The Libyan people started this fight. They were brave enough to take on a brutal, Western-backed dictator, risking death in their struggle for freedom. Which has been nothing if not inspiring.
But this heroic struggle now risks being undermined by the intervention of those same Western powers that have armed Gaddafi since 2004, after previously vilifying him for decades as an evil dictator.
The cobbling together of a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya, immediately translated into a ‘no-drive zone’, is the kneejerk reaction of a Western ‘liberal’ elite keen to be seen to be doing ‘something’ ‘now’ to save people from tyranny. In the process, demonstrating their lack of belief in the Libyan people’s ability to fight for their own freedom — even as they are doing just that — while crediting themselves as international freedom fighters, and dismissing all talk of the possible consequences, and the past disasters, of intervention.
Britain, France and the USA (with the support of various tyrants of the Arab League – as if that somehow makes the attack upon another Arab nation ok) have, by intervening, changed the entire dynamic of the rebellion. They have taken the Libyan people’s destiny out of their hands, making themselves the decisive players in the determination of Libya’s future.
In the first few weeks of this conflict, before demands for a ‘no-fly zone’ had begun to win out, banners were regularly seen in the media asserting such as ‘No foreign intervention! Libyans can manage it alone!’ Since then, those banners have disappeared from the news and the media reports only on those people asking for Western help. In the West, we have no idea what is happening on the ground, or how representative such voices are. And while it is understandable that people look for any help when in a desperate situation, those demands don’t make intervention any more legitimate than does the support of the Qatari monarchy.
Western bombardment of Libya not only represents an act of war on a sovereign state, it can also make the fight for freedom more difficult. For example, the West may destroy some Gaddafi tanks, or even Gaddafi himself, and tip the balance in the rebels favour; but in doing so make it more difficult for the rebels to judge their own strength. In such circumstances, a Western aided victory could easily turn to defeat at greater cost to those rebel forces. Worse still, it may dissuade some from joining or continuing the rebellion at all: because they are waiting to see what happens, because they genuinely believe the West can help, or because they fear becoming targets themselves.
And what happens if the rebels gain the upper hand against Gaddafi, surrounding and bombarding his strongholds? How would ‘liberal’ opinion respond to the inevitable prospect of civilian casualties at the hands of the rebels – which Western bombing is meant to be helping to prevent? Would there be calls for action to restrain the anti-Gaddafi forces?
Does anyone believe that the West, now in position over the skies of Libya, would withdraw after helping to defeat Gaddafi, saying “Job done” and handing the initiative back to the Libyan people to determine their own future?
The Libyan people deserve praise and admiration for taking on Gaddafi. But only they can fight for their freedom, no one else can do this — certainly not the powers that armed him. The risks, as always, are high. The rebels may fail. And Gaddafi may win. In which case they will have to re-group, re-arm and fight again another day.
Alternatively, the rebels may win — at least in part of the country — with Western help. If that happens, they would do well to hold on to their weapons, as they will inevitably need them to continue the fight for freedom against any future Western-backed regime.