Keeping their Distance

It’s worrying to see the declaration  from Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy has been seemingly encouraging suggestion that direct action is an appropriate way to facilitate the regime change now clearly called for. I, by the way, welcome at least the marginally increased clarity on NATO’s war aims in Libya, the disingenuous discussion permeating the debate up to now is at least now temporarily slightly less dense. 

That regime change is a desirable and necessary outcome of this war is obvious. From the recognition, initially by France on 10th March but followed by several other countries, of the Rebels’ National Libyan Council, the western community has demonstrated that it is throwing diplomatic and then military weight behind the rebels. They want Qaddafi and his family and hangers on gone and they certainly can’t afford an angry dictator in a split country, with all the impossible problems that presents, on their doorstep in the Mediterranean.

There are some problems here though. Continued and indeed worsened chaos in Libya would be disastrous. Even more disastrous, would be having no choice but to take direct responsibility for that chaos. At a time of fiscal belt tightening (didn’t you know?) the last thing electorates are about to accept is massive investment in stabilising a foreign country. Yet, if a US, or British, or French ‘plane drops that bomb that eliminates the Qaddafi problem, then we take direct responsibility for whatever happens in its place. If we take Qaddafi down, we have to build something back up.

Another dictator rising to power, stealing an election and repressing his people again would be a huge public relations problem for the NATO coalition bombing Libya right now. An increasingly Islamic regime, or dissolution into competing regions, would compel the West to intervene to stabilise. Stability and democracy can be awkward bedfellows in power vacuums created by forced transitions. If we cause the transition, we can’t stand back and watch Libya descend into a failed state, and the responsibility will be laid firmly and irrefutably, at the doors of Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy.

It would be better if a legitimate, home grown uprising would take power with some help from NATO but popular support from Libyans. That doesn’t look likely to happen militarily without a serious rethink on supplying weapons to the NLC, which would be a clear (and undeniable) contravention of the (already contentiously enforced) resolution 1973. So a bombing campaign aimed at bringing the Libyan leadership to the negotiating table, á la Serbia 1999, with their NLC opposition as well as the Western alliance, stands the best chance of NATO managing to play the role of facilitator rather than instigator. We do not want to be the originator of Qaddafi’s demise, merely the architects of the bridge upon which the rebels can cross to a hopefully more democratic future.

We must not get bogged down in a political quagmire. We must not take the moment away from the home grown rebellion, and twist the “Arab Spring” into a transparent tool of Western policy. At the moment, it is almost feasible that we are simply preventing atrocity and encouraging those who are fighting for freedom. A military assassination by outside forces is the antithesis of that. That is why an F-16 can’t simply drop a JDAM on Qaddafi’s head.

Then, you see, it would be all our fault.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, International Affairs, Middle East

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