The events transpired quickly over the end of last week. The Security Council agreed Thursday to military intervention in Libya, the scene of unrest over recent weeks. The following day, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi called a ceasefire, vowing to relent in his loyalists’ attacks on rebels. That vow was broken within another 24 hours as Gadhafi brutally attacked Benghazi, a rebel stronghold.
This defiant attack in the face of a world sympathetic to the cause of Libya’s anti-Gadhafi protesters spurred Western forces to action. French, British, U.S. and other NATO forces were put to work. The goal is to protect the rebels from a madman.
Coalition forces continued enforcing the no-fly zone Monday and launched more cruise missiles against Libyan targets. Military officials said the NATO units had neutralized Libya’s air-defense systems, a key part of installing the no-fly zone. British Prime Minister David Cameron said the allies’ quick action had helped avert “a bloody massacre in Benghazi.”
Nevertheless, “We started a peaceful revolution to end an era of an oppressive regime and have been forced by events to enter into a war,” said Kamal Hudaifi, one of the leaders of the rebels challenging Gadhafi.
Recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were less violent than they could have been. However, it was inevitable that the stirrings of freedom on many Arab streets would be met with violence.
Dictators like Gadhafi are stuffed with petro-dollars and the security forces they purchase, as well as the savvy to survive for decades. These despots have always depended on harsh treatment for citizens who speak out on behalf of freedom. Sooner or later, it appears that Gadhafi and his ilk must be removed from power at the barrel of a gun, or at least the threat of a gun aimed at their lives and their fortunes.
The question remains: How deep will Western allies overtly delve into this Arab awakening? Protecting humanity under Gadhafi’s shelling is certainly a noble aim. The fine details of an overarching plan to usher him out of power appear to be missing. What are the limits? Arab support for last weekend’s intervention may wilt under the heat of anti-Western feelings. What then?
History shows that how the West involves itself in Arab affairs matters. The borders of many Arab states were blithely established by British colonizers over the previous century, often without a deep understanding of tribal loyalties and historic allegiances.
The limited 1991 Gulf War against Saddam Hussein had a definite mission, timeline and broad coalition of supporters. The 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States had none of those three, and it has paid the price for not planning. We’d hate to see a repeat in Libya.