There has been a wave of protests taking place for greater rights for the people in the Middle East and North Africa. Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya and Bahrain so far are a few countries that have been seen their populace demand greater freedoms and less consolidation of power by the governments, and protest against high unemployment, low wages, high inflation, rampant government corruptions, and poor living conditions. These governments may have been caught flatfooted and thought they could ride out the protests, or subdue the protests through violent crackdowns, but the people have been determined.
Tunisia’s president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has been forced into exile; Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak who thought he could hold on to power until September has been forced from power and is holed up somewhere in Egypt with a travel embargo on he and his family, and a freezing of his assets in place. Iran has managed again to forcefully subdue the voices of the protesters. Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah has stated he will not run for reelection in 2013, and is trying to violently crackdown protesters in his country. Bahrain tried to violently crackdown on the protests which failed. They then tried to give in to some of the demands of the protesters, but they found the protesters got emboldened by concessions and were asking for even more concessions from the government. They have now resorted to a crackdown on the protesters again, and called on their gulf partners to help militarily. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are sending in military personnel to help keep the peace, while Kuwait is sending a medical team. Where is the international community in the cases of Bahrain and Yemen? (Post on Yemen and Bahrain coming soon)
In Libya, we know colonel Gaddaffi has been in power for the better part of 40 years, and he has ruled with an iron fist, as do all military leaders generally. Ronald Reagan once referred to Gaddaffi as the “mad dog of the Middle East”; Obama has repeatedly referred to him as a “tyrant”; most of the world refers to him as a “mad, delusional individual”, and yet for all these years, we have not tried to intervene in Libya.
Libya is thought to be the country behind the bombing on Pan Am Flight 103 from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport in 1988 over Lockerbie that killed all aboard as well as 11 residents on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland. The prime suspect behind this atrocious terrorist act, Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was tried and found guilty of all the charges against him, while the other co-defendant Libyan Lamin Khalifah Fhiman was found not guilty. Abdelaset al-Megrahi was a former head of intelligence and former head of security for Libya Airlines. He recently was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds in 2009. He was said to have only months to live as he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Upon his return to Tripoli, Libya’s capital, al-Megrahi was greeted with flowers, cheers, and got a hero’s welcome home. This is a guy who was found guilty of one of the worst aviation terrorist attacks in history, receiving a hero’s welcome from the people of Libya, both young, and old alike.
When word of his release was linked to a potential oil deal that BP (yes the same UK oil giant responsible for the disaster in the gulf last year), BP acknowledged that to some degree, but said they pushed for a prisoner transfer so as to not jeopardize an oil deal with the Libyan government. While this does not seem to be a reason why al-Megrahi was released, it certainly raises enough suspicion in the mind of conspiracy theorists.
Back to the revolutionary wave taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, Libya was not, and has not been immune to it. Afterall, her next door neighbors, Egypt and Tunisia had seen their leaders forced from power by the unified voices of the people. The people took to the streets in Libya. Eventually, it would be reported in all media outlets that rebel forces had captured the second largest city of Benghazi in the east, and they were heading for Tripoli. There were defections by military personnel who refused to fire missiles from fighter jets, ambassadors who had been representing Gaddaffi for all these years now turned their backs against him. For all those years, they did not see any reason to leave him, and skeptics questioned why now? Meanwhile, Gaddaffi blamed the protests on al-Qaeda corrupting the minds of the young with poisoned tea and foreign agents, and he kept up with his bizarre statements. He did promise he would not leave Libya, and would die in his country. His sons rallied the supporters and told them to get ready for war. They warned against any foreign intervention. And so the push to retake control of the country against the rebels began.
The rebels at one point were 30 miles from the capital, Tripoli, making fast territorial gains with the help of military personnel who had defected to the rebel camp. France was quick to recognize the rebels as the authority in the city of Benghazi. Libyan forces struck back with merciless impunity, eventually regaining lost territory and forcing the rebels to retreat back to Benghazi. Outgunned, outmanned, and running low on supplies, the rebels called on the international community to enforce a no-fly zone as Gaddaffi’s airpower was no match for the rebels. Deliberation took place between the world powers, with China, and Russia wary of interfering militarily. France and the UK were strongly in support of enforcing a no-fly zone. The United States was hesitant to intervene given the war in Afghanistan, the winding down of the Iraq war, and the current fiscal situation the country is currently in. As Gaddaffi continued to wage an assault against all those who were responsible for picking up arms against his government and against civilians who have provided support to the rebels, the United States deliberated weeks on end. Just when it seemed the U.S. would not support a no-fly zone enforcement, the Obama administration made an about-face, and decided not only to support a no-fly zone, but also limited military action which will not entail ground troops, in a bid to halt Gaddaffi’s assault against his own citizens.
The UK and France have been quick to lead the way. They have a vested interest in Libya of course as Libya is a huge oil supplier to both countries. France leading a military effort? I guess we must be in 2011(sarcasm). The United States joined the fray in launching tomahawk cruise missiles from naval vessels positioned in the Mediterranean, and is now turning a blind eye to weapons flowing into the country to the rebels. Gaddaffi in the mean time has said he will open his weapons cache to the whole country, to defend itself against the invaders.
Where is the Arab League in this situation? They want Western help when it is convenient for them obviously. Eventually they will want us to stop if this goes on for weeks without any lucid end in sight. Enforcing the no-fly zone just over the Libyan Mediterranean coast costs $100 million per week. The U.S. stands to foot a sizeable chunk of that bill. The politicians forgot that the U.S. is virtually bankrupt, and while this is a noble and just cause to embark on, it simply can’t be paid for. 112 tomahawk cruise missiles were fired against Gaddaffi’s air defenses on the first day. At a cost of roughly $600,000 – $1.5million per cruise missile, that’s a whopping $60,000,000 – $150 million in a day.
How will the international community know when to stop? What is the goal? Who are the rebels they are protecting? How legitimate are they? What if Gaddaffi survives this military intervention weeks from now, then what? These are the same individuals who as mentioned earlier gave a convicted terrorist a hero’s welcome. Al-Megrahi who has American blood on his hands was given a hero’s welcome through all corners of Libya, and now the United States and her allies are protecting rebels whom they virtually know nothing about? There is no solid leadership structure outside Gaddaffi. This makes intervention that more complicated.
President Obama appears weak on the international stage. So he waited two weeks to come to the conclusion that some sort of U.S. military intervention was needed to protect the safety of Libya’s civilians against Gaddaffi’s armed forces? Their safety was as important the two weeks before he decided to get the U.S. involved in Libya. Again, while the cause is just, it is one that the United States simply cannot afford. But a larger question looms, as this situation continues to evolve, will the U.S. and other world allies intervene in other countries that are going through similar situations? Yemen, Bahrain to list a few? The U.S. has always had a double standard when it comes to foreign policy. Germany, Russia, and China abstained from voting for a no-fly zone against Libya. That does not mean that they support Gaddaffi and/or what is going on in Libya, but they understand the limitations to foreign intervention, especially in the Arab world. The infighting will ultimately be decided not by American missiles, or French fighter jets, but by the people of Libya. Afterall, should any foreign boots enter into Libya; all factions will have one common enemy. The U.S. and her allies may have overreached here. This looks so much like the U.N. intervention in Somalia in 1993 that had good intentions but went south hastily. This is a civil war, and why the United States will try to get involved in another country’s civil war even after past mistakes is questionable. We went into Somalia to help the people who were starving, and apprehend those who were responsible for much of the things going wrong in that country, and in the end the United States and its extension- the United Nations- were seen as villains.
The Libyan mission is being sold as a humanitarian mission. One in which the lives of Libyan citizens are in jeopardy. Now, when over 500 Chinese were killed in for wanting more freedoms from their government during the Tiananmen Square protests in the late 80s, where was the U.S. and her allies to enforce a no-fly zone and protect the lives in those innocent Chinese civilians who died? When the Iranian regime killed its own citizens in 2009 and 2010 for holding protests for bigger freedoms and reforms, where was the United States when those innocent civilians needed them? Where has the United States and her allies been for all these years that Kim Jong Il, president of North Korea, has been in power oppressing his citizens? The truth is, the U.S. and her allies could not do that because this is about tribalism as much as it is about humanitarian issues. They could not venture into some of these countries because all of these people in some sense were unified and strong as a country. In a lot of these countries where the United States has intervened, there have been some division, pitting one side against the other, one tribe against the other, one faction against the other, which consequently leads to weakness due to the fragmentation. Such is the case in Libya. If the United Nations would only approve a resolution for Iran’s people then we would see right through this hypocrisy. If Gaddaffi survives this, one can only wonder what the repercussions beyond Libya’s borders will be. If many thought Gaddaffi is crazy now, it is left to be seen what people will think of him if the fighting stops with him still in power. In the end, isn’t this intervention just another recruitment tool for Al-Qaeda and other extremist networks?
In conclusion, Marina Ottaway, Director of Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C. stated, “The U.S. always preaches values that it cannot live up to.”