The Battle for Libya: Everyone Involved has Different Motives!

The Arab LeagueArab leagueImage via Wikipedia
Five days ago, it looked like the international community had a clear idea about what UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was all about: protecting the civilian population in Libya. It said so in so many words, there could be no misunderstanding. And none either regarding the means to be employed: that's what the no-fly zone was supposed to do, and any additional measure needed to achieve civilian protection was permitted, bar the sending of ground troops.

All simple and clear? No!

Within a day of the start of operations, the Arab League which had been a prime promoter of the no-fly zone relented. Remember, operations were started by French planes who took off late in the afternoon of Saturday 19 March, right after the "coordination" meeting at the Elysée in Paris called for by Sarkozy and which was attended by, inter alia, Amr Moussa, the Arab League's Secretary General. Remarkably, rather than shelling the Libyan radar bases strung along the coast - something the Americans and English did later with about 100 missiles sent out to hit 22 targets - those plane took direct aim at Qaddafi's advancing tanks and other military vehicles. His forces were about to enter Benghazi, and got as close as 2 kilometers from the rebels' headquarters! Only those last-minute French bombardments convinced them to desist and retreat.

The perplexities expressed by the Arab League opened the door to a wave of criticisms from around the world: the African Union, Russia, China, Turkey, Venezuela and others - even though Amr Moussa softened his position explaining the League's main concern was that no civilians should be hurt, implying the League remains behind the establishment of a "strict" no-fly zone, but not more than that.

Why this sudden change of heart when Qaddafi is obviously intent on pursuing violent repression of opponents to his regime? What is behind the criticisms are a cocktail of reasons, nearly all of them of an "internal" nature. This is not surprising: after all, politicians expressing themselves on international issues (such as Libya) are also catering to their own audience back home. Surely that was the case of Sarkozy: France had badly handled the events in Tunisia and Egypt and was bent on not "missing out" on the next Arab Spring manifestation. And Sarkozy needed a positive action to help improve his own popularity at home and regain votes from Marine Le Pen's right.

Likewise, Germany abstained on the UN Resolution because Merkel (whose popularity is shaky) needed to cater to the Germans who are fed up with having to spend money "in the south". The Germans don't want to hear anything about helping Greece - imagine how they feel about Libya! Amr Moussa himself, who is Egyptian may have been responding to his own political agenda. He has already announced he will run for president in Egypt, and that may now happen very soon - in about 3 months - since the referendum for constitutional reforms quickly cobbled together by the Egyptian Army, was just approved. His vigorous stance on limiting military intervention in Libya with a view to protect the civilian population could well be interpreted as the opening salvo of his own soon-to-be-launched presidential campaign.

Other countries criticizing the action in Libya tend to have in common governments that are autocratic and could hardly be expected to appreciate the concept of  an international community enacting measures to protect civilians oppressed by their government. This is obviously the case of many African countries, Russia, China and Venezuela - none of them champions of democracy. In the case of Russia, there was a somewhat amusing "pas de deux" danced by the regime's strongmen, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Medvedev. Criticisms were first expressed by Putin who drew a damning parallel with the Crusades - a line used by Qaddafi himself. Medvedev was quick to call a press conference in which he muted that criticism, saying that any reference to the "clash of civilizations" was unhelpful - as indeed it is. Did this signal a rift between the two men? Apparently not, because no more about the matter was said the next day and presumably the two men are buddy-buddy as before, with only one problem to solve between them: who will run for what role in the next presidential election.

Critics like Turkey, India and Brazil are also responding to their own agenda. Turkey is bent on promoting itself as a role model in the Middle East and as an intermediary between the West and the Muslim world. When Sarkozy failed to invite Turkey at its Saturday meeting at the Elysée, he did a big mistake: he hurt their feelings and insured that they would come out against the intervention (and against the use of Nato for coordinating military activities - though that might have played in his hands because France doesn't want Nato either). Turkey also worked closely with Brazil in an attempt to solve the international stalemate on Iranian nuclear ambitions - an attempt that notoriously failed, but does indicate where both countries stand.

As to India, who is an Arab League Observer, it has always liked to show itself as a leader of the Third World - if I may be allowed to use this term. Have you noticed how rarely it is used nowadays? This is not surprising since the Second World (the Soviet Union) collapsed  and so many of those developing countries - chief among them China, Brazil and India - have now emerged as economic powerhouses. But a country like India still pursues a foreign policy where it sees itself as a prime intermediary between the two worlds. It is therefore only natural for India to criticize the West - even if it would surely agree that it cannot condone Qaddafi's oppressive regime.

Most pro-intervention officials - and those directly involved in military operations - publicly deny that the intervention in Libya is aimed at removing Qaddafi from power - even Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of  the Joint Chiefs of Staff did so. Which seemed to fly in the face of what Obama had said when he mentioned that Qaddafi's regime had lost all legitimacy and that was why he had given the go-ahead to America's participation.

So what is the intervention really about if it is not aimed at removing Qaddafi?

Those in the interventionist camp will tell you that they hope for a levelling of the playing field, with the Libyan rebels themselves ousting Qaddafi out. No doubt that is what the rebels hope too. So a side-effect of the military intervention should be the fall of Qaddafi.

What if it doesn't happen? A lot of people are talking about a possible "stalemate" - as if that was something terrible. A stalemate would mean that Libya would be divided into two autonomous regions, East around Benghazi and West around Tripoli. I don't see anything wrong with that, provided this is a political solution with strong federal structures holding the country together.

Is it too much to hope that the rebel and pro-Qaddafi forces will be able to negotiate something like this? But one must remember that much of Libya's oil wealth is in the hands of the rebels - so Qaddafi has every reason to fight as hard as he can to lay his hands on it. Because this battle which started with the rebels' demand for democratic freedom has turned into a battle for oil.

At the negotiating table, Qaddafi (or if he steps down,  whoever replaces him, perhaps one of his sons) could have the upper hand if the international community does not follow France in recognizing the rebels' transitional government (CNT). Politically, it would be important not to lose too much time in officially recognizing them.

If we don't want a long drawn-out war, with the enormous cost for the Nato and Arab countries involved of having to maintain a no-fly zone, it would be essential to get to a negotiated solution as soon as possible.

What do you think? Would it really be bad for Libya to become "regionalized"? Couldn't this be achieved through maintaining a federal identity? I'd love to have your views on this!

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