Washington's Libyan Quandary

Δευτέρα, 14 Μαρτίου 2011 13:03
Barring effective help from abroad, the Libyan uprising will probably peter out. The West is therefore facing a pressing dilemma. It has to weigh the costs of letting Khadafy prevail against the consequences of a military intervention to oust him. In one sense, it is up against a no-win situation.
Eight years ago, the Libyan dictator, frightened by the invasion of Iraq, terminated abruptly his nuclear program and reversed his anti-Western policies; and thus opened the way for the US and its main European allies to establish with him a working relationship that ensured the steady export of Libyan oil; and – with Islamic extremism an active threat to both sides – helped stem the tide of al-Qaeda. The present revolt has put an end to this rapprochement; which, notwithstanding the embarrassment it often caused them, Western capitals found by and large satisfactory.
The problem of course is that it cannot be restored. The Libyan regime is thoroughly discredited. Any attempt to actively bolster it, whatever the means employed, would inevitably draw the wrath of public opinion throughout the world and primarily in the West itself.
Yet, getting rid of Khadafy and replacing him with a government that will keep the country united and functioning, while cooperating with the Western powers, is an endeavor fraught with risks: Given, on one hand, the divisions in the ranks of the insurgents and their lack of military training, and, on the other hand, the military and tribal supports as well as the financial resources of the Libyan regime, any indirect military assistance the rebellion might receive – whether in the form of materiel or even of a “no fly zone” that has become more likely after its endorsement by the Arab League – will, at best, prolong a civil war that not only threatens the outflow of oil, but also carries the risk of abetting anti-Western forces; since a festering Libyan tumor may well become a breeding ground for fundamentalist extremism.
Of course, the West and more specifically the United States is perfectly capable of taking out Khadafy and his crowd by recourse to a direct and extensive use of military force. From Washington’s point of view, however, this option must appear even riskier than allowing the revolt to be crushed or contributing to the prolongation of the conflict. Afghanistan and Iraq have shown that it is much easier to occupy a country than to rebuild it; and moreover that regime change imposed from abroad can turn messy and explosive; the corollary being that such a course of action should not be pursued unless vital US interests are at stake – something nobody in American governing circles, political, diplomatic or military, believes to be the case in Libya at present.
In fact, as the Libyan drama unfolds, one has the eerie impression of a repeat performance of the Yugoslav tragedy, aggravated by the Iraqi syndrome. As in the case of post-Cold War Yugoslavia, Washington is resisting military involvement; London and Paris – but not Berlin this time, given the limited German interest in Mediterranean affairs – are citing humanitarian considerations in order to push for vigorous action…mainly to be carried out by the Americans, whose military is the only one equal to the task; and in the United Nations we are witnessing a reprise of Russia’s and China’s refusal to authorize military measures against a sovereign state – with Moscow and Beijing fearing no doubt that at some future date they may find themselves on the receiving end of such sanctions.
This Sino-Russian stance, a source of frustration for American policy makers at the time of the debates in the UN Security Council on the fate of Saddam’s regime, may now be seen by them as a blessing in disguise. It is true that President Obama has in no way repudiated the so-called “Bush Doctrine” – in reality, the long-standing practice of the American superpower to intervene with all the means necessary, and, when willing allies are unavailable, unilaterally, for compelling national reasons. But in the absence of such reasons, Washington can and probably will resist pressures that could once again draw it, against its better instincts, into a geopolitical quagmire; and in doing so it can use the Russian and Chinese vetoes as a convenient pretext.
At any rate, as things stand, the hope against hope is that a show of resolve, short of direct military action, on the part of the “international community” will lead to Khadafy’s collapse. If it does not, however – and the Libyan strongman is a proven survivor – mediation to avert the insurgents’ total defeat or a prolonged civil war with its dangerous concomitants, through no doubt fragile compromises between the warring parties will almost certainly prove the only way for the Western powers to at least partially salvage their prestige, while serving their more material interests.
For the rest, two wider effects of events taking place in Libya are particularly worth noting here: In the first place, the lesson of Khadafy’s defiance – especially if he succeeds in remaining in power – will certainly not be lost on other threatened regimes in the Greater Middle East, whether friendly or hostile to the West. And secondly – and of even greater significance to us Europeans – the Libyan crisis has brought once more to light the paucity of the European Union’s supposed common foreign and defense policy; with the search for a common denominator for the 27 member states resulting in collective paralysis and ineffectual national posturing.

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