It’s kind of absurd that I should even be writing this post, since I know next to nothing about Libya. But I’m writing it because I have the uncomfortable impression that those policy-makers who urged the current American and European military intervention in Libya – aka instituting a “no-fly zone” (a strange formulation when it involves so much use of fighter jets) — know very little more than I do.
I hope I’m wrong about this. But hope isn’t much of a substitute for reason when people’s lives are at stake.
Why Libya? Apparently because it seems safe. Everyone in the west can agree that Qaddafi is nuts, that his regime sucks, and – most important from their point of view – that they have nothing to lose by intervening. No strategically important naval base to protect, as in Bahrain. No major oil supplier to coddle, as in Saudi Arabia. No “partner” in the struggle against the elusive Al Qaeda, as in Yemen. No close military ties, as in Egypt.
I can almost imagine the decision-makers thinking “Finally, a chance to prove that we really are on the side of freedom and democracy and all the things we keep talking about but don’t back up with action. Phew!”
Of course the last time they did that – barging with heavy firepower and astounding ignorance into a country where it seemed clear who was Good and who was Bad – the result was disastrous. Iraq is still a mess. Afghanistan, an even worse mess. But this time, you see, it will be different. This time, we’ll do it right. From the air,. No feet on the ground. So what if we don’t even know who’s who in Libya? They hate Qaddafi; what more could one ask for?
When I was a dreamy adolescent, I used to think that if I could only go round the world with a six-shooter and assassinate the worst dictators, the world would be a better place. I spent hours deciding which six I would target (some weird English sense of fair play dictated that I could only have six bullets), until I grew up enough to realize that those I killed in my dreams would only be replaced by others, that this was not a matter of individuals, but of systemic social and political problems way beyond my grasp. (As for “solving” violence by violence, I’m glad to say I quickly grew out of that too.)
Now, in 2011, it seems that powerful nations are acting like that naïve adolescent that I once was, the difference being that their choice of target is determined not by dumb idealism, but by strategic realpolitik. So sorry, Bahrain – we know you’re right in your demand for democracy, but our hands are tied. Too bad, Egypt – we know the military has no intention of giving up power, but we need them. You’re on your own, Yemen – who knows if you mightn’t threaten our good Saudi friends next?
But Libya? Thank god for Qaddafi. A chance to prove how good we are, at last…