With Gaddafi dead, was the Libyan intervention right?


by Osama Saeed

Hillary Clinton off-camera greeted the capture of Colonel Gaddafi this week with a triumphalist “We came, we saw, he died.”

Supporters of the military intervention on both sides of the Atlantic have been understandably jubilant.  Watching the scenes of celebration in Tripoli and Misrata however, there were notably less UK, French and US flags being waved by revolutionaries than there were six months ago.  Reports of French planes tracking Gaddafi aside, there was in inescapable feeling the Libyans had done this themselves.

Those on the left of the political spectrum were left all over the place on the aerial support provided by NATO.  Many who had opposed the Iraq war backed this intervention, citing the smidgeon of UN justification for it.  Others ideologically held firm – these were imperial powers that for centuries had been up to no good in the Arab world, and this was just the latest outrage.  There was though near universal mainstream political support, in stark contrast to Iraq in 2003.

In the Arab world meanwhile, there was a constipated level of support for the action.  The role of Qatar certainly helped, as did the fact that Gaddafi was an outcast even in this region.  While Ronald Reagan once accused him of wanting to foment a “Muslim fundamentalist revolution”, it was the African Union that gave him the most backing.  Arabs tended to be uncomfortable with the presence of the old imperialists in Libya, but through gritted teeth acknowledged that it was a genuinely terrible situation from which the Libyan people themselves had called for assistance.  This was not like Iraq where fraudsters like Ahmed Chalabi were being held up as representatives of their country.

As timing would have it, one day after Gaddafi’s death, President Obama called time on the Iraq war, ordering all US troops out by the end of 2011.  Everyone accepts now that it was a disaster.  The US had flirtatiously offered to stay if the Iraqi government wanted.  They didn’t. US concerns center on the Iran-Iraq axis that has been created at vast US expense.

While the UK’s new defense minister was urging British businesses to ‘pack their suitcases‘ to fight for contracts in Libya, eight years on in Iraq, US firms have not had monopoly over the oil as conspiracy theories had suggested they would, with the Chinese, Russians and others also cashing in.

The main argumental crutch of the war’s proponents, namely the removal of Saddam, has been kicked away from them.  After all the lives lost and trillions spent, if Saddam had been in power this year, he would be gone or going by now thanks to popular revolt.  To top it off, if the Iraq war was about supporting Israel, after the Arab awakening, it’s now never been on a more shoogly nail.

What this tells us about is the danger of ideology.  The necons were desperate to go to war regardless of the facts, reality and consequence.  Some on the left however, would stop interventions even when laudable and realistic goals can be achieved.  The lofty power they ascribe to NATO members, that they are just in it for the money, is surely shattered by how cackhanded Iraq has been in implementation and geostrategic result.

Speaking with insiders on both sides of the Atlantic, it was clear after launching strikes on Libya that they had no idea who they were dealing with on the ground.  The dynamic of the uprisings caught everyone off guard.  NATO seized the moment and swooped.  They may well be looking for the kind of stability and relationship that Gaddafi provided them.  Iraq shows that it’s not a given that this will actually be the case.

Osama Saeed is a Scot based in Qatar www.twitter.com/osamasaeed