a NATO backed no fly zone to be imposed over the country clearly is an attempt to stop the use of the Libyan air force against protesters. While this would undoubtedly be successful, it would do little to stop the Qaddafi regime from killing thousands of innocent people; historically, few genocides have required (or even used) air power. The call to impose economic sanctions and to freeze Qaddafi’s overseas assets is a logical punishment for the Libyan leader, but these moves lack the urgency needed to halt the government’s massacre of Libyans. Economic punishment is a patient man’s tactic and if the world decides to intervene in Libya, it cannot be patient.

Moreover, any direct military intervention in Libya would certainly be undertaken without the approval of the Security Council as permanent members China and Russia are very hesitant to agree to external intervention in internal national matters. As Larison notes, intervention in Libya without UN authorization would be “another U.S. intervention that it launched on its own authority.” Even if the US meant to limit its actions to the implementation of a no fly zone, continuing atrocities on the ground would lead to calls for a more engaged intervention on the ground – even modest intervention is found on the most slippery of slopes. Again from Larison:

Not only would the U.S. very directly be taking sides in an internal Libyan conflict to which we are not party, but should enforcing such a no-fly zone could turn into a prolonged commitment that will be one more mission added to the burden of an already overstretched military. No-fly zones are the sort of easy-sounding response to an immediate problem that can turn into an endless policy. If the reason for the no-fly zone is to halt Gaddafi’s assault on civilians, it probably won’t be long before the no-fly zone evolves into an air war against Gaddafi’s ground forces to achieve the same end, and that might escalate into a new war for regime change.

At a time when American-backed regimes have been overthrown in Tunisia and Egypt, undermined in Iraq and Lebanon and challenged in Bahrain, Jordan, and Yemen and immediately after the US angered many in the region by wielding its Security Council veto to ensure Israeli impunity, the United States can ill-afford to undertake another unsanctioned, open-ended intervention in an Arab country. Indeed, rather than giving in to the initial impulse to take action against Qaddafi, the best action is military restraint. While the UN and the United States have offered rather timid responses to the government sanctioned murders in Libya – President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have both lightly condemned the violence in Libya in short releases, but have done very little publicly to support the Libyan people – Senator John Kerry gave a blistering condemnation of Qaddafi and, even more extreme, popular Sunni TV preacher Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi issued a fatwa to kill the Libyan leader.

High level Libyan politicians and leaders are deserting Qaddafi, giving some hope that Qaddafi could fall soon. Interior Minister Abdel Fatah Yunes has resigned, Ambassador to the Arab League Abdel Moniem el-Honey has joined the protesters, the ambassadors to Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei have all resigned, the ambassador to the US Ali Aujali has called for Qaddafi’s resignation and two fighter jets and a war ship have arrived in Malta with their crews looking for asylum after refusing to harm Libyan protesters. Despite the brutality of Qaddafi, the United States cannot trap itself in another open-ended military commitment by engaging in intervention, but the Obama administration remain as silent as it has been. Like Senator Kerry, the Obama administration must make it clear that those who remain close to Qaddafi are opening the possibility of being indicted for war crimes, thus encouraging more defection, and should move to set parameters for severe sanctions should Qaddafi somehow survive. The United States must actively lead the UN towards damning resolutions to make clear that America and the rest of the will not allow Qaddafi to continue.

Like Somalia, Kosovo and Rwanda, Libya is a delicate situation for the United States. On the one hand, the US is morally obligated to act in someway, but on the other hand, it must reject the colonial legacy of the west while not tainting the Libyan revolution by validating Qaddafi’s accusations of foreign involvement. Direct intervention in Libya will most likely be ineffective and include far too many collateral consequences that are sure to harm both American interests and prestige. Yet to remain silent, as Obama and Clinton have done (with the exception of a brief mention) is unacceptable.

Photo from FP

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10 thoughts on “International Intervention on Crazy Qaddafi?

  1. Europe and the world will suffer most if Gadafi endures. The US cannot be the neocolonial threat to the world. It is a lose/lose position. The local powers must accept responsibility for the future of Libya. The US must withdraw from Pakistan and other fields of war. These cancers must cure themselves. US intervention would be a short-term it desirable fix. It would be a long-term liability.

    1. Carlos,

      I am not sure that Qaddafi’s reach can threaten Europe anymore. The danger is simply that he will survive and continue the massacre of Libyans. As for the United States, I agree completely. The US and Europe must do everything to support the protesters, without directly stepping in.

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