Evening, 19 March 2011*
While the decision by the UN to impose a “no-fly zone” seems to have been necessary to protect the pro-democratic forces, the recent western assault on Libya needs to be treated with the utmost caution. With the support of the Arab countries and the backing of the UN, French, British, Italian and American forces have started the first step to stop Qaddafi’s war against the protesters for democracy. However, we need to be on guard making sure that that this does not open the doors to a full-out invasion and occupation. Furthermore, we need to ask the question if the West and the UN supports such an act in Libya, why do not they act with equal fervor in the uprising in Yemen, or what about Bahrain?
While I generally support the world’s attempt at saving the innocent in the name of democracy I remain suspicious and ask myself why now. Why now has the world suddenly united against a dictator; especially one like Qaddafi who so many world leaders “hang out” with, such as Italian PM Berlusconi.Simply put, for years as a dictator and a out-right tyrant he was perfectly fine; it is not that we woke up one day and learned that he had been committing crimes against his people. This was always known. So why the newfound support for democracy? Could it be perhaps due to the huge oil reserves in Libya? I think that goes without saying, and even if it is not the main goal now, all realize that it must top the agenda of most countries, including many of the Arab countries not active in the actual assault.
Even if the dynamics and the background are quite different, the current world attempt to stop Qaddafi in his tracks reminds me of the world coalition to punish Saddam Hussein for his invasion of Kuwait in the early nineties. Just like Qaddafi, Hussein too had in his control vast amounts of oil, was fairly easily manipulated by western leaders, and allowed no freedom of speech whatsoever in his country; however, the lack of democracy never phased the US or any of the European countries. In fact, just a few days back it was the anniversary of the genocide committed by Iraqi forces in the Kurdish city of Halabja. On March 16, 1988 Saddam Hussein was responsible for dropping chemicals upon Halabja, killing over 5000 residents. This attack was just one of many which occurred in Hussein’s Anfal campaign aimed at crushing a Kurdish uprising. Who can forget the photos of a whole population dead on the ground after breathing the poison, with one woman falling dead while holding her child. For most of the world then (including the Arab world who remained silent), as long as Saddam produced enough oil the world remained quiet (among other reasons); however, following the Kuwait invasion and fears that Saudi Arabia could fall, Iraq had to be stopped. It was only then we saw the crimes of Saddam Hussein appear on televisions throughout the world. Well, the outcome of the first Iraqi War we know. A little more than a decade later, the 2003 Iraqi war began bringing years of instability and death to an insurmountable amount of innocent civilians.
Which brings us to an even more ironic point: Last week, the Bahraini government, aimed at crushing the pro-Democratic voices, opened its gates and allowed thousands of Saudi Arabian troops to come to their rescue. Did I hear right? Where in the Mediterranean, Western troops are in the middle of an attack on Libya, in the name of pro-democratic voices, in the Gulf, the world remains quiet while another country provides the needs to silence pro-democratic voices. I suppose that with a serious threat to the current “status-quo” in the Gulf, the pro-democratic voices of Bahrain apparently do not deserve the same as the pro-democratic voices in Libya. And, really, believe me, whether I support one campaign or the other, it is important to highlight the ironies.
What remains clear is that we do not know where the recent assault on Libya will take us. We do not know how many more civilian lives might be killed because of this new policy. A new partition of a Middle Eastern country, perhaps; a ground invasion by Western troops which once occupied Libya, perhaps. We need to be cautious and realize that this conflict might just be a bit more than the Western states bargained for, and that we certainly have no way of knowing if this is what the majority of Libyans wanted or not. For now, one thing which is quite clear is that while the short term strategy of the Western forces might seem well-planned, a long term strategy seems to be lacking. Thus, for now only time will tell....
*I began writing this piece right after the news of the of the Western assault on Libya began.