The Ruler-for-Life Syndrome in the Third World and the Danger of a Protracted Conflict in Libya (2)

5. If the fighting drags on, many countries and political leaders in various parts of the world, including Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and so on, could be tempted to send arms to assist Col Gaddafi , as he continues to resist the rebel effort to oust him. Some countries might even send fighters to assist him in order to prolong the conflict and embarrass the rebels. If that were to take place, NATO countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Italy, which are already reeling from bad economic situations at home, would be forced to spend even more money to fight a protracted conflict in Libya like in Iraq and Afghanistan.

6. Even if Col. Gaddafi is driven out or killed, due to the extended nature of the fighting, some of his supporters, especially in the armed forces, might decide to continue to fight a war of resistance against the Libyan National Transitional Council. Some of them might justify the need to resist based on the view that the rebels would not have prevailed if not for Western assistance. It should be noted that in Iraq, the capture and killing of Saddam Hussein did not end the fighting in the country. Many of his supporters who were in the armed forces immediately turned guerrilla fighters and continued the war. They eventually joined forces with Al Qaeda and other armed Islamic elements to continue the fighting. Similarly, the ousting of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan did not end the fighting in that country. The Taliban fighters retreated, remobilized and then launched new attacks. This is why the Afghan war is still on and the Taliban force is as committed as ever to oust the regime of President Amid Karzai whom they consider to be a puppet of the West. It is very probable that if the United States and NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the Islamic group is very likely to prevail over the forces of the current Afghan government.

7. The Libyan rebels should be careful on the ground that many Africans, Arabs and Moslems are beginning to ask questions. Some want to know why the United Nations has only declared Libya to be a no-fly zone while ignoring human rights abuses in Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Syria and Yemen? Some people are wondering why the NATO decided only to intervene militarily in Libya while not willing to do the same in other Arab countries that have similar problems. In other words, they are wondering why NATO decided to proactively seek the ouster of Col. Gaddafi while it is unwilling to do the same against President Ali Abdulla Saleh of Yemen, King Abdullatif al-Mahmood of Bahrain, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and so forth. An increasing number of people are gradually forming the opinion that NATO’s involvement in Libya is a neo-colonial effort to assert Western control of the North African country. A peace activist, Mr. Thiery Maysan stated: “It is quite obvious that the USA wanted to enter war at the same time with Libya and Syria. That wish was made public by John Bolton in 2002. The plan was passed over to France and Britain, who decided to bring it to life in November last year (2011, July 12). In particular, African writers tend to focus on the legality of the military intervention. For instance, Alice Kamba wrote:

Despite a UN resolution and the humanitarian justifications, many Africans have not viewed the excessive military intervention by Western powers in Libya as just and right. The war in Libya has opened up a lot of controversies regarding Western intervention in Africa (2011, April 18).

Concerned about the legal implications of French and NATO military actions in Ivory Coast and Libya, Africa World View commented:

The issue here is to what extent are there legal consequences for going beyond a UN resolution or using the UN Mandate to violate other core principle of international law. There are other legal and political issues with the events unfolding in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire; such as arming and supporting a faction of an internal conflict.

Those who view Western intervention in Libya with suspicion wonder why the Western alliance believes that it is morally, politically, and militarily justifiable to intervene in Libya on humanitarian grounds while it is not willing to intervene in Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Syria and Yemen on the same humanitarian grounds since the conditions that exist in Libya also apply in these other countries. Likewise, they wonder why the United Nations has not moved to protect the lives of citizens in the aforementioned countries with the same speed that it used to pass the no-fly zone in Libya. Apparently, those who question Western motive for assisting the rebels in Libya and not wanting to assist the rebels in other dictatorial countries believe that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. In other words, if the West intervenes in Libya on humanitarian grounds, it should do likewise in Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Syria, and Yemen. Otherwise, Western motive in Libya is automatically questioned and subjected to the view that the US, Italy, France, and Britain are looking for an opportunity to exploit Libyan oil resource in order to boost their sagging economies.

8. Due to the inconsistency in policy on the part of the NATO countries, it is also possible to rationalize that the West is intervening in Libya due to the fact that the country has oil. Perhaps, the West is trying to control Libya in a manner reminiscent of the way in which Iraq was attacked and controlled. The strategic belief could be that if Libya is controlled, the West would be able to play a greater role in influencing the exploration and production of oil throughout the major oil producing countries in the Middle East. By so doing, the West would be able to neutralize or weaken the political and economic power of the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) to manipulate the level of oil production, as well as the price of oil, thereby, stabilizing and reducing the overall cost of oil in the world.

9. The NATO’s intervention in Libya is eerily similar to Western actions during the Cold War. It should be pointed out that while the conditions in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Oman, and Syria are the same, in terms of restrictions on freedom of expression, human right violations, excessive security crackdowns, imposition of one-man-rule, yet, the United States, Britain, France, and Italy do not seem to be interested in clamping down on the governments of these Middle East countries, perhaps, due to the fact that these countries are regarded as allies of the West while Libya is not. Thus, Col. Gaddafi is being forced out of power because he is not an ally of the West while the other political leaders are friends of the West. This perception rekindles the often expressed Cold War policy of “supporting and backing our dictators while driving away dictators that are not our friends.” Phyllis Bennis noted the US willingness to use force in order to solve the Libyan problem while calling for a political resolution of the conflict in Bahrain and other friendly Arab countries. She wrote:

But while a number of Saleh’s government officials resigned in protest [over the Killing of 52 unarmed protesters and wounding of over 200 in march]there was no talk from Saleh’s US backers of real accountability, of a travel ban or asset freeze, not even of slowing the financial and military aid flowing into Yemen in the name of fighting terrorism.

Similarly in US-allied Bahrain, home of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, at least 13 civilians have been killed by government forces. Since the March 15 arrival of 1,500 foreign troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, brought in to protect the absolute power of the king of Bahrain, 63 people have been reported missi

ng (2011, March 23).

The impression being created is that it is intolerable to have a dictatorial and murderous regime in Libya but it is somehow acceptable to have dictatorial and murderous regimes in friendly Middle Eastern countries. Perhaps, it is the contradiction in Western policy towards Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, and Saudi Arabia that enabled Russia and possibly China not to be supportive of overt military intervention in Libya. Similarly, many countries in the developing world, including Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Iran, and some in Africa, do not see the moral justification for attempting to oust Col. Gaddafi while turning a blind eye to authoritarian leaders that are considered to be friends of the West.

Moreover, the Libyan crisis is appearing to be a reenactment of Cold War rivalry between the United States and the former Soviet Union. As a result, while the United States and some Western countries have recognized the Libyan National Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya, Russia is unwilling to do so. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov stated:

If it comes to recognition of the NTC and other opposition groups as a side in the
talks then unconditionally the NTC is such a side. However, if it refers to
recognition of the NTC as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people,
as the so-called Contact Group stated in Istanbul, we don’t share that position
(Xinhua, 2011, July 18).

It is very possible that many countries in Africa, some Asian, Latin American and European countries are likely not to go ahead with the recognition of the National Transitional Council until Libyan political issues are negotiated between the two sides. Due to the line being drawn between countries that support the Libyan National Transitional Council and those who do not, the Western recognition might help the rebels militarily for the short duration but it could worsen the situation for them politically in the long run. The reason is that those countries that continue to support the existing Libyan government might decide to intervene through offering of military aid to Gaddafi’s loyalists to counter Western support for the National Transitional Council which they increasingly view as Western imposition. If that were to take place, the Transitional Council government would be forced to wage war against pro-Gaddafi elements. These elements, in the event of the military victory of the rebels, could launch tactical attacks against oil facilities in order to cripple the Transitional Council’s ability to run the country. This is quite possible considering the fact that oil facilities are located in areas that make them vulnerable to attacks.

Even though Syria is not a friend of the West, nevertheless, there is hesitation on the part of the United Nations and the Western alliance to intervene in the country militarily as they did in Libya. The reason could be that a direct military support for the opposition in Syria could lead to a regional escalation of the conflict since Syria is aligned with Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran. In other words, if the US and the West were to openly assist the Syrian opposition with military assistance, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas could respond by also supplying arms and men to Syria, thereby, bolstering the Assad regime. Moreover, Syria is next door to Israel which means that any serious fighting in the country can easily spill over the borders to engulf Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. Such a development could force the Egyptian military to react in a way that can ignite a major Middle East war. This is quite possible since Hosni Mubarak is no longer in power in Egypt to contain the Egyptian military and the new leaders in Egypt are still finding their way around to stabilize the country. This explanation for why the West does not seem interested in intervening directly in Syria the way it did in Libya, seems logical, hence, there is no hurried effort to clamp the military wings of Syria despite the fact that it is cracking down very hard on its citizens who oppose the Assad regime.

8. Libya is a tribalized and regionalized society and tribal loyalty is very important in building social and political relationships and stabilizing the country. it is obvious that most supporters of Col. Gaddafi come from tribal areas that are affiliated with his own ethnic group. In this regard, since most of the rebels seem to come from the eastern region of the country, even if Gaddafi were to be ousted, some of his supporters from the tribal areas that are closely aligned with him could mount guerrilla campaign as a new government is instituted by the National Transitional Council. In this case, Libya could turn out to be like Iraq where armed groups are formed based on ethnicity and religious affiliations. If that were to take place, then the country will remain ungovernable since the tribal groups which were loyal to Gaddafi might vehemently oppose a government instituted by rebel leaders who come from ethnic groups in the eastern region of the country.

9. It is quite easy for Libya to deteriorate into a Somalia-like situation, as the different ethnic and political groups vie for power, in the event of a rebel victory. If such were to take place, militant Islamic forces like Al Qaeda and the Moslem Brotherhood could intervene and further complicate the situation. Thus, as the West seems to be more open about its desire to oust Col Gaddafi and install the Libyan Transitional Council, Islamists who are opposed to the West could be tempted to intervene and join forces with pro-Gaddafi elements to frustrate Western strategic interest by making it exceedingly difficult for the Transitional Council to succeed.

10. Similarly, in the event that the rebels are able to defeat or drive away Col. Gaddafi and his supporters and Western construction companies gain most of the contracts to rebuild Libya, that could easily be interpreted by Islamic groups as a Western strategic effort to control and rule Libya. Such a view can incite many Islamic groups to take up arms and declare Libya to be a new war front against the West. In such a scenario, the rebel government would be viewed in the same light as that of the Iraqi and Afghan governments by Islamic militants.

Suggestions to the Libyan National Transitional Council

The possibilities identified above can take place, depending on the military and political developments in Libya. Thus, to avoid a protracted war and at the same time buttress their credibility, it might be beneficial for the Libyan National Transitional Council to pay attention to the following suggestions:

1. It is necessary for the Libyan National Transitional Council to maintain a certain degree of independence from the NATO countries as they push toward Tripoli in their military effort to drive away Gaddafi from power. The more they rely on NATO air cover for their military operations, the more they seem to dent or taint their “liberator status’ and look increasingly more like Western agents, in the eyes of many people in the Third World.

2. While they are fighting to “liberate the country,” they should continue to negotiate with the government of Col. Gaddafi, as well as with ethnic and regional leaders of the country, in an effort to establish a truly national Libyan government which represents all segments of the country. This is the only way to assure those who are on the Gaddafi side that they would not be punished if the rebels prevailed. Failure on the part of the Transitional Council to continue to negotiate will on

ly strengthen the resolve of Gaddafi and his loyalists to continue fighting, fearful that if they do not do so, they would be annihilated.

3. Even though they are increasingly succeeding and pushing militarily forward toward Tripoli, they should continue to be engaged diplomatically. This means that they should not only communicate with NATO countries but also with the Arab League and the African Union. The reason is that even after they might have won the military battle, they must still win the political battle, otherwise, Libya could end up like Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia. Although, both the Arab League and the African Union appear to be powerless due to the fact that a large proportion of member countries are characterized by rule-for-life leaders, nevertheless, they should not be ignored. They have the capability to influence future developments on the ground in Libya.

Written by
Priye Torulagha
Join the discussion