The contrasting fates of Tunisia and 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.
In January 2011, a popular unarmed insurrection in Tunisia that began the previous month ousted the long-ruling Western-backed dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Elections that October brought together a broad coalition government led by an Islamist party. During the next two years, concerns over their conservative policies and their failure to suppress occasional acts of extremist violence led to large-scale protests, resulting in the resignation of the prime minister in December 2013 and the installation of a technocratic government.

A democratic constitution ratified in January 2014 included provisions guaranteeing freedom of speech, freedom of religion, gender equality, and protection of the country’s natural resources.

Free competitive elections in the fall of 2014 brought to power a center-left coalition led by secularists, trade unionists and liberals. Despite the horrific attack at the national museum by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Islamic State group in March, Tunisia has emerged as the most democratic and one of the most stable countries in North Africa and the Arab world.

Contrast this with Libya, where — unlike the unarmed insurrection that paved the way to democracy in Tunisia — the dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in August 2011 by a Western-backed armed insurrection, the culmination of six months of bloody civil war.

Like Tunisia, free elections were held several months after the dictator’s ouster, though unlike Tunisia’s initial Islamist victors, Libyan voters opted for a coalition led by secular moderates. Unfortunately, the new government was unable to exert its power in the face of more than 200,000 armed militiamen, many of whom proclaimed themselves as “guardians of the revolution,” in a country with a population of barely 6 million. It was not long before these armed groups effectively controlled the country’s major cities, with increasing armed clashes between rival militias as well as widespread revenge killings and armed robberies.

Some of these armed groups have engaged in massacres and mass incarceration of alleged supporters of the old regime. In addition to Gadhafi himself, hundreds of suspected supporters of the former government have been summarily executed. Black Libyans and other black Africans living in the country have been targeted in particular, with hundreds killed and thousands driven from their homes.

A radical Islamist group attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in September 2012, killing the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Salafi extremists have attacked and destroyed Sufi schools, mosques and holy sites. By 2013, the Libyan Ministry of the Interior reported that the murder rate was five times what it had been prior to the uprising, and armed robberies had increased by almost as much.

Militia groups have engaged in a series of kidnappings of government officials and their family members, even the prime minister and other Cabinet officers. Heavily armed militia groups were able to surround the parliament to force the passage of legislation despite a minority of support.

While seculars and liberals did well in the June 2014 elections, the newly elected government was driven from the capital of Tripoli. Within months, the hard-line Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia had seized all or parts of several Libyan cities, declaring the establishment of an “emirate.” In August 2014, Tripoli’s international airport fell to Islamist forces following a 10-day battle.

Most foreigners have now left, and there is now virtually no foreign diplomatic presence in the country. The deteriorating security situation has led to air strikes by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, but tribal militias and Islamist extremists — including forces aligned with the Islamic State group — now control most of the country.

In certain respects, Libya’s deterioration from an authoritarian but relatively stable country to that of a failed state is not surprising.

Social scientists have observed that in nearly 90 percent of cases where dictatorships have been overthrown through armed struggle, the countries have either become new dictatorships or, like Libya, have ended up spiraling into ongoing violence and instability.

This comes in large part because armed struggle often promotes the ethos of a secret elite vanguard and a strict military hierarchy. Like any military organization, armed liberation movements are organized on an authoritarian model based upon martial values and an ability to impose their will through force. It is no accident that many guerrilla commanders, when they become civilian leaders of a new government, continue to lead in a similar autocratic manner or, even if not formally in power, seek to exert their influence through military means.

By contrast, the majority of dictatorships brought down by largely nonviolent struggles, as with the case of Tunisia, usually evolve into stable democracies within a few years. For mass nonviolent action to emerge victorious, pro-democracy activists need to develop a broad coalition from civil society. Unlike violent movements, such unarmed civil insurrections cannot succeed without the support of the majority of the population.

There has to be give and take within such a movement to mobilize the broad constituency necessary to wage a collective struggle on such a magnitude. Building that kind of support requires utilizing a pluralistic model of organization that could serve as a basis of more democratic and representative governance.

This is the major reason the Tunisians were able to establish a stable democracy on their own while the Libyans, despite military intervention on their behalf by foreign democratic nations, could not.

Many conscientious people in the United States and Europe, concerned over the violent repression by Gadhafi’s forces in 2011, backed the shift from the initial nonviolent resistance in Libya to an armed struggle and supported the NATO intervention as a legitimate application of the so-called “responsibility to protect.” However, in weighing the factors as to whether such humanitarian intervention is morally defensible, it is important to also consider the consequences of what might follow.

Lessons and False Lessons From Libya

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.

It is certainly true that NATO played a critical role in disrupting the heavy weapons capability of the repressive Libyan regime and blocking its fuel and ammunition supplies through massive airstrikes and providing armaments and logistical support for the rebels. However, both the militaristic triumphalism of the pro-intervention hawks and the more cynical conspiracy mongering of some on the left ignore that this was indeed a popular revolution, which may have been able to succeed without NATO, particularly if the opposition had not focused primarily on the military strategy. Engaging in an armed struggle against the heavily armed despot essentially took on Qaddafi where he was strongest rather than taking greater advantage of where he was weakest – his lack of popular support.

There has been little attention paid to the fact that the reason the anti-Qaddafi rebels were able to unexpectedly march into Tripoli last weekend with so little resistance appears to have been a result of a massive and largely unarmed, civil insurrection which had erupted in neighborhoods throughout the city. Indeed, much of the city had already been liberated by the time the rebel columns entered and began mopping up the remaining pockets of pro-regime forces.

As Juan Cole noted in an August 22 interview on Democracy Now!, “the city had already overthrown the regime” by the time the rebels arrived. The University of Michigan professor observed how, “Beginning Saturday night, working-class districts rose up, in the hundreds of thousands and just threw off the regime.” Similarly, Khaled Darwish’s August 24 article in The New York Times describes how unarmed Tripolitanians rushed into the streets prior to the rebels entering the capital, blocked suspected snipers from apartment rooftops and sang and chanted over loudspeakers to mobilize the population against Qaddafi’s regime

Though NATO helped direct the final pincer movement of the rebels as they approached the Libyan capital and continued to bomb government targets, Qaddafi’s final collapse appears to have more closely resembled that of Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali than that of Saddam Hussein.

It should also be noted that the initial uprising against Qaddafi in February was overwhelmingly nonviolent. In less than a week, this unarmed insurrection had resulted in pro-democracy forces taking over most of the cities in the eastern part of the country, a number of key cities in the west and even some neighborhoods in Tripoli. It was also during this period when most of the resignations of cabinet members and other important aides of Qaddafi, Libyan ambassadors in foreign capitals and top military officers took place. Thousands of soldiers defected or refused to fire on crowds, despite threats of execution. It was only when the rebellion took a more violent turn, however, that the revolution’s progress was dramatically reversed and Qaddafi gave his infamous February 22 speech threatening massacres in rebel strongholds, which in turn, led to the United States and its NATO allies to enter the war.

Indeed, it was only a week or so before Qaddafi’s collapse that the armed rebels had succeeded in recapturing most of the territory that had originally been liberated by their unarmed counterparts six months earlier.

It can certainly be argued that, once the revolutionaries shifted to armed struggle, NATO air support proved critical in severely weakening Qaddafi’s ability to counterattack and that Western arms and advisers were important in enabling rebel forces to make crucial gains in the northwestern part of the country prior to the final assault on Tripoli. At the same time, there is little question that foreign intervention in a country with a history of brutal foreign conquest, domination and subversion was successfully manipulated by Qaddafi to rally far more support to his side in his final months than would have been the case had he been faced with a largely nonviolent indigenous, civil insurrection. It isn’t certain that the destruction of his military capabilities by the NATO strikes was more significant than the ways in which such Western intervention in the civil war enabled the besieged dictator to shore up what had been rapidly deteriorating support in Tripoli and other areas under government control.

I could achieve an outcome I desired in an interpersonal dispute by punching someone in the nose, but that doesn’t mean that it, therefore, proved that my action was the only way to accomplish my goal. It’s no secret that overbearing military force can eventually wear down an autocratic militarized regime, but – as the ouster of oppressive regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, the Philippines, Poland, Chile, Serbia, and scores of other countries through mass nonviolent action in recent years has indicated – there are ways of undermining a regime’s pillars of support to the extent that it collapses under its own weight. Ultimately, a despot’s power comes not from the armed forces under his command, but the willingness of a people to recognize his authority and obey his orders.

This is not to say that the largely nonviolent struggle launched in February would have achieved a quick and easy victory had they not turned to armed struggle with foreign support. The weakness of Libyan civil society, combined with the movement’s questionable tactical decision to engage primarily in demonstrations rather than diversifying their methods of civil resistance, made them particularly vulnerable to the brutality of Qaddafi’s foreign mercenaries and other forces. In addition, unlike the well-coordinated nonviolent anti-Mubarak campaign in Egypt, the Libyan opposition’s campaign was largely spontaneous. However, insisting that the Libyan opposition “tried nonviolence and it didn’t work” because peaceful protesters were killed and it did not succeed in toppling the regime after a few days of public demonstrations makes little sense, particularly since the armed struggle took more than six months. And it does not mean there were no other alternatives but to launch a civil war.

The estimated 13,000 additional deaths since the launching of the armed struggle and the widespread destruction of key segments of the country’s infrastructure are not the only problems related to resorting to military means to oust Qaddafi.

One problem with an armed overthrow of a dictator, as opposed to a largely nonviolent overthrow of a dictator, is that you have lots of armed individuals who are now convinced that power comes from guns. The martial values and the strict military hierarchy inherent in armed struggle can become accepted as the norm, particularly if the military leaders of the rebellion become the political leaders of the nation, as is usually the case. Indeed, history has shown that countries in which dictatorships are overthrown by force of arms are far more likely to suffer from instability and/or slide into another dictatorship. By contrast, dictatorships overthrown in largely nonviolent insurrections almost always evolve into democracies within a few years.

Despite the large-scale NATO intervention in support of the anti-Qaddafi uprising, this has been a widely supported popular revolution from a broad cross section of society. Qaddafi’s brutal and arbitrary 42-year rule had alienated the overwhelming majority of the Libyan people and his overthrow is understandably a cause of celebration throughout the country. Though the breadth of the opposition makes a democratic transition more likely than in some violent overthrows of other dictatorships, the risk that an undemocratic faction may force its way into power is still a real possibility. And given that the United States, France and Britain have proved themselves quite willing to continue supporting dictatorships elsewhere in the Arab world, there is no guarantee that the NATO powers would find such a scenario objectionable as long as a new dictatorship was seen as friendly to the West.

Another problem with the way Qaddafi was overthrown is the way in which NATO so blatantly went beyond the mandate provided by the United Nations Security Council to simply protect the civilian population through the establishment of a no-fly zone. Instead, NATO became an active participant in a civil war, providing arms, intelligence, advisers and conducting over 7,500 air and missile strikes against military and government facilities. Such abuse of the UN system will create even more skepticism regarding the implementation of the responsibility to protect should there really be an incipient genocide somewhere where foreign intervention may indeed be the only realistic option.

Furthermore, while it is certainly possible that Qaddafi would have continued to refuse to step down in any case, the NATO intervention emboldened the rebels to refuse offers by the regime for a provisional cease-fire and direct negotiations, thereby eliminating even the possibility of ending the bloodshed months earlier.

Indeed, there is good reason to question whether NATO’s role in Qaddafi’s removal was motivated by humanitarian concerns in the first place. For example, NATO intervention was initiated during the height of the savage repression of the nonviolent pro-democracy struggle in the Western-backed kingdom of Bahrain, yet US and British support for that autocratic Arab monarchy has continued as the hope for bringing freedom to that island nation was brutally crushed. And given the overwhelming bipartisan support in the United States for Israeli military campaigns in 2006 and 2008-09 which, while only lasting a few weeks, succeeded in slaughtering more than 1,500 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, Washington’s humanitarian claims for the Libyan intervention ring particularly hollow.

It’s true that some of the leftist critiques of the NATO campaign were rather specious. For example, this was not simply a war for oil. Qaddafi had long ago opened his oil fields to the West, with Occidental, BP and ENI among the biggest beneficiaries. Relations between Big Oil and the Libyan regime were doing just fine and the NATO-backed war was highly disruptive to their interests.

Similarly, Libya under Qaddafi was hardly a progressive alternative to the right-wing Arab rulers favored by the West. Despite some impressive socialist initiatives early in Qaddafi’s reign, which led Libya to impressive gains in health care, education, housing, and other needs, the past two decades had witnessed increased corruption, regional and tribal favoritism, capricious investment policies, an increasingly predatory bureaucracy and a degree of poverty and inadequate infrastructure inexcusable for a country of such vast potential wealth.

However, given the strong role of NATO in the uprising and the close ties developed with the military leaders of the revolution, it would be naïve to assume that the United States and other countries in the coalition won’t try to assert their influence in the direction of post-Qaddafi Libya. One of the problems of armed revolutionary struggle compared to unarmed revolutionary struggle is the dependence upon foreign supporters, which can then be leveraged after victory. Given the debt and ongoing dependency some of the rebel leaders have developed with NATO countries in recent months, it would similarly be naïve to think that some of them wouldn’t be willing to let this happen.

In summary, while Qaddafi’s ouster is cause for celebration, it is critical that it not be interpreted as a vindication of Western military interventionism. Not only will the military side of the victory likely leave a problematic legacy, we should not deny agency to the many thousands of Libyans across regions, tribes and ideologies, who ultimately made victory possible through their refusal to continue their cooperation with an oppressive and illegitimate regime. It is ultimately a victory of the Libyan people. And they alone should determine their country’s future.

Libya: Was Armed Revolt and Western Intervention the Only Option?

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.

What has been notable about the successful civil uprisings against the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships, the serious popular challenges to the Yemeni and Bahraini dictatorships and the smaller-scale protests sweeping the region, is that they were completely indigenous and not sullied by foreign intervention. Furthermore, the chances of a successful transition to democracy following the ouster of an authoritarian regime are much higher if the overthrow results from a massive nonviolent movement, which requires the establishment of broad alliances of civil society organizations and the cooperation and consensus to make that possible. This contrasts with an overthrow resulting from a violent struggle – led by an elite vanguard, dominated by martial values and seeking power through force of arms rather than popular participation – which, more often than not, has simply resulted in a new dictatorship.

Providing military support to a disorganized, armed resistance movement means more people getting killed; it does not necessarily create a disciplined fighting force capable of defeating a well-armed regime, much less establishing a stable democratic order. When massive nonviolent resistance liberated a number of key Libyan cities back in February, popular democratic committees were set up to serve as interim local governments. For example, Benghazi – a city of over a million people – established a municipal government run by an improvised organizing committee of judges, lawyers, academics, and other professionals. Since the resistance to Gaddafi turned primarily violent, however, the leadership of the movement appears to now have significant representation from top cabinet officials and military officers, who for years had been allied with the tyrant, defected only in recent weeks and whose support for democracy is rather dubious.

This underscores that just because the incumbent regime may be evil and resistance to the regime is just, its replacement could end up being worse, a possibility greatly enhanced if power is seized through force of arms. For example, one could certainly make an argument that the mujahidin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s also had a just cause and that the civilian population of that country also needed to be defended from the threat of serious war crimes. However, 80 percent of the billions of dollars of US aid money sent to help the Afghan “freedom fighters” ended up in the hands of Hezb-i-Islami, an extremist minority faction, which slaughtered many thousands of Afghan civilians and is currently allied with the Taliban and attacking US forces.

How to Undermine Qaddafi

As mercurial and repressive as Gaddafi is, he still has a social base. It is not just foreign mercenaries that are keeping him in power. In his 41 years as ruler, he wrested the country away from neo-colonial domination, instilled a sense of national pride and – despite his mismanagement and capricious policies – led his country to achieve the highest Human Development Index ranking in Africa, surpassing scores of relatively wealthy non-African countries as Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia and Russia. There are many Libyans who, while unhappy with Qaddafi’s rule, are not ready to support the opposition.

For a revolution against a heavily armed and deeply entrenched dictator to succeed, the opposition movement needs to mobilize a large percentage of the population on their side, as took place in Tunisia and Egypt. Libyans need to engage in strategies that will make the regime come across as illegitimate and a traitorous, while making themselves look virtuous and patriotic.

Given how their history of suffering under colonialism and foreign intervention has made Libyans notoriously xenophobic, there is a risk of a nationalist reaction from Western bombing that could strengthen Gaddafi more than the damage done to Gaddafi’s war-making machinery would weaken him.

In addition, defections by security forces – critically important in ousting a military-backed regime – are far more likely when they are ordered to gun down unarmed protesters than when they are being attacked by foreign forces.

During the independence struggle in Kosovo during the 1990s, the United States and other Western nations stood by – and, to a limited extent, even supported Milosevic – when the ethnic Albanians were largely united in support of the nonviolent movement led by the moderate Ibrahim Rugova and the Democratic League of Kosovo. It was only when the violent and chauvinistic Kosovo Liberation Army took the lead in the independence struggle late in the decade that the West intervened on their behalf.

The 11-week NATO bombing campaign took over 500 civilian lives, provoked the worst of the ethnic cleansing and caused enormous devastation to Serbia’s infrastructure, temporarily setting back the Serbian pro-democracy struggle (which eventually triumphed in ousting Milosevic in a nonviolent insurrection in October 2000.) US and NATO policy toward Kosovo sent just the wrong message: if you are moderate and nonviolent, we will ignore you. If you take up arms, we will come to your aid.

Continued US support for the Yemeni and Bahraini governments as they brutally suppress nonviolent pro-democracy forces while simultaneously coming to the aid of the violent Libyan opposition similarly sends the wrong message.

It is critical, therefore, that those of us who would like to see democracy triumph in Libya challenge the myth that a military solution is the only alternative to ending Gaddafi’s repression and tyranny.

Did Nonviolence “Not Work”?

The overwhelmingly nonviolent, pro-democracy revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in January and February followed scores of successful unarmed civil insurrections over the past few decades, which have brought down dictatorships in scores of countries, including Serbia, Chile, Poland, Bolivia, Czechoslovakia, Nepal and the Maldives. In addition, despite government repression, nonviolent protests in recent weeks have seriously challenged the governments of Yemen and Bahrain, while smaller protests have broken out in Syria, Oman, Sudan, Iraq, Algeria and Morocco.

Yet, only in Libya has the pro-democracy struggle deteriorated into a bloody civil war, which has been used as an excuse for foreign military intervention.

Some analysts have tried to attribute this to Gaddafi, arguing that nonviolence “can’t work” when faced with such a ruthless tyrant. History, however, has shown repeatedly that dictators as willing as Qaddafi to unleash massive violence against unarmed citizens were nevertheless overthrown through large-scale nonviolent action.

From the Philippines to East Germany, autocratic rulers facing nonviolent civil insurrections have ordered their troops to fire on unarmed crowds, only to have them refuse, forcing the dictatorships to fall. On January 14, Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali declared a state of emergency and banned gatherings of more than three people, threatening that “arms will be used if orders of security forces are not heeded.” In response, hundreds of thousands of Tunisians defied the regime, bravely marching upon the dreaded Interior Ministry and a general strike effectively shut down the country. When the head of the armed forces informed the president he would refuse to orders to attack nonviolent protesters, Ben Ali and his family then fled the country.

In 1991, Gen. Moussa Traoré, the military dictator of Mali, ordered his troops to fire on unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators, killing hundreds, but the resistance movement remained nonviolent and, within days, enough soldiers deserted to force him from power. Similarly, General Suharto, who had ruled Indonesia for 33 years and who had more blood on his hands than almost any leader of the second half of the 20th century, bearing direct responsibility for the deaths for many hundreds of thousands of Indonesian and East Timorese civilians, was ousted in a largely nonviolent uprising in 1998.

In Libya, the protests were almost exclusively nonviolent during the first week of the uprising. It was during this period that the pro-democracy movement made the most gains, taking over most of the cities in the eastern part of the country. It was also during this period when most of the resignations of cabinet members and other important aides of Gaddafi, Libyan ambassadors in foreign capitals and top military officers took place. Pilots deliberately crashed their planes, flew into exile and otherwise refused orders to bomb and strafe protesters. Thousands of soldiers defected or refused to fire on crowds, despite threats of execution.

It was when the rebellion took a more violent turn, however, that the revolution’s progress stalled and was soon reversed, which in turn led to the United States and its allies attacking Libya.

It is certainly true that a successful, popular, nonviolent uprising against the Libyan regime would be a greater challenge for pro-democracy forces than in Tunisia or Egypt, given that Libya is what political scientists call a “rentier state,” a country that derives a substantial portion of its revenues not from the labor or its people, but from the “rent” of its natural resources to external clients. As a result, civil society tends to be a lot weaker. When a government is not dependent on the cooperation of its people to labor, pay taxes, serve in the security forces and perform other functions to prop up its rule, it becomes more difficult to dislodge the regime through noncooperation. The regime can bring in foreign workers, rely on oil revenues and hire mercenaries.

At the same time, there are still plenty of options the opposition could have relied upon, as well as avoiding some of the mistakes apparent in the initial phase of the uprising.

Smart strategy is key to any insurrection, whether it be armed or unarmed. The largely spontaneous Libyan uprising, in its nonviolent phase, focused almost exclusively on mass protests, making them easy targets for Gaddafi’s repression, rather than relying on more diverse tactics — including strikes (which could have been particularly effective in the oil industry), boycotts, slowdowns, and other forms of non-cooperation. In short, the failure of the nonviolent struggle was not because it was nonviolent, but because it was not well-organized strategically.

This does not mean that armed struggle has any greater chance of success, however. Military force challenges Gaddafi at his strongest point where he clearly has the advantages and, with all land approaches to the capital Tripoli through flat open desert, it is hardly an ideal situation for successful insurrectionary warfare either. And the slaughter has only increased since the movement turned violent.

Even now, if a cease-fire could be arranged, rebel-controlled areas could solidify a well-functioning democratic order other Libyans would desire to emulate, while dissidents within areas controlled by Qaddafi could begin a series of strikes and other actions which — combined with international sanctions targeting the regime — could seriously undermine the dictator’s ability to resist. However, the promise of continued US and NATO military support will make it unlikely that either side will abide by a cease-fire and a bloody stalemate could go on indefinitely. As a result, Western military intervention — despite the seeming moral imperative that prompted it — could prove to have made matters worse.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/libya-was-armed-revolt-an_b_841753.html

Libya, the ‘Responsibility to Protect,’ and Double Standards

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.

In any case, let’s be clear: Even if one can justify the war on Libya on humanitarian grounds, this is probably not why it’s actually being fought.

The establishment of a no-fly zone was supported by the League of Arab States, an organization composed primarily of pro-Western autocracies which have shown little hesitance in brutally suppressing their own pro-democracy struggles. There was initially a fair amount of popular support within many Arab countries — even among some pro-democracy activists normally critical of U.S. interventionism — for some limited outside assistance to prevent the Libyan opposition from being wiped out. However, the air and missile strikes have gone well beyond simply protecting civilians from bombings by pro-government forces to active support for an armed opposition. This, combined with the failure of rebels to take greater advantage of the large-scale outside support to regain the offensive, has resulted in growing nervousness, even from top officials. As Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa told reporters, “What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians.”

Despite its potential of being abused, the concept of an international “responsibility to protect” is both legally and morally valid in theory. National sovereignty should not provide a tyrant protection to unleash a genocidal campaign against his own people. However, as horrific as the military response by Gaddafi towards civilians in suppressing both armed and nonviolent forms of resistance against his autocratic rule, it would naïve to claim that foreign intervention is prompted by Western leaders’ concern about protecting civilian lives. The United States, Great Britain and France have each allied with governments — such as Guatemala, Indonesia, Colombia and Zaire — which, in recent decades, have engaged in the slaughter of civilians as bad or worse as had been occurring in Libya.

The number of civilian casualties from Gaddafi’s attacks is difficult to verify. Some estimates run as high as 8,000, some as low as 1,000, but most estimates put the number of civilians killed during the five weeks between the start of the uprising and the Western intervention country at approximately 1,700 people, roughly the same number of civilians killed during Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon and its 2008 war on the Gaza Strip combined. Rather than referring those responsible to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or engage in military intervention to stop the slaughter, as has been the case of Libya, both the U.S. Congress and the administration vigorously defended Israel’s assaults of heavily-populated civilian areas and condemned UN agencies and leading international jurists for documenting Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and for recommending that officials of both Israel and its Arab adversaries suspected of war crimes be referred to the ICC.

The principal intellectual advocate of the Responsibility to Protect is Gareth Evans, former head of the International Crisis Group, who has also emerged as one of the most vocal proponents of what he referred to as “the overwhelming moral case” for military intervention against Gaddafi. Ironically, as Australian foreign minister, Evans was a major defender of Indonesia’s genocidal war against East Timor, which took the lives of over 200,000 civilians, and repeatedly downplayed and even covered up for Indonesian war crimes.

Hypocrisy and double-standards regarding military intervention does not automatically mean that military intervention in this case is necessarily wrong. Though many of us familiar with Libya remain dubious, it cannot be ruled out that events could transpire in such a way that this intervention could prove to have saved lives, brought stability, and promoted a democratic transition. However, it would be naïve to believe that the attacks on Libya are motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns. Certainly, there aren’t many Libyans – even those who support foreign intervention on behalf of the uprising – who believe this. Ongoing U.S. support of the Yemeni and Bahraini regimes as they brutally suppress nonviolent pro-democracy protesters raises questions as to why the U.S. is so quick to intervene militarily against the Libyan regime suppressing an armed rebellion by those whose commitment to democracy in more suspect.

As a result, any honest debate on Libya should not be based just upon the question as to whether foreign military intervention is necessary to stop widespread repression. It should also be as to whether the United States should take sides in a civil war. It should also be as to whether democracy can be imposed through air strikes. It should also be as to whether the best way to overthrow dictators is through a foreign-backed armed uprising or — as demonstrated in Egypt, Tunisia, Serbia, Chile, the Philippines, Indonesia, Poland and dozens of other countries — whether the people of the affected countries themselves be allowed to do so through the power of mass strategic nonviolent action.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/libya-the-responsibility-_b_841168.html

Libya, the United States, and the Anti-Gaddafi Revolt

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.

As outlined below, the uprising comes despite decades of US hostility toward Gaddafi, which paradoxically strengthened the regime and arguably contributed to its longevity. It also comes despite the fact that, compared with the recent successful civil insurrections against dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, the challenges faced by the pro-democracy forces in Libya have been far greater.

Libya’s Unlikely Revolt

Under the recently overthrown dictators, the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes routinely rigged elections and marginalized opposition parties, but at least those parties existed. Not in Libya. Egypt and Tunisia had trade unions, popular organizations and active civil society groups whose activities were severely restricted and, at times, brutally suppressed, but at least they existed. Again, not in Libya. Furthermore, regional and tribal identity has always been much stronger in Libya than in Tunisia and Egypt. Libya’s situation is also distinct because, while urban areas have been the base of most of Egypt and Tunisia’s modern political leaders and movements – including the recent uprisings (and most pro-democracy civil insurrections in the world in recent decades) – rural forces have historically dominated politics in Libya.

Libya is an artificial creation consisting of what were three distinct regions – Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan – pulled together by the United Nations following the end of World War II and the defeat of fascist Italy, the colonial power. It is probably no coincidence that the city of Benghazi, located in the east, has been the center of the resistance to Gaddafi, who comes from the western part of the country. However, dramatic urbanization of Libyan society over the past half century and the resulting intermingling and intermarriage has substantially reduced regionalism and all indications are that the resistance is – like in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere – a genuine pro-democracy movement with strong support throughout the country.

Perhaps the most striking difference between the ongoing revolt in Libya and the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt is the level of violence inflicted by the regime against the pro-democracy movement. As of this writing, probably more than one thousand Libyans – virtually all supporters of the pro-democracy struggle – have been killed, and the death toll will likely rise considerably before it is over. Part of the reason, of course, can be attributed to the ruthlessness of Gaddafi himself. There is little question, however, that the recently deposed dictators Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak would have been equally willing to use such force to stay in power. Indeed, more than 300 Egyptian protesters and 200 Tunisians were killed in their respective pro-democracy revolutions. One reason there wasn’t greater bloodshed in those uprisings was that the Tunisian and Egyptian militaries were dependent on Western democracies (primarily France and the US, respectively) for security assistance and other strategic cooperation. Public opinion in Europe and North America would have demanded cutting such ties in the event of large-scale massacres, and many in the military leadership were unwilling to lose that relationship. Similarly, influential sectors of the government, intelligentsia and business class did not want to risk international isolation. By contrast, the Libyan elites have been largely isolated in the international community for most of Gaddafi’s reign, so they have little to lose.

Another reason for the high level of violence has to do with the nature of the resistance.

The resistance movements in Tunisia and Egypt, despite the absence of strong leadership, did engage in tactical coordination and at least some strategic thinking in their successful uprisings against their respective dictators, including a clear commitment to nonviolence. There was some rioting by a minority of protesters in the early phases of the uprisings (and the small minority of protesters who did riot constituted the majority of people killed), but – more significantly – there were virtually no shootings or other lethal attacks by pro-democracy elements against regime supporters, despite violence inflicted against them by security forces. By contrast, the protests in Libya have largely been spontaneous and – while the protesters have been primarily nonviolent and overwhelmingly unarmed – there have also been pitched battles between pro-government forces and civilians who have armed themselves with captured weapons, supported by members of the police and military who have joined the resistance.

Despite all this, Gaddafi’s regime appears to be crumbling. Virtually all of the cities in the eastern half of the country and a number of cities elsewhere have been liberated by pro-democracy forces. There have been defections of cabinet members, ambassadors in foreign capitals and top military officers. Pilots have deliberately crashed their planes, flown into exile or otherwise refused orders to bomb and strafe protesters. Thousands of soldiers have defected or refused to fire on crowds, forcing Gaddafi to rely on African mercenaries, which has only further angered the population against a dictator willing to bring in foreigners to murder his own citizens.

The biggest question, then, is not whether Gaddafi will be ousted, but how many of his fellow Libyans he is willing to bring down with him.

Gaddafi Versus the United States

Upon seizing power nearly 42 years ago, Gaddafi nationalized Libya’s foreign-controlled oil industry and ordered the closure of the Wheelus Air Base, one of the largest US facilities in the world. Despite this antagonism, Gaddafi’s anti-Communism allowed for some initial, cautious optimism from the United States about the new regime, but diplomatic relations were downgraded in 1973 and were formally broken eight years later.

Under Gaddafi’s rule, Libya made impressive, if uneven, gains in health care, education, housing, the rights of women and basic social services. His brand of Islamic socialism, combined with the country’s relatively small population and large oil reserves, made Libya one of the more prosperous and egalitarian societies in the Middle East, even though the promise generally outpaced actual performance. Though he was a classic strongman in one sense, Gaddafi also allowed for a relatively decentralized political system which allowed for direct democracy and popular participation in some limited political spheres.

However, political repression has always been widespread. As with the monarchy that preceded it, Libyan law has prohibited the formation of political parties and criticism of the political system. The regime prevented the establishment of independent human rights organizations or nongovernmental organizations of any kind, and the press was strictly controlled by the government. For most of Gaddafi’s rule, there were hundreds of political prisoners, and torture in detention has been common. Outspoken opponents of the government were murdered both at home and abroad.

Given that the US has long supported similarly repressive regimes in the Middle East, such repression was never a major concern of the eight US administrations that have governed since Gaddafi seized power. More problematic for the United States was Gaddafi’s outspoken advocacy of radical Arab and other “third world” causes and his support for extremist movements abroad, including terrorist groups, some of which were responsible for the deaths of American citizens.

During the early 1980’s, there was a series of military clashes between the United States and Libya, during which Libya attacked US navy ships and US forces destroyed Libyan military ships and aircraft and bombed coastal military installations. The Reagan administration supported a wide range of covert activities targeting Libya, including disinformation campaigns, propaganda, sabotage and support for opposition groups. The US also provided logistical support for French military operations against Libyan forces in the disputed Ouzou Strip region of northern Chad. The US goaded Mubarak, seen as a friendlier dictator, to confront Libya, resulting in a series of clashes along the Egyptian-Libyan border.

In 1982, the United States initiated a series of sanctions against Libya, including an embargo on Libyan oil and a new requirement for export licenses for most American goods. Comprehensive sanctions were imposed in 1986, including a freeze of Libyan assets and a ban of all trade and financial dealings with the country. These sanctions – which were not lifted until 2004 – also forbade Americans, including journalists and academics, from traveling to Libya without permission from the US government. (One reason for the conflicting analyses of the ongoing struggle is that, due to nearly a quarter century during which Americans were effectively prevented from even visiting Libya, there is a dearth of US scholars and journalists familiar with the country.)

Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the US government issued a series of reports, widely circulated in the media, designed to discredit and demonize the Libyan government. These reports included charges of a Libyan hit squad targeting American officials, of coup attempts against Gaddafi and of the presence of a large underground chemical weapons factory. Subsequent investigations found all of these reports were false.

Indeed, prior to Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi was the Middle Eastern leader Americans most loved to hate. Reagan, for example, referred to him as the “mad dog of the Middle East.” Demonizing the eccentric Gaddafi, with his penchant for harsh and provocative rhetoric, proved useful for bolstering the domestic standing of successive US presidents and in feeding the sense of self-righteousness Americans feel for the US’s role in the world, but that same demonization may have also strengthened the Libyan dictator. Since, at that time, US-backed terrorists in Central America were killing far more civilians than were Libyan-backed terrorists, and the United States was supporting repressive Central American dictators with even worse human rights records than Gaddafi’s, there were also serious questions as to whether the United States had any moral standing in its crusade against the Libyan dictator. In certain respects, these hyperbolic and hypocritical attacks on Gaddafi created a kind of “crying wolf” effect, making it easier for some critics of US imperialism to downplay his repression, foreign intervention, support for terrorism and general thuggery.

In April 1986, following a terrorist bombing in Berlin that killed an American serviceman, the United States bombed Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya’s two largest cities, killing up to two dozen civilians, including Gaddafi’s daughter. The attack was widely condemned as a violation of international law, which recognizes the legitimacy of the use of military force only in self-defense from an armed attack, not for retaliation. The civilian casualties from the air strikes and the serious damage caused to the French embassy and other diplomatic facilities provoked outrage throughout the world and bolstered Gaddafi’s standing both at home and abroad.

The US justified the air strikes on the grounds that it would prevent future Libyan sponsored terrorism. Instead, it had the opposite effect: two years later, in retaliation for the bombing, Libyan agents blew up a US airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

When Gaddafi refused to hand over for trial in Britain two Libyan agents indicted for the terrorist attack, the United States successfully pushed the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions against Libya to force the government to hand over the suspects, an unprecedented action for an extradition dispute. (Ironically, during this period, and to this day, the United States has refused to extradite a number of right-wing Cuban exiles indicted on terrorist charges in several Latin American countries, including those responsible for blowing up an airliner.) These international sanctions prohibited the export of petroleum, military or aviation equipment to Libya, banned commercial flights to or from Libya, limited Libyan diplomatic representation abroad and placed restrictions on certain Libyan financial activities. When Libya eventually turned over the suspects for trial in 1999, UN sanctions against the country were suspended, though US sanctions remained in place for another five years.

In 2003, following prolonged negotiations with the United States and Great Britain, Libya announced that it was giving up its nascent biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs and accepting international assistance and verification of its disarmament efforts. In return, the United States ended its sanctions and restored diplomatic relations the following year. The successful elimination of the threat of Libyan weapons of mass destruction (WMD) should have been recognized as a triumph of patient diplomacy. However, in June 2004, a large bipartisan majority in the US House of Representatives passed a resolution claiming that the elimination of Libya’s nuclear program “would not have been possible if not for… the liberation of Iraq by United States and Coalition Forces.” In reality, the chief US negotiator, Flynt Leverett, writing in the New York Times, noted that Libya had approached the United States about eliminating its WMD programs well prior to the invasion of Iraq and the negotiations were successful because incentives, rather than just threats, were used for this successful nonproliferation effort. Indeed, given that Iraq had disarmed and was invaded anyway, the Iraq war could hardly be seen as an incentive for Libya to give up a potential deterrent.

What Now?

Even prior to the protests that were launched a few weeks ago following the Tunisian uprising, there were signs that Gaddafi’s rule was beginning to slip.

Gaddafi’s leadership style has always been repressive, impulsive, unpredictable and seemingly arbitrary. Yet his nationalism, anti-imperialism and professed socialism led many educated Libyans who formed the backbone of the government to stay loyal despite their misgivings, in large part in reaction to what was seen as the punitive and hypocritical sanctions imposed by Western nations and the constant threat of renewed US air and missile strikes against the country. It was only when the sanctions and threats of war subsided that there began to be a dramatic increase in resignations and self-imposed exile by prominent Libyans who had been members and supporters of the government. In short, the US-led efforts to isolate, punish and threaten the regime likely contributed to Gaddafi’s longevity as dictator. Once relations were normalized and the isolation and threats subsided, Gaddafi was seen less as the strong leader defending his nation against Western imperialism and more as the mercurial and brutal tyrant that he is.

The crimes committed over the years by Gaddafi’s Libya, while frequently exaggerated and not always unique, were and are still very real. Similarly, the double standards used to rationalize foreign policy are certainly not an unusual phenomenon in US diplomatic history, or in the foreign policies of any great power. Indeed, in recent decades, the United States has ignored killings of many thousands of unarmed opponents by such allied regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Indonesia and Iraq, among others. Libya’s most serious offenses, in the eyes of US policymakers, have not been in the areas of human rights, terrorism, nuclear ambitions, subversion or conquest, but in daring to challenge American hegemony in the Middle East. Serving as an impediment to such American ambitions gives these regimes credibility and legitimacy they would not otherwise receive from large numbers of Middle Eastern peoples resentful of such foreign domination, thereby strengthening these regimes’ rule at home, as well as their influence throughout the Middle East and beyond.

Given this history, it is important that – despite the ongoing atrocities – the United States and other Western nations resist the temptation to intervene in ways that could provoke a nationalist reaction that could play into Gaddafi’s hands. It is no accident that Gaddafi chose as the backdrop to his bizarre and frighteningly belligerent speech on February 22 a building in Tripoli destroyed in the 1986 US bombing.

And this history of US intervention in Libya pre-dates the Gaddafi era – by 130 years, under President Thomas Jefferson, who sent Lt. Stephen Decatur to attack the base of the Barbary Pirates, later referenced in the opening line of the Marine Hymn: “to the shores of Tripoli.”

It is therefore important for the United States – as long as it continues to back other autocratic regimes in Bahrain, Yemen and other countries currently suppressing pro-democracy activists – to avoid appearing too sanctimonious in its denunciation of the Libyan regime and its support for the uprising. Some humanitarian and carefully targeted capacity-building assistance could be appropriate if done in conjunction with a broad consensus of the international community and with close consultation with pro-democracy forces. However, given the history of the United States in relations to Gaddafi’s Libya, the best thing the United States could do to support the pro-democracy movement is to avoid any unilateral actions that a dangerous and unstable dictator could use to his advantage.

Gaddafi joined the Libyan armed forces as a young man, not because of an interest in a military career per se, but because he wanted to become the country’s ruler. In the Middle East in those days, if you weren’t part of a royal family, the key to political power was through the military. What Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated, however, is that political power ultimately comes from the acquiescence of the people. And if people no longer recognize their leader’s authority and refuse to obey their leader’s orders, that person will no longer be the leader. This is the kind of power the United States and other Western nations must recognize. For democracy to come to the Middle East, it must come from the people themselves.

Lessons and Signs of Hope Amidst the Carnage in Libya

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.

Gaddafi’s leadership style has always been repressive, impulsive, and unpredictable. Yet his nationalism, anti-imperialism, and professed socialism led many educated Libyans who formed the backbone of the government to stay loyal despite their misgivings, in large part in reaction to what was seen as punitive and hypocritical sanctions imposed by Western nations and the constant threat of renewed U.S. air and missile strikes against the country, as took place back in the 1980s. It was only when the sanctions and the threats of war subsided back in 2004 that there began to be a dramatic increase in resignations and defections by prominent Libyans who had been members and supporters of the government. In short, the U.S.-led efforts to isolate, punish, and threaten the regime likely contributed to Gaddafi’s longevity as dictator. Once relations were normalized and the isolation and threats subsided, Gaddafi was seen less as a strong leader defending his nation against Western imperialism and more as the mercurial and brutal tyrant that he is.

As of this writing, virtually all of the cities in the eastern half of the country and a number of cities elsewhere have been liberated by pro-democracy forces, which launched their rebellion just a few weeks ago and are now clashing with security forces in Tripoli, Libya’s capital. In these liberated cities, popular democratic committees have been set up to serve as interim local governments. For example, Benghazi—a city of over a million people—is now being run by a improvised organizing committee of judges, lawyers, and other professionals who have been largely successful at restoring order to the country’s second largest city, dispatching young people to coordinate traffic at intersections and assist in other basic services.

There have been resignations of cabinet members and other important aides of Gaddafi, Libyan ambassadors in foreign capitals, and top military officers, many of whom have actively joined the opposition. Pilots have deliberately crashed their planes, flown into exile, or otherwise refused orders to bomb and strafe protesters. Thousands of soldiers have defected or refused to fire on crowds, despite threats of execution. This has forced Gaddafi to rely on African mercenaries, which has only further angered the population against a dictator willing to bring in foreigners to murder his own citizens.

These serious challenges to Gaddafi’s power comes despite the fact that, compared with the recent successful civil insurrections against dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, the challenges faced by the pro-democracy forces in Libya have been far greater. Under the recently-overthrown dictators, the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes routinely rigged elections and marginalized opposition parties, but at least there were elections and opposition parties. Not in Libya, however. Similarly, Egypt and Tunisia had trade unions, popular organizations, and active civil society groups whose activities were severely restricted and at times brutally suppressed, but at least they existed. Again, not in Libya.

Despite all this, pro-democracy forces are on the offensive, demonstrating that if enough people are willing to risk everything for their freedom, the regime has few options left but brute force—exactly what Gaddafi has been turning to. However, the use of such extraordinary violence usually ends up backfiring in favor of the opposition, which is exactly what appears to be happening in Libya.

Gaddafi joined the Libyan armed forces as a young man, not because of an interest in a military career per se, but because he wanted to become the country’s ruler. In the Middle East in those days, if you weren’t part of a royal family, the key to political power was through the military. What Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated, however—along with other successful nonviolent civil insurrections from the Philippines to Poland and from Chile to Serbia—is that political power ultimately comes from the acquiescence of the people. And if a people no longer recognize the leader’s authority and refuse to obey the leader’s orders, he will no longer be the leader. This is the kind of power the United States and other Western nations must recognize: for democracy to come to the Middle East, it must come from the people themselves.

Libya: More Balance Needed

Key Points

* The U.S. has maintained a hostile relationship toward the Libyan regime of Muammar Qaddafi for over two decades, including a series of military confrontations in the 1980s.

* Qaddafi’s repression at home, anti-Western foreign policy, and support for extremist movements—including terrorist groups—have fueled the anti-Libyan sentiment of successive U.S. administrations.

* U.S. sanctions against Libya have continued, despite the suspension of UN sanctions following the extradition and trial of Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie PanAm bombing.

In 1969, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi led a military coup in Libya against King Idris, an unpopular pro-Western leader. A left-leaning Arab nationalist and a harsh critic of Israel and the West, Qaddafi nationalized Libya’s foreign-controlled oil industry and ordered the closure of Wheelus Air Base, one of the largest U.S. military facilities in the world. Although Qaddafi’s anticommunism allowed for some initial cautious optimism from the U.S., diplomatic relations were downgraded in 1973 and were formally broken eight years later.

Under Qaddafi’s rule, Libya has made impressive gains in health care, education, housing, women’s rights, and basic social services. His brand of Islamic socialism, combined with the country’s relatively small population and large oil reserves, has made Libya one of the more prosperous and egalitarian societies in the developing world, even though rhetoric has outpaced performance. A decentralized political system has allowed for democracy and popular participation in some political activities.

Political repression, however, is widespread. Serving both monarchs and military rulers, Libyan law prohibits the formation of political parties and criticism of the political system. There are no independent human rights organizations or nongovernmental organizations of any kind, and the government strictly controls the press. There are hundreds of political prisoners, and torture in detention is common. Outspoken opponents of the government have been murdered, both at home and abroad.

More distressing to the U.S. has been Qaddafi’s support for extremist movements abroad, including terrorist groups, some of which may have been responsible for the deaths of American citizens. He has also been an outspoken advocate of radical third world and Arab causes.

During the early 1980s, there was a series of military clashes between the U.S. and Libya, with Libya attacking U.S. navy ships, and U.S. forces destroying Libyan military ships and aircraft and bombing coastal military installations. In April 1986, following a terrorist bombing in Berlin that killed an American G.I., the U.S. bombed Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya’s two largest cities, killing more than sixty civilians. The Reagan administration supported a wide range of covert activities targeting Libya, including disinformation campaigns, propaganda, sabotage, and encouragement of opposition groups. The U.S. also provided logistical support for French military operations against Libyan forces in the disputed Ouzou Strip region of northern Chad, and Washington encouraged Egyptian hostility toward Libya, resulting in a series of clashes along their common border.

In 1982, the U.S. initiated a series of sanctions against Libya, including an embargo on Libyan oil and a new requirement for export licenses for most American goods. Comprehensive sanctions were imposed in 1986, including a freeze of Libyan assets and a ban on all trade and financial dealings with Libya. These sanctions also forbid Americans, including journalists and academics, from traveling to Libya without permission from the U.S. government.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Washington issued a series of reports, widely circulated in the media, designed to discredit and demonize the Libyan government. These included charges of a Libyan hit squad targeting American officials, reports of coup attempts against Qaddafi, and allegations of a large underground chemical weapons factory. Subsequent investigations found all of these reports to be false.

When an investigation of the 1988 PanAm airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, fingered two Libyan intelligence agents, the U.S. and Great Britain demanded their extradition to stand trial. In 1992, as the International Court of Justice was addressing the extradition question, the U.S. successfully pressured the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Libya to force the government to hand over the suspects. These international sanctions prohibited the export of aviation, military, or petroleum equipment to Libya, banned commercial flights to or from Libya, limited Libyan diplomatic representation abroad, and placed restrictions on certain Libyan financial activities.

In 1999, all parties agreed to have the Libyans tried in the Netherlands before three Scottish judges. UN sanctions against Libya were suspended in 1999 when the two Libyan suspects were extradited for trial, though the U.S. has maintained its own unilateral sanctions. The judges made their ruling in January 2001, convicting one suspect and acquitting the other. It is still unclear whether the bombing was a rogue operation or ordered by higher-ups, including possibly Qaddafi, himself, in retaliation for the 1986 bombing raids.

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Key Problems
* Military attacks against Libya have led to civilian deaths, have violated international law, and have strengthened Qaddafi’s standing in Libya and the international community.

* Washington’s opposition to political repression and support of terrorism by the Libyan government is compromised by U.S. support of other autocratic regimes and acquiescence to terrorist activities by American allies.

* The sanctions against Libya have been largely ineffective in altering Tripoli’s behavior but have been harmful to American businesses and other interests.

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. For example, Qaddafi’s 1986 claim that the entire Gulf of Sidra was within Libyan territorial waters had no legal justification. Yet the U.S. insistence on militarily challenging the claim seemed more designed as an excuse to attack the country than to enforce international law, particularly since Libya was not enforcing its claims.

More tragically, what apparently provoked the Libyan terrorists who destroyed the Pan Am airliner in 1988 were the U.S. bombing raids against Libyan cities two years earlier. The U.S. justified the air strikes on the grounds that they would prevent future Libyan-sponsored terrorism—an ironic justification, given the subsequent event. Moreover, international law only recognizes the legitimacy of the use of force for self-defense, not for retaliation. The numerous civilian casualties from the air strikes and the serious damage caused to the French embassy and other diplomatic facilities provoked outrage throughout the world and bolstered Qaddafi’s standing both at home and abroad. Indeed, Washington’s support for terrorist groups like the Nicaraguan contras, U.S. failure to extradite CIA-connected terrorists currently indicted in two Latin American countries, and America’s role in a deadly 1985 car bombing in a Beirut suburb have hampered U.S. credibility as a crusader against the Libyan regime’s alleged links to terrorism.

Although the UN sanctions against Libya never inflicted the serious humanitarian consequences that have plagued Iraq, they did retard Libya’s economic development and isolated the country internationally, discouraging liberalizing influences. The ongoing unilateral U.S. sanctions have had a similar effect. Even Qaddafi’s Libyan opponents have opposed the sanctions on the grounds that this tactic has played into the hands of the Libyan dictator.

What made the Libyans particularly reluctant to accede to initial demands to extradite the bombing suspects was the realization that the U.S. would oppose the lifting of UN sanctions even if they complied, since Washington’s target was not really the indicted men but rather the Qaddafi regime. Indeed, even though UN sanctions have been suspended against Libya, the U.S. has blocked efforts to have them completely lifted.

A particularly problematic manifestation of U.S. sanctions has been the 1996 D’Amato Act, the motivation for which may go beyond simply curbing terrorism to exerting U.S. pressure on weaker countries. The law says that the president can “determine” that a person, company, or government is in violation of the act, and the aggrieved party has no recourse to challenge the president’s determination in court or anywhere else. With such wide latitude of interpretation, a president can impose sanctions or other punitive measures based more on political considerations than on any objective criteria, thus honing the mechanisms by which the U.S. can force foreign countries to cooperate with its strategic and economic agendas.

The bill provides for an array of sanctions, including banning the sale of products of culpable firms in the United States. As with similar extraterritorial efforts regarding Cuba, even America’s strongest allies have raised vehement objections to the law, which apparently violates World Trade Organization rules. Ironically, this is the same sort of secondary boycott that the U.S. has vehemently opposed when applied by Middle Eastern states to U.S. companies doing business in Israel. If the U.S. secondary boycott is maintained, other countries are likely to take over lost American business. Thus, it will not be the targeted regime that will be hurt by U.S. policy—it will be American businesses and American credibility.

The crimes committed over the years by Qaddafi’s Libya, though frequently exaggerated and not always unique, are still very real. Similarly, double-standards are commonplace both in U.S. diplomatic history and in the foreign policies of every great power. Yet in many respects, just as Qaddafi has gained political mileage in portraying himself as a victim of a vengeful and hypocritical U.S., there are those in the U.S. who also benefit from maintaining a hostile relationship with this leader whom Americans love to hate. Hostility toward “rogue states” like Libya helps justify continued high military budgets, encourages unilateral military initiatives, and feeds the self-righteous and sanctimonious U.S. perception of its role in the world.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Libya’s most serious offense in the eyes of U.S. policymakers does not concern human rights abuses, terrorism, nuclear ambitions, subversion, or conquest but rather the impudence to challenge American hegemony in the Middle East. Regimes like Libya and other so-called “rogue states” are preventing the U.S. from exercising its political dominance over this crucial region. By overthrowing or subjugating these regimes, American policymakers believe they will gain unprecedented leverage in shaping the future direction of the Middle East.

This brings us to the final irony. Their role as an impediment to hegemonic American ambitions lends these regimes the credibility and legitimacy they would not otherwise receive, since most Middle Eastern people resent foreign domination.

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Key Recommendations
* The U.S. should significantly ease sanctions against Libya as a means of encouraging a more pluralistic society and responsible foreign policy.

* The U.S. should promote arms control throughout North Africa and should pledge not to attack Libya unless there is clear evidence that Libya has attacked first.

* Diplomatic relations should be restored and most economic sanctions lifted; military sanctions should be retained, and any trade that could strengthen the regime’s repressive apparatus or export of violence should be stifled.

Washington needs to encourage Libya to play a more responsible role both toward its own citizens and as a member of the international community. Current policy needs an overhaul, however, if such policy ambitions are to be successful.

Many of Qaddafi’s stated objectives—encouraging sustainable broad-based economic development, promoting Palestinian rights, and defending the Arab world’s cultural, religious, and national rights from Western domination—have some legitimacy and evoke solidarity throughout the Middle East. A U.S. decision to address the legitimate concerns and adopt more responsible policies in the Middle East would rob demagogues like Qaddafi of their popular base and obstruct their dangerous policies. Such an approach would prove more successful at controlling Qaddafi than air strikes and punitive sanctions, which only appear to strengthen his power and influence.

Washington should go on record with the promise that it will not attack Libya unless there is clear evidence that Libya has attacked first. Proactively, the U.S. should promote arms control across North Africa as a means of bringing greater peace and stability to the region. Normal diplomatic relations should be restored and sanctions should be substantially liberalized to allow for normal business activity as well as academic and tourist exchanges. A whole generation of Americans has grown up with the news media and popular culture depicting Libyans as terrorists. Normal interchanges between the two countries would greatly enhance better understanding between the two peoples and minimize the risk of violence against either.

Military sanctions should remain in place. Similarly, the U.S. should maintain restrictions against commercial or other activities that could directly strengthen the regime’s repressive apparatus or foster terrorism.

Recent conflict between the U.S. and Libya has harmed the credibility of U.S. efforts to promote a more open and pluralistic society in Libya. Encouraging a greater role for international nongovernmental organizations—untainted by a direct U.S. presence—could help this process. Libya’s impressive advances in some aspects of economic development, including innovations in appropriate technology, deserve examination as possible models for development elsewhere.

Lingering concerns about potential Libyan involvement in terrorism should be addressed through international organizations and law enforcement, not through unilateral actions. Washington must renounce its support for any irregular forces or governments involved in terrorism in order to become a more effective leader in the war against terrorism. Moreover, the U.S. should acknowledge that its previous attacks against civilian targets in Libya were themselves a form of terrorism.

Similarly, Washington’s concerns about Qaddafi’s ongoing human rights violations would be enhanced if the U.S. ended its silence about human rights violations by such U.S. allies as Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco. There is nothing wrong with constraining—using economic sanctions, if necessary—regimes that export terrorism and violate human rights. However, until the U.S. is willing to end its flagrant double-standards, such efforts—even where justified—will get little international support.

Finally, if the U.S. is really interested in democratic change in Libya, it should recognize that Qaddafi is not the only important political actor in that country. Washington must analyze Libya’s social structure and regional differences. There are technocrats, ideologues, military and religious leaders, and other competing interest groups outside Qaddafi’s complete control. Together they constitute a complex internal political dynamic in Libya.

Libya should not be used as a symbol, a whipping boy, an excuse for higher military spending, or a vehicle for proving a president’s machismo. U.S. policy should be guided more by area specialists and less by military leaders and national security managers who are unfamiliar with Libya, its politics, history, and culture. The demonization of Qaddafi and Libya should be replaced by a more balanced approach that recognizes the regime’s accomplishments as well as its many serious problems.

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of politics and chairperson of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. Zunes is also a senior analyst and the Middle East and North Africa editor at Foreign Policy In Focus.

Recommended Citation:
Stephen Zunes, “Libya: More Balance Needed” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, October 6, 2005)

http://www.fpif.org/articles/libya_more_balance_needed

Libyan Disarmament a Positive Step, but Threat of Proliferation Remains

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.

Libya’s stunning announcement that it is giving up its nascent biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs and accepting international assistance and verification of its disarmament efforts is a small but important positive step in the struggle to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

It would be a big mistake, however, to accept claims by the Bush administration and its supporters that it was the invasion of Iraq and other threatened uses of force against so-called “rogue states” which pursue WMD programs that led to Libya’s decision to end its WMD programs.

While Saddam Hussein was less than cooperative with United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) efforts in the 1990s, it appears that they were successful in ridding the country of its chemical and biological weapons and related facilities. The Iraqi regime was more cooperative during that period with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with the IAEA announcing in 1998 that Iraq’s nuclear program had been completely dismantled. When IAEA inspectors returned in the fall of 2002 as part of UN Security Council resolution 1441, they reported that no signs that the program had been revived. Iraq also allowed the return of a revived and strengthened inspections regime for chemical and biological weapons systems (known as UNMOVIC) at that time, which also found no evidence of any proscribed weapons or weapons programs.

Despite this, the United States invaded Iraq and overthrew the government. As a result, Libya presumably knows that unilateral disarmament and allowing UN inspectors does not necessarily make you less safe from a possible U.S. invasion.

More likely, Libya simply recognized that they would not get anything worthwhile as a result of continuing with an expensive, dangerous, and complex process of weapons development and would instead continue to face international isolation and difficulty obtaining certain dual-use technologies which could enhance the country’s economic development.

A Triumph of Diplomacy

Indeed, the agreement is a sign of the triumph of American and British diplomacy, not military threats.

That this breakthrough involved some diplomatic initiatives from the U.S. government doesn’t mean that the Bush administration has abandoned its unilateralist agenda. In a dispute which could potentially jeopardize Libya’s bold initiative, the United States is challenging Libya’s assumption that its disarmament process would be under the auspices of the IAEA and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW.). The Bush administration insists that U.S. intelligence officials and experts from the U.S. Defense Department and U.S. Energy Department–along with some British authorities to give it a multilateral veneer–take charge of the disarmament process.

More serious is the position of successive administrations that the United States has the right to impose a kind of WMD apartheid on the Middle East, giving itself the right to say which countries can and cannot have nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

The United States has quietly supported Israel’s extensive chemical and biological weapons programs, as well as Israel’s nuclear program, which is believed to consist of over 300 warheads along with sophisticated medium-range missiles. This comes despite UN Security Council resolution 487, which calls on Israel to turn its nuclear facilities over to the trusteeship of the IAEA.

In the post 9/11 era, the U.S. has dropped its opposition to the nuclear programs of India and Pakistan, eliminating sanctions imposed by the Clinton administration after both countries engaged in a series of underground nuclear tests in 1998 and ignoring UN Security Council resolution 1172, which calls on Pakistan and India to dismantle their nuclear programs and ballistic missiles.

To the United States, UN Security Council resolutions calling on the elimination of a given country’s weapons of mass destruction should be enforced only when it comes to countries the U.S. government does not like, such as Iraq. By contrast, the United States has threatened to veto any efforts to enforce such resolutions against its allies.

Such a policy is doing little to enhance U.S. security interests. The evidence now points to Pakistan as the source of the key nuclear technology employed by Libya in its embryonic nuclear program, most of which ended up in Qaddafi’s hands in the two years since the United States relaxed its restrictions on Pakistan’s military government.

The Costs of Domination

The unfortunate reality is that the United States is not interested in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction per se but in preventing a challenge to its military domination in the post-cold war world.

The first country to introduce weapons of mass destruction into the Middle East was the United States, which initially brought in nuclear weapons on its planes and ships as far back as the 1950s. More recently, the Bush administration has explicitly threatened to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states and is developing new nuclear weapons for battlefield use.

While demanding that countries that do not yet have nuclear weapons sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)–which includes provisions that would prohibit them from doing so–the United States has refused to abide by other provisions of the NPT that call on already-existing nuclear powers to take serious steps towards complete disarmament.

Concern over the prospects of the horizontal proliferation of weapons of mass destruction also serves as a pretext for the ongoing U.S. military presence in the Middle East and for attacking countries that threaten to challenge this American dominance. Instead of seeing the potential acquisition of nuclear weapons by Third World countries as an inevitable reaction to the American failure to support global nuclear disarmament, the United States–by labeling it as part of the threat from international terrorism–can justify military interventionism.

Nuclear weapons are inherently weapons of terror, given their level of devastation and their non-discriminate nature. Indeed, the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War was often referred to as “the balance of terror.” Many people outside the United States see the atomic bombings by U.S. forces of two Japanese cities in 1945 as among the greatest acts of terrorism in world history. American concerns, however, are not about the ability of the United States to threaten other countries with weapons of mass destruction but how others might threaten the United States. This can make it possible for U.S. administrations to portray acts of war against far-off countries as acts of self-defense.

Countries ranging from U.S. allies like Jordan and Egypt to adversaries like Syria and Iran have all endorsed calls for the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone for the entire Middle East, similar to those already existing in Latin America and the South Pacific. Such proposals have been categorically rejected by the United States, however. A UN Security Council resolution calling for the establishment of such a WMD-free zone in the region was introduced last month, but is expected to be vetoed by the United States. In effect, the United States insists that such weapons in the Middle East should be the exclusive domain of itself and Israel.

Other Middle Eastern governments may therefore decide not to risk emulating Libya’s choice of unilateral disarmament. Indeed, such U.S. policies will most likely lead not to greater acquiescence to American will, but to a rush by other nations in the region to counter this perceived American-Israeli threat through the development of their own dangerous arsenals.

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He serves as Middle East editor for Foreign Policy in Focus (online at www.fpif.org) and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (online at www.commoncouragepress.com).

Lockerbie Verdict Unlikely to Bring Change

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 anti-terrorism policies of recent administrations.

A Twisted Sanctions Policy

United Nations sanctions against Libya were suspended in 1999, when two Libyan suspects were extradited for trial. The United States opposes formally lifting the sanctions, however, and will maintain its own, strict sanctions on Libya. In addition, the U.S. will continue to pressure other nations to limit their commercial contacts with that North African country. In August of 1996, Clinton signed a law introduced by U.S. Senator Alphonse D’Amato that imposed a secondary boycott on foreign countries maintaining close economic ties with Libya. The motivation for the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act may go beyond simply curbing terrorism to exerting U.S. pressure on weaker countries. The law says that the president can “determine” that a person, company, or government is in violation of the act, and the aggrieved party has no recourse to challenge the president’s determination in court or anywhere else. With such wide latitude of interpretation, a president can impose sanctions or other punitive measures based more on political considerations than any objective criteria, which strengthens the tools by which Washington can force Middle Eastern countries to cooperate with its strategic and economic agenda. The bill provides for an array of sanctions, including banning the sale of products of culpable firms in the United States.

As with similar extraterritorial efforts regarding Cuba, even America’s strongest allies have raised vehement objections to the law. Ironically, this is the same sort of secondary boycott that the United States has vehemently opposed when Middle Eastern states applied them to companies doing business in Israel.

Even Qaddafi’s Libyan opponents have opposed the sanctions on the grounds that they have played into the hands of the Libyan dictator. Yet in many respects, just as Qadaffi has gained political mileage in portraying himself as a victim of a vengeful and hypocritical United States, there are those in the United States who also benefit from maintaining a hostile relationship with this petty tyrant whom Americans love to hate. Hostility toward “rogue states” like Libya help justify continued high military budgets, unilateral military initiatives, and feed the self-righteous and sanctimonious American self-perception of its role in the world.

Although it is unclear whether this was a rogue operation or the result of orders from high Libyan officials–perhaps even strongman Muammar Qadaffi himself–the verdict does firmly establish the long sought-after link between the Libyan government and the Lockerbie tragedy, which took the lives of 270 people.

Bringing terrorists to justice through such internationally supported legal means as in the recently completed trial is a far more effective way of fighting terrorism than recent U.S. policies favoring air strikes. Such attacks, which are sometimes based on faulty intelligence, violate international law, alienate America’s allies, and perpetuate the cycle of violence and revenge.

Just as Qadaffi has gained political mileage through portraying himself as a victim of a vengeful and hypocritical United States, there are those in the U.S. who also benefit from maintaining a hostile relationship with this petty tyrant whom Americans love to hate. Hostility toward “rogue states” like Libya helps justify continued high military budgets, unilateral military initiatives, and feeds the self-righteous and sanctimonious American self-perception of the U.S. role in the world.

Critics of U.S. policy, meanwhile, can point to the refusal of the United States to honor extradition requests from Costa Rica and Venezuela for former CIA operatives implicated in a series of terrorist acts, including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner in Barbados which killed 73 people. Similarly, at the time of the Lockerbie bombing, the U.S. was backing the Contras in Nicaragua, who were responsible for far more civilian deaths than the various terrorist groups then supported by Libya.

The obsession with such fanatical leaders as Qadaffi not only distracts attention from this underside of U.S. foreign policy. It also makes it difficult to focus on more pressing global issues, such as the deterioration of the global environment, the economic disintegration of Mexico, right-wing nationalism in Russia, expanding trade, growing international economic inequality, and other issues.

The crimes committed over the years by Qadaffi’s Libya, while frequently exaggerated and not always unique, are still very real. Similarly, double standards in rationalizing foreign policy are certainly not an unusual phenomenon in U.S. diplomatic history or in the foreign policies of any great power. Yet it is becoming increasingly apparent that the most serious offense by Libya in the eyes of U.S. policymakers come not from support for terrorism, but in daring to challenge American hegemony in the Middle East.

Libya As Target

Libya has long been the United States’ primary Middle Eastern target regarding international terrorism, leading to a variety of harsh responses, including the bombings of two Libyan cities in 1986. More recently, in 1992 and 1993, the United States successfully pushed for a series of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council against the Libyan government for its failure to extradite two of its citizens to Great Britain or the United States to face charges in the Lockerbie bombing (Security Council Resolution 748 (March 31, 1992) and 883 (November 11, 1993)). The Libyans, noting the absence of extradition treaties with either government and the unlikelihood of a fair trial in these traditionally hostile countries, offered to instead try them in Libya (as made possible under the 1971 anti-hijacking Montreal Convention), send them to trial in a neutral country, or even have them tried before Scottish judges in a third country. After initially refusing to consider such compromises, the U.S. agreed to have the Libyans tried in the Netherlands before three Scottish judges, who made their ruling on January 31. This was not before the U.S. went to the Security Council to push for sanctions, even while the extradition question was under review by the International Court of Justice.

All this maneuvering ended up working well for the United States, since the World Court acknowledged that while Libya’s right to refuse extradition was indeed safeguarded by international law, they would not challenge the already-implemented decision of the Security Council. The sanctions imposed included a ban on international flights, a reduction in Libyan diplomatic missions, the imposition of an arms embargo, and a freeze of all funds and financial resources controlled by the Libyan government. What made the Libyans particularly reluctant to give in to these demands initially, was the realization that the United States would oppose the lifting of sanctions even if they complied, since the Clinton administration’s target was never really the indicted men but the regime itself.

What apparently provoked the terrorists who destroyed the airliner, were the 1986 U.S. bombing raids. The U.S. justified the air strikes on the grounds that they would prevent future Libyan-sponsored terrorism, an ironic justification given the subsequent event. In addition, international law does not recognize the legitimacy of the use of force for retaliation, but only for self-defense. As a result, the U.S. government tried to argue that the bombing of these Libyan cities–which resulted in over 60 deaths, primarily of civilians–was “self-defense against future attack,” an unusually creative twist of international law which even the United States’ strongest allies were unable to defend on legal grounds.

Former President Bill Clinton was wrong in claiming that Americans become targets of terrorism because of our commitment to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Americans become targets when we stray from these values, through supporting dictatorial regimes, bankrolling occupying armies, engaging in illegal military attacks, and encouraging economic development strategies favoring the wealthy.

Thus, the final irony: Serving as an impediment to such American ambitions and becoming the victim of U.S. military actions gives these regimes credibility and legitimacy they would not otherwise receive from large numbers of Middle Eastern peoples resentful of such foreign domination. Such actions by the United States thus strengthen the regime’s rule at home as well as its influence throughout the Middle East and beyond.

A Policy of Double Standards

What is most striking regarding this case was not the legal questions regarding extradition or the guilt or innocence of the men accused, but rather the double standards inherent in the issue itself. In 1976, a Cuban airliner on a regularly scheduled international flight was blown up by a bomb planted by right-wing terrorists, killing all 73 passengers and crew, including the country’s Olympic fencing team. Four men were indicted in Venezuela for the crime, all Cuban exiles who had been trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and had ongoing associations with CIA covert activities. The mastermind of the bombing, Luis Posada Carriles, had worked for the CIA in the 1960s as a saboteur against a variety of Cuban targets. After his escape from custody in Venezuela, the CIA hired him again to help direct arms shipments for the Nicaraguan contras from a Salvadoran air base.

Like the Libyans, the United States showed its willingness to keep terrorists on the government payroll. Indeed, Libya’s initial refusal to extradite those charged in the Pan Am bombing bears striking similarity to the ongoing U.S. refusal to extradite John Hull, an American CIA operative, indicted in Costa Rica for the 1984 bombing of a press conference in a Nicaraguan border town that killed five journalists.

Costa Rica and Venezuela are longstanding pro-U.S. democracies. They have two of the freest and most credible judicial systems in Latin America. The evidence against these men is public and very damaging; there is little question regarding the validity of their indictments. As a result, many in the international legal community believe that the U.S. government is no less complicit in the harboring of terrorists that is Qadaffi’s regime in Libya.

There was a similar irony in the United States appearing before the International Court of Justice in The Hague arguing against Libya. When the UN’s judicial body ruled in 1986 that the United States had to cease its attacks against Nicaragua and to pay compensation for damages, the Reagan administration ignored the near-unanimous verdict. The U.S. continues to refuse to even recognize the World Court’s jurisdiction in the matter.

Indeed, during the 1980s, the contras–armed, trained, and effectively created by the U.S. government–were responsible for far more civilian deaths than all terrorist groups supported by Libya and other radical Middle Eastern states combined. Just as Qadaffi referred to those who gunned down passengers in the Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985 as “freedom fighters,” so too did President Ronald Reagan use the same term for the contras–despite mounting evidence of their widespread attacks against civilians. If Libya’s support of Abu Nidal could justify the U.S. bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi, U.S. support of the contras could have justified the bombing of Washington and Miami.

It is noteworthy that the most serious single bombing attack against a civilian target in the modern Middle East was the March 1985 blast in a suburban Beirut neighborhood, which killed 80 people and wounded 200 others. The attack was ordered by CIA director William Casey and approved by President Reagan as part of an unsuccessful effort to assassinate an anti-American Lebanese cleric. The U.S. role in the attack, which was widely reported throughout the Middle East and elsewhere, has given the U.S. crusade against Middle East terrorism little credibility in much of the world.

By relying on effective intelligence and interdiction as preventive measures and punishing those guilty through a fair judicial process after the fact, the threat of terrorism can be curbed. However, the threat will not end until the United States itself is willing to abide by international standards and the rule of law. Whether the new Bush administration will be willing to do so remains to be seen.