US – NATO action in Libya may be a war by proxy, but it is a war nonetheless. Of that fact there is little doubt.
The western powers have taken sides in a domestic civil war which promises to get bloodier in the coming months. The war may be disguised as a 'humanitarian' mission but the facts speak otherwise. The UN authorized 'No Fly Zone' encompasses ground targets which have little linkage with Libya's air defense systems.
|Libya's National Security Adviser, Moatessam Gaddafi with US Secretary of State Clinton in April 2009|
After the initial salvoes against Libyan air defense units, the attacks have mostly centred on Libyan ground units likely to hinder military progress by the Libyan rebel 'coalition.' Consequently, anti-Gaddafi military forces have not only held existing 'liberated' territory but are also inching westward in their push to oust Libya's ruler of 42 years.
It is no secret that the Libyan rebels owe much of their continued existence to the western led air campaign against Gaddafi's ground forces. Taking out a Libyan tank does little to secure the skies above Libya.
Surely, Gaddafi is no saint. He is erratic, eccentric and dictatorial. Though there are few reports of Gaddafi killing political opponents on a mass scale. In that sense, Gaddafi was no Saddam Hussein.
Libya's contraction of the 'Tunisian Flu' may have changed such calculations. It seemed that Gaddafi is prepared to use state military force to counter, well, anti-state military force. During the course of Gaddafi's efforts to keep his Great Revolution intact he would certainly have killed many of his compatriots.
Nevertheless, there is a fine distinction between Libya and Egypt or Tunisia.
In Egypt or Tunisia, anti-regime demonstrators did not have widespread access to weapons. Nor did Tunisian or Egyptian state institutions crumble along tribal or geographical lines. The military and civilian bureaucracy remains intact in both nations. Consequently, 'post revolutionary' reconstruction in both states is progressing in a stable manner.
On the contrary, Libya has fractured along traditional tribal lines with tribes from eastern Libya forming the brunt of the anti-Gaddafi coalition. Gaddafi's governing organs of state have all but disappeared in most of eastern Libya, including the rebel 'capital' of Benghazi. It's hard to govern in the face of gunfights and aerial bombardments for control of cities and towns.
Undoubtedly, the world's 'powers that be' did not have an easy choice for Libya: sit back and watch Gaddafi slowly exterminate anti-Gaddafi military forces or intervene and become an active participant in a Libyan civil war. The decision might have been easier if the world knew more about the Libyan rebels and their ability to form a credible government in a post-Gaddafi scenario.
|Arguably, the Islamic world's first written national Constitution, the Ottoman document of 1895 promulgated under Sultan Abdul Hamid|
Surely, Libya can recover from post-Gaddafi anarchy in the course of several years given the country's small population base and vast oil wealth. However, as the Iraq experience demonstrates, once political cleavages appear they are hard to suppress; especially when ordinary citizens have easy access to weaponry.
The Islamic world's painful transition from backward, religious obscurantist peoples to citizens of modern, nation states continues. Gaddafi's Libya provides another example of the fragility of countries without an explicit political contract between the state and its citizens, even when excessive wealth acts as temporary glue between rulers and ruled.