NATO's Libyan morass

Παρασκευή, 10 Ιουνίου 2011 16:40
NATO’s Libyan venture runs the risk of turning awry. Gaddafi may indeed finally fall, as Secretary Rasmussen has confidently predicted – although for many seasoned international observers this is far from a foregone conclusion; but, irrespective of his personal fate, the handling of the Libyan crisis by the Western powers is causing legitimate concern even to the most well-meaning analysts.

The task entrusted to NATO by the international community was to protect the Libyans threatened by the dictator’s reprisals. Under pressure from the French and the British, the mission has mutated into an effort to topple the Tripoli regime. The no-fly zone, the only military action expressly authorized by the UN Security Council, has now been enhanced by missile strikes from ships and aircraft, which, though supposedly directed against military targets only, in reality have targeted Gaddafi’s person, his associates, and even members of his family. While, more recently, the ante was raised by the deployment of French and British attack helicopters in direct support of the rebel force – with a further escalation clearly in the works.
The frustrations that are driving this escalatory process are of course understandable. The French president is risking his reelection and the British prime minister his reputation and perhaps the future of his coalition government as well. In other words, both Paris and London are in urgent need of some kind of success in Libya and are pushing hard in the hope of achieving it.
And the stakes are also high for the American president. In his March 28th speech, Mr. Obama made clear that he does not consider the Libyan situation to be of vital importance to the U.S; and that his interest in it is mainly of a humanitarian nature and in any case limited. Under pressure from his European allies, however, he has gone much further in terms of American military involvement than he probably initially intended or at any rate wished. And, as a result, he finds himself in a bind: He risks sharing the blame in case the Europeans’ hard line policy fails; and, by refusing to comply with the War Powers Resolution and to thus upgrade hostilities against the Libyan regime to war status, he has already drawn the ire of a bi-partisan majority in the House of Representatives; and all this as a difficult presidential election is looming in the political horizon.
But along with the political fortunes of these leaders, it is also the Atlantic Alliance’s credibility that hangs in the balance. NATO intervened in Libya claiming to be a representative of the international community, independent of and above local factional or tribal antagonisms. Now the Alliance is in danger of being perceived as a party to the dispute – as part of the problem and not as its solution.
There are two potential hazards inherent in developments in Libya. One is the possibility of a stalemate. Although there are no indications at this moment of a substantial terrorist infiltration, a protracted civil conflict would most probably favor it.
On the other hand, a sudden collapse of the Gaddafi regime could result in mayhem. In this regard, the behavior of the rebels is not particularly reassuring. Their unity of purpose and action, not to speak of their efficacy, is more than doubtful; and they have been credibly accused of arbitrarily detaining and even torturing opponents. Their “victory” by dint of NATO’s military might could very well result in wide-spread reprisals and a new bout of civil strife; unless, of course, the allies are prepared to “put boots on the ground” and to assume the governance of Libya – a course of action that, as far as is known, no Western government is willing to envisage.
Prolonging this war makes no sense from the point of view of true Western interests – which do not necessarily coincide with the electoral needs of President Sarkozy or with the British government’s desire to make amends for its previous shady dealings with Gaddafi. The West needs an exit strategy that will allow it: to extricate itself from the Libyan morass without loss of face; and to leave behind a reasonably stable political situation that will prevent al-Qaeda and other extremists from taking foothold in the country, while making possible the resumption of the regular extraction and export of oil. And to this end it should urgently try to bridge the gap between Libyan government and rebel forces, and, ideally, to bring about a government of national unity; abstaining, meanwhile, from threats of international criminal proceedings that only complicate the task at hand.

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