Sunday, March 20, 2011

Libya: Please, not another botched intervention

It was Oscar Wilde who once said that "the true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity."

The hypocrisy of Western leaders' crocodile tears for the Libyan people is a case in point ( in particular given their ambiguous response to other democracy movements in the region). The protection of civilians in times of warfare is a moral necessity and should be absolutely defended. Yet it is a requirement of international law that is almost always ignored. In Iraq the civilian death count may well have approached one million. In Afghanistan, civilian deaths between 2007 and 2010 are estimated at about 10,000. In Vietnam, where I currently live, United States military intervention managed to reduce the civilian population by about two million. I have trouble believing that it is just concern about civilians that is motivating the haste of the current action. In the last few weeks, we are seeing official killings across the Middle East (and dare I say it, much worse atrocities, reporting of which seems to be selective). 

 For those that have trouble remembering history, a little reminder of how much military hardware we have sold to Gaddafi's regime in recent years. This table only illustrates EU sales but it is shocking in its illustration of how much we have contributed to the persecution of the LIbyan people.

There will be much more suffering for the Libyan people ahead. Without a peace-keeping force on the ground, the current action will lead to large-scale loss of life as well as precipitate a political vacuum in Libya in which various forces engage in a potentially prolonged and violent struggle for supremacy. We do not have a long-term strategy here. This was one of the biggest criticisms of our intervention in Iraq and we just haven't learned from this. If we care about civilian life, it is imperative that we ensure our actions are carefully assessed and that there is appropriate planning. 

What is the strategic end-game?

I am trying to get to the truth of this issue and to learn more about the anti-regime forces. There has not been a lot of information coming from Libya, only from the Libyan transitional Council (the opposition forces). 

There has been such patchy information because of the suppression of media by Gaddafi. And most of the Western commentary has been declaratory in nature and difficult to verify.

Firstly,  have we thought through the consequences of this no-fly zone through "all necessary means." What is the end game?

Is it just a ceasefire or is it effectively regime change the international community is seeking?
If it is a ceasefire, this would conceivably mean that a no-fly zone will lead to an enforcement of the partitioning of Libya under the circumstances we see now on the ground, where rebels will hold parts of the eastern provinces, centered in Benghazi, while the regime will retain control over the other provinces remaining and Tripoli. What are the rules of engagement if he chooses to retreat? What happens next? A protracted stalemate? 

Realistically, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the international community will be comfortable with the Gaddafi regime remaining in place in Tripoli.

All indications are we will not be happy until Gaddafi is toppled and Gaddafi will not go without a fight.

What happens if there is a protracted conflict and the no-fly zone, together with the strikes that have been authorized from the air, are not sufficient? Do we then seek an occupation of the country? 
 Do we continue to arm the rebels? Who are the rebels exactly? Which rebels do we arm? There are many in Libya that oppose Gaddafi, but who represents the legitimate aspirations of Libyans? What if there is a political vacuum in Libya - what will we do then? What if there is a bloodbath at that point, are we willing to send in ground troops to protect civilians then?What if somebody uglier than Gaddafi fills the void? Do we send in the troops then? Who will do this? There are so many questions that haven't been answered in all of this. 

Who are we backing exactly?

At this point, however, it must be asked who is the “opposition” in Libya. The opposition is not a monolithic body. The common denominator is the opposition to the rule of Qaddafi and his family. The spin doctors would have us believe that the suffering people who in fact still support the regime and corrupt Libyan officials, who harbour deep-seated animosity towards Qaddafi and his family, are  in the same camp, but there are differences.

There is an authentic form of grass-roots opposition, which is not organized, and a systematic form of opposition, which is either external or led by figures from within the Libyan regime itself. The authentic people’s internal opposition in Libya is not organized and the people’s “actions of opposition” have been spontaneous.

The leadership of the internal opposition that is emerging in Libya is coming from within the regime itself. This is kind of interesting and I thought I would cut and paste some of it below. (For those who are interested in understanding who we are actually backing). Of course, this will change by the day and I don't intend to update it here, but at the time of writing, this is the make-up of the NTC:

Mustafa Jalil, one of the opposition leaders, was Justice Minister. The other corrupt officials that have rebelled against Gaddafi are not the champions of the people. These opposition figures are not opposed to tyranny; they are merely opposed to the rule of Colonel Qaddafi and his family. Aref Sharif and Al-Yunis are themselves Libyan regime figures. Ali Al Issawi: A former minister for economy, trade and investment, he was serving as Libya's ambassador to India but stepped down last month when the writing was on the wall. Mahmood Jibril, another member of the national council's steering committee with responsibility for foreign affairs, served as head of the country's National Planning Council and National Economic Development Board. A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2010 describes him as "well-connected within the regime" but also as someone who was seeking to promote more open relations with the U.S.

Omar Al Hariri: The former general is now the council's steering committee member in charge of military affairs. He took part in the military coup that brought Gadhafi to power in 1969 and was close enough to the country's leader to have taught him to drive. But in 1975, Hariri took part in a coup plot against Gadhafi. He was sentenced to death, but Gadhafi commuted his sentence in 1990 to house arrest in Tobruk, a city in the east, where he remained until the current rebellion. His history has given him credibility and stature among the rebellion's military factions.

Abdel-Fattah Younis:  Younis, a controversial figure whose political career is likely to be short-lived, is a prominent opposition figure. A former commander of the powerful Thunderbolt commando brigade, Younis has been described by Al-Jazeera as "former Gadhafi No. 2." He was Gadhafi's interior minister but switched sides after being sent to Benghazi to crush protests on Feb. 17. Younis was among the army officers who joined Gadhafi's 1969 coup. He is now using his military contacts to organize the rebels' defense against pro-Gadhafi attacks.

Some Libyan officials that have very publicly turned against Qaddafi are doing it to retain or strengthen their positions of power in the future. Abdel Moneim Al-Honi, the Libyan envoy to the Arab League in Cairo, denounced Qaddafi, but he was one of the members of the group of Libyan officers who executed the coup in 1969 with Qaddafi. I could go on, but what I am saying is that I am not sure what we are backing here. Democracy has to come from the people not from greedy regime figures that are now seeking to consolidate their power.

Getting to the truth

This is not going to lead to a democratic transition that represents the peoples' legitimate aspirations as it is being presented in the media. It is incumbent on media, academics, people that care about democracy and human rights to deconstruct what is going on and get to the "truth" of this situation. Because the truth is being buried in all of this.

If we go down the Iraq track, lets be clear about what Libya has to look forward to.  Libya will be destroyed - its schools, education system, water, infrastructure, hospitals, municipal buildings. There will be numerous "tragic mistakes", "collateral damage", as the elderly, women, children, those fighting for democracy get caught up in the fighting or are accidentally killed. And the wonders of the Roman remains and earlier cultural heritage may also be destroyed as the conflict escalates.

The infrastructure will be destroyed. The embargo will remain in place, thus rebuilding will be impossible. Britain, France and the US., will decide the country needs "stabilising" and needs "help with reconstruction." They will move in, secure the oil installations and oil fields and the ports. They will award their companies rebuilding and other lucrative contracts. The money - likely taken from Libya's frozen assets without accounting - will vanish and the country will remain largely in ruins. This is Iraq and this will be Libya if we don't wake up and understand the implications of what we are doing.

Most of Libya’s proven oil and gas reserves lie in Cyrenaica, one of three provinces that the 20th century colonial power, Italy, melded into the precursor of modern Libya. Oil and gas account for 97 percent of Libya’s export earnings, one-fourth of the country’s economic output, and 90 percent of government revenue, according to the International Monetary Fund.

This means that all of Libya's resources lie in the eastern province which can be easily split-off Serbia-style with the support of the "international community" (I use this term loosely as it seems to only include  the US, UK, France and their puppets in the region) using their proxy armies and their "democracy promoting" puppets.  Is this what's really at the heart of  our "humanitarian intervention", further Balkenization of the Middle East? Is it just self-interested intervention disguised as magnanimity?  These are questions repeated on many blogs. I also recommend the following article for a good analysis of this.

I hope I am proven wrong and Libya is not another botched intervention.  I hope that it all works out and there is no loss of civilian live, the regime is truly toppled (ie with no remnants of the old regime) and a representative government is elected following an inclusive, democratic political process.