It had a certain similar ring to it. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, there were promises that the soldiers getting their brains blown out for their countries would be home by Christmas. It lasted a good four years and destroyed a generation. While the intervention in Libya – at least militarily – does not look like it will follow the pattern of either Iraq or Afghanistan, a continuing involvement might be deemed necessary by the ever moral international community.
NATO has been lucky that its ill-defined mission against Colonel Gaddafi has not gone worse than it did. There were disagreements between military and government officials over exactly what was required to prosecute UN security council objectives: Do we get Gaddafi? Do we protect civilians? There is now speculation that this may well be a ‘less-costly (American-led) way of waging war’, to use the terms of Mark Thompson writing in Time (Aug 22). The U.S. would still be involved in operations, but NATO would begin to shoulder more responsibility. As a crowing NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has insisted, ‘We have been used to the fact that the U.S. should be in the very front line, and absolutely in the lead, to carry out NATO operations.’ Europeans, in short, had to become a touch more war mongering.
We still know little about the rebel National Transitional Council which has been embraced with few exceptions by an assortment of foreign governments. What we do know is that the NTC is deeply unstable and fractious. It may well cannibalise itself once it loses its primary foe. Even supporters of Western intervention have admitted a feeling of discomfort in backing this most motley of collectives. The prospects for retributive killings is ever real. So far, the rebels have limited their acts of revenge to looting, arson and beatings.
The international mechanism for bringing Gaddafi before the International Criminal Court, along with his detained son Seif al-Islam, and intelligence chief, Abdullah Sanussi, may well prove academic if the rebels have their way. While the NTC has publicly expressed its desire to cooperate with international authorities, the proof will be in the pudding. Should Gaddafi make it to The Hague, he shall be facing charges of crimes against humanity in his targeting of civilians in Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata and other Libyan cities (Human Rights Watch, Aug 22).
That the Gaddafi regime is now collapsing can hardly be due to the genius of the opposition, let alone the attacks of NATO, which have, in themselves, yielded mixed results. All sides have demonstrated an astonishing lack of competence in prosecuting the campaign. What we are bound to witness, claimed an unnamed British official, is a ‘sweaty, bedding-down period’. While the NTC was ‘very much in charge’, a UN-backed response to stabilise the country was required (FT, Aug 22).
That the country is readying itself for a period of chaos is not something that worries individuals such as Ashur Shamis, a London-based Libyan dissident who claims that post-Gaddafi plans have already had a good incubation period. All it will take now is the hatching. Assumptions are already made about the competence of Libya’s ‘educated’ elite who will initiate the takeover – ‘they know what is good for the country’ (FT, Aug 22). That just might be something we should be worried about.
What is even more troubling will be the transition stage to a state with institutions that are vaguely democratic and cut across racial and tribal lines. Institutional stability will initially demand the presence of various Gaddafi loyalists and high officials who served the old regime.
Other questions over what will happen to Libya’s immigrant population, many of whom provide cheap labour in the oil industry, construction and agriculture, remain. Eliminating dictators is only one part of the process. Now, given that the international community has decided to put guns before butter, the reconstruction efforts will be on the account of NATO members and the United States. The NTC will be pleased.