Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why the International Community Wants Qaddafi Gone

The rebel alliance in Libya is now poised to assume full control of Tripoli, and perhaps all of Libya, having recently taken Qaddafi's compound (not surprisingly, the dictator was nowhere to be found). Now that the war in Libya is again front page news I feel compelled to finally make some remarks about this conflict. However, I want to narrowly focus on why since the very beginning of this war the International Community (hereafter IC), particularly Europe, have enthusiastically backed NATO operations in Libya. I should say first that when the revolution in Libya began and Qaddafi's unsurprisingly ruthless crackdown immediately followed I was struck by how quickly the IC backed the rebel factions in Libya. I was (and still am) especially baffled by Russia and China's signature of approval on UN Security Coucil Resolution 1970 after both had previously said they would veto any such resolution that might come before the UN Security Council in terms of the revolution in Libya (Note that Russia gave its approval only after securing a proviso which stated that NATO could not use the resolution as a pretext for an invasion of the country.).

To understand what I'm getting at you have to split Qaddafi's fourty-two year reign of power into two phases: Pre-Lockerbie Bombing Qaddafi and Post-Lockerbie Bombing Qaddafi. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Lockerbie bombing it was a terrorist act most likely sanctioned by Qaddafi that blew up flight Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland killing 213 passengers and 16 crew members. Now before this international incident Qaddafi had been a pain the ass for the IC (not to mention to his own people) ever since he assumed power after he initiated a successful military coup in 1969. He was behind countless terrorist operations that if accurately tallied might amount to many more deaths than that achieved by Al Qaeda on 9/11. Most of these were committed against Israel, a particularly loathesome entity in Qaddafi's foreign policy worldview. Indeed, no other foreign policy matter preoccupied Qaddafi so obsessively as did Israel's irritating existence in the Arab world. And though initially a rallying force in Africa, Qaddafi soon earned the ire of his African neighbors by continuously intervening in the domestic affairs of countries like Tunisia, Sudan, and especially Chad which eventually resulted in an all out war between those two countries with the result that Qaddafi suffered a humiliating defeat. Qaddafi even managed to alienate an important ally, Egypt, by consistently meddling in its affairs which also resulted in a war between the two. And of course most famously Qaddafi provoked Reagan's bombing of Libya in 1986, a response in large part to the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that resulted in the death of three US servicemen and the injury of hundreds more.

There is much more that I'm leaving out in this narrative of Qaddafi's rule before Lockerbie but suffice it to say he was a menace to the IC. But of course he was tolerated, especially by Europe, because of an important asset his country had: oil. Things, however, finally changed after convincing evidence linked Qaddafi to the horrible Lockerbie bombing mentioned above. This tragedy ultimately convinced the IC to impose crippling economic sanctions on Libya that was instrumental in finally convincing Qaddafi to attempt a rapprochment with the West. The first major move Qaddafi made came in 1999 when, through the mediation of Nelson Mandela, he permitted the extradition of the two Libyans who had been convicted of the Lockerbie bombing after a thorough investigation of that tragic event. Subsequently in 2002, Qaddafi took formal responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing agreeing to a 2.7 billion compensation for the families of those killed in the bombing. Then in 2004 Qaddafi allowed UN inspectors into his country and followed this up by agreeing to dismantle his WMD progam (which he did). Furthermore, Qaddafi became a willing and important asset to the United States during the war on terror. Another conciliating move Qaddafi made was to relax many of his nationalization of Libyan oil policies that he had begun back in 1973. And lastly, as well as most surprisingly, Qaddafi significantly eased his hostility toward Israel even to a small degree participating in some of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In short, whether out of a genuine repentance of mind (least likely) or from an instinctual need for survival (more likely), Qaddafi turned face and ceased conducting a reprehensible foreign policy vis a vis the IC.

The point that I'm trying to make here is that it took an awful lot of effort from the IC to bring Qaddafi to the point he was before the Arab spring began. Thus, my genuine surprise as to the abrupt way in which the IC hastily gave its initial verbal support to the Libyan rebels. So what is going on here? The best that I can surmise is that the IC has always been nervous that Qaddafi might backslide to his former ways so that when the rebels looked like they were going to achieve a quick victory the IC jumped at the opportunity to back the group that they believed would quickly topple Qaddafi. But it soon became clear that the rebels were not going to achieve victory on their own. Worse still, it looked as if Qaddafi would be successful in crushing the rebellion. This probability I believe made the IC quick to intervene. Why? Because they realized that if Qaddafi regained complete control of his country he wouldn't forget how quickly the IC abandoned him. From Qaddafi's point of view there would no longer be any incentive for him not to support (and conduct) terrorism, to pursue WMDs, to completely renationalize Libya's oil, to return to a harsh position against Israel, etc. In other words, Qaddafi's foreign policy would once again become troublesome, if not more so. Of course, the ostensible reason the IC decided to militarily intervene in the Libyan civil war is because of a human rights issue, namely, Qaddafi's brutal crackdown of protesters (clearly they weren't going to secure a UN resolution otherwise hence the requisite human rights language). But I don't believe it's the real reason. Though it was denied again and again, even by President Obama, the goal has always been regime change. Because again, I think they realized their folly and in order to ensure Qaddafi wouldn't return to power and once again become a menace to them the IC decided to intervene in the conflict. To sum up, the fear of a return of a Pre-Lockerbie Bombing Qaddafi is the principal reason why the IC wants Qaddafi gone and not because he was in violation of the UN's human rights charter.

Don't get me wrong. It will be just fine by me if Qaddafi is removed from power. Nevertheless, I think this was a classic case in which the global community did not thoroughly consider its options before hand. The reality now is that Libya may be getting a new government. Most are hopeful that it will be a democratic one but given how little we know about the groups involved in the rebellion (in fact early intelligence indicated that some of the members were affiliated with Al Qaeda) there's no way to predict the future of a post-Qaddafi Libya. I for one am pessimistic that it will turn out in such a manner as the IC, especially the West, hopes.

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