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The Old Hags

The Old Hags

by Ali Khan on Monday, March 21, 2011 at 8:37pm

The U.S and Company have started aerial strikes on Libyan targets. So far, it seems, they have inflicted significant damage on Qaddafi’s forces. Mr. Qaddafi remains defiant and is promising to make the Mediterranean hell for the attackers. Meanwhile, Allied leaders seem unclear about the real objective of the bombing campaign. Is the ultimate aim here to get rid of Mr. Qaddafi’s regime or to merely contain him to Tripoli and nearby areas, hence giving the rebels a real chance of disposing Qaddafi themselves (with some outside help)?

It seems that the present situation has some similarities, albeit with some new twists, with the first Gulf War. First, Mr. Qaddafi had long been a problem for the West and Israel, and its agents have been responsible for series of bomb blasts in the West and downing of passenger aircraft(s). In the 70’s, he was one of the gang of six (along with King Faisal, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto etc) Muslim rulers who dreamed of an Islamic Arc of countries, from North Africa to the Middle-east to Central and South Asia.

Second, although the rulers of Arab and other Muslim countries are supporting the thrashing Qaddafi’s forces are likely to receive, the mood amongst their people may be a different story. Anti-Western sentiment ran high during Nato’s operations against Saddam Hussain. The Muslim governments are avoiding the issue in public, leaving  the anti-American lobbies to paint the current military campaign as yet another invasion of a Muslim country by the ‘crusaders’ for oil. Perhaps sensing a repetition here, the dysfunctional Arab League has already begun to air criticisms of the current airstrikes (after backing it initially).

Third, U.S officials are talking about the ‘limited aim’ of the ongoing operations. Sen. John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that the goal is not to get rid of Mr. Qaddafi.  Some Republicans are calling for Mr. Qaddafi’s ouster though.  Pres. Obama, ever cautious, had not stated a clear objective. If Qaddafi survives this latest episode (which seems unlikely though), parts of Libya would become much like the Saddam-controlled parts of Iraq before 2003.

There are important differences too. For a start, there is the luxury of a historical context. Mr. Qaddafi’s army is far inferior to Saddam Hussain’s Army circa 1990, though Saddam’s troops were never a match for Nato’s firepower. The news media, complimented by the internet, is free and more than active in that part of the world. Most importantly, Mr. Qaddafi’s time seems to be up, thanks in large part to the unusually consistent protests against dictatorships.

This situation puts those who aspire for a dictator-free, (translation- not U.S allied) Islamic world in a bind. Going all out against stalwart U.S ally Mubarak is one thing, supporting the ouster of anti-American Qaddafi is quite another. For the religious kind in particular, democracy seems not to be the treasured goal. They might be content to have an anti-American dictator replace a pro-American one.

In recent years, Qaddafi, perhaps fearing he was on the target list of George Bush, gave up his secret Nuclear Program (and exposed Pakistan’s proliferation in nuclear know-how! ), and made amends with some of his long-time enemies. The U.S removed Libya from the ‘Sponsor of Terror’ list and opened diplomatic relations with Tripoli. European governments were even more eager to bury the past and let its companies have some piece of oil action. Mr. Megrahi’s release, despite severe public criticism in the U.S and Europe, was part of the mending process.

Given all the flip-flops, the West deserves credit for stepping in to avoid a Qaddafi sweep in Libya. But it would be very counter-productive if opposition groups in other countries follow suit and demand Western intervention too. The protests for democracy should continue without outside help and freedom is best earned.

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