Stephen Zunes : Libya
The people of Libya and Tunisia both overthrew long-standing dictatorships in popular uprisings in 2011. Four years later, however, the current political situation in these two neighboring North African states could not be more different. The reason has much to do with how their authoritarian regimes were overthrown…
The downfall of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime is very good news, particularly for the people of Libya. However, it is critically important that the world not learn the wrong lessons from the dictator’s overthrow.
The decision by the United States and its Western allies to intervene militarily against the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi may have averted a massacre, but it is fraught with serious risks of eventually costing even more lives. Furthermore, it could undermine the remarkable and overwhelmingly nonviolent pro-democracy movements which have been sweeping the Arab world in recent months. As will be described below, had Libya’s popular uprising maintained its largely nonviolent discipline of its early days, there probably would not be the bloody stalemate and other dangers now emerging in the conflict.
Reasonable people can disagree on the appropriateness of the decision by the United States and its NATO allies to attack Libya in the wake of the Gadaffi regime’s offensive against rebel-held cities under the doctrine of “the responsibility to protect.” Though the intervention likely prevented a slaughter, there is no guarantee that it won’t simply protract a bloody military stalemate that could result in at least as many civilian deaths. There are any number of other legitimate concerns raised by those distressed over the fact that there is now a third country in the greater Middle East in which the United States has found itself at war. At the same time, there are also legitimate arguments being made by prominent human rights advocates arguing that there is still a moral imperative for the use of force to avoid a large-scale massacre by a criminal regime.
Since the 1969 coup that overthrew the unpopular pro-Western monarchy of King Idris, Libya has been ruled by Col. Muammar Gaddafi (also spelled Qaddafi, Gadhafi, Khaddafi and other transliterations). Though long considered emotionally unstable, he was also considered politically stable, destined to maintain his iron grip on the country until he died a natural death. Now, even as he unleashes extreme and sometimes lethal violence against the growing pro-democracy uprising, his own days may be numbered.
The civil insurrection in Libya has been far more violent, and forces loyal to the dictator far more violent still, than the recent successful unarmed revolutions against the dictatorships in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. Still, there are signs of hope and important lessons to be learned in the ongoing struggle against the 42-year regime of Muammar Gaddafi, whose days appear to be numbered.
U.S. hostility toward Libya appears to have been largely reactive and not based on any well-conceived strategy. Demonizing the eccentric Qaddafi, with his penchant for harsh and provocative rhetoric, has been useful in bolstering the domestic standing of successive U.S. presidents and feeding the sense of self-righteousness Americans feel for the U.S. role in the world. But it has netted little tangible benefit for U.S. policy interests.
In a world seemingly gone mad, it is ironic that one of most sane and reasonable actions to come out of the Middle East recently has emanated from the government of Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator long recognized as an international outlaw.
The guilty verdict against Libyan intelligence operative Abdel Baset Ali Mohamed Al-Megrahi may have finally established guilt in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988, yet it will not usher in a new era for U.S.-Libyan relations. Perhaps, however, it will lead the new Bush administration to re-evaluate the failed […]