by James Maxwell
A degree of equilibrium has at last been established in the Libyan civil war.
With the exception of a full-scale ground invasion, UN Security Council resolution 1973 sanctions the use by foreign states of “all necessary measures” to halt Colonel Gaddafi’s assault on those Libyan citizens who openly seek an alternative to his lunatic rule.
Under the protective force of British, French and American fighter jets, the Benghazi rebels can now begin to regroup, prepare for and then embark on the second phase of a conflict that had up until this point been heavily weighted against them.
It seems, at this stage, very much like Western military power is being consciously applied to facilitate democratic revolution in the Middle East.
If so, this is quite extraordinary. In fact, it is historically unprecedented. Never before have Europe and the United States acted in such a way.
Even a cursory review of their approach to the region in recent years indicates the depths to which they will descend in order to suppress, undermine or circumvent the popular will of various Arab peoples.
Over the last five decades in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq (to name but a few) the West has coldly and steadily pursued its strategic interests at the direct expense of the freedom of these nations’ citizens.
What reason is there to believe this intervention will be any different? Indeed, given the Blair government’s cynical attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ the Gaddafi regime – that is, to gain UK commercial access to his oil resources without challenging his treatment of Libyan opposition groups – what reason is there to view it is anything other than a brazen act of aggression?
In reality, very little. The West is once again coldly and steadily pursuing its interests. But this time it has concluded that Gaddafi, wildly erratic and embarrassing, is no longer fully conducive to them. No doubt Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama are banking on his successor being much more pliable and deferential.
That the intervention occurs under the quasi-legal auspices of the United Nations and with the support of the Arab League suggests, in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, only that its prosecutors understand the need for a veil of bilateral legitimacy.
But neither the UN, which is structured to favour large states, nor the Arab League, which is essentially a coalition of cruel and corrupt autocracies, can provide real legitimacy. In this instance, real legitimacy can only be conferred by the rebels themselves. And conferred it they have – repeatedly.
This may at first seem contradictory. If anyone has felt the rough edge of Western support for Arab despotism recently it is Libya’s embattled dissident class. Why then would they look to the West for help in their struggle for democracy? Well, simply because they have no choice. They have taken a desperate gamble on the idea that what Gaddafi has in store for them is many times worse even than the immense destructive potential of Western militarism.
And on what grounds, exactly, do we feel entitled to second-guess that judgement?
Shortly after David Cameron gave a statement to the Commons on Friday, the Stop the War Coalition, which these days is a wholly owned subsidiary organisation of the Socialist Worker’s Party, staged a protest outside Downing Street to express its opposition to the imminent deployment of the RAF to North Africa.
How indicative of the brittle dogmatism and moral indifference that increasingly characterises the revolutionary left in the UK. Impotent and peripheral, all it offers is the patronising, sub-colonial assertion that the Libyan people are incapable of deciding for themselves how best to achieve their goal of genuine self-governance.
Libyan democrats are themselves under no illusion as to the West’s real intentions, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the promotion of liberal universal values and everything to do with securing long-term control of Libyan oil fields.
However, they also know that for the moment London, Washington and Paris share their desire to get rid of Gaddafi, creating a unique and probably fleeting opportunity to strike a fatal blow to the Brother Leader’s authority.
The hope is that if they can consolidate their hold of Benghazi and force Gaddafi into a prolonged siege of the city, his resolve – and that of his supporters in the military and among the residents of Tripoli, his base – will weaken in the face of sustained, targeted NATO attacks. When it does, Jalil and his colleagues no doubt intend to surge back west across the country, re-capturing on their way to the capital the towns currently subdued by the regime.
Of course, assuming the success of the rebel’s campaign, post-Gaddafi Libya will be confronted with a further struggle, this time to make good on the nation’s independence from its traditional colonial oppressors.
And we will have as clear and absolute a duty to support them then as we do now.