Has the West Become So Feeble That We Are Afraid To Help the Libyans?
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Has the West become so feeble that we are afraid to help Libyans get rid of their murderous fruitcake of a despot?
It was a signal achievement for the United Nations Security Council to censure Libya for barbarities against civilians. Also laudable was the General Assembly’s decision to suspend Libya from its preposterous position as chair of the Human Rights Council. But otherwise, the toing and froing of the Western powers over Libya is becoming alarming: Bold talk of a no-fly zone and of military assistance for the rebels has given way to quavering about getting into the kinds of difficulties we had in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we armed groups that later became our enemies.
Republican U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham darkly warned that “There are 30 tribes in Libya.” So there are, but most of them are now targets for massacre by Muammar Gaddafi.
This sort of shilly-shallying was what produced the European Union Bosnian policy in the 1990s, which consisted of sanctions and an arms embargo that were utterly porous in regard to Serbia, but relatively enforced on the Muslim Bosnians, and were unctuously presented as an even-handed treatment of contesting forces on a level playing field.
This outrage persisted, with the Clinton administration pretending it wasn’t happening, until the Republican leader of the Senate, Robert Dole, called it by its rightful name as complicity in the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims by the Serbs and the Croatians. (Dole pushed through his “lift and strike” resolution threatening to wrest the status of commander-in-chief of the armed forces from the president, and required that the Muslims be allowed to resupply and that air strikes be carried out against Serbia to deter Milosevic’s aggression in Bosnia.)
There followed a rather ambivalent, not to say cowardly, policy, in which American and Allied planes did not descend below 15,000 feet out of fear of Serbian ground-to-air missiles, but rained down precision fire on strategic targets until — following the separate Kosovo campaign in 1999 — the Milosevic regime in Belgrade collapsed. What emerged was the notion of a war worth killing for, but not worth dying for, leading to heavy collateral damage in Serbia and a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the “liberators” of Belgrade. The West absolutely must not go through any such indignity again.
The martial traditions of America were not assisted then by President Clinton weeping at the fate of a single American airman who parachuted out of his aircraft and was captured. (He was released unharmed after a few weeks.) Previous American war presidents who had to deal with hundreds of thousands of war dead were made of sterner stuff, and spoke of the need “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widows and his orphans” (Lincoln), and the courage and “faith to bear the sorrows that may come” (Roosevelt). After the equal-opportunity muscularity of the George W. Bush years, and the promising Obama start in Afghanistan, Washington seems to have retreated even from there.
What is developing in Libya is a civil war in which, so far, the West has enjoyed the free lunch of cheering on the rebels, without having to do anything except extract their own nationals and send some humanitarian aid. Now that the rebels are being counter-attacked from the air by Gaddafi’s air force, and the rebels are asking for military assistance, there is arm-flapping, hand-wringing and general waffling in the chancelleries of the West as we quiver in fear of the rag-bag detritus of the mad Colonel’s decrepit military.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a congressional committee, “Let’s call a spade a spade: A no-fly zone means attacking Libya” (referring to the need to eliminate anti-aircraft batteries). So what? The United States cheerfully fires drone missiles into the territory of its glorious Pakistani ally (which supports elements of the Taliban we are fighting in Afghanistan) every day. Barack Obama, while his defense chief quails at taking out the anti-aircraft defenses of the murderous lunatic Gaddafi, unctuously repeats that the Libyan leader “has lost the legitimacy to lead and he must leave.” But such people don’t just leave, and certainly not because such ungalvanizing figures as Mr. Obama tell him to leave.
I cannot accept that the West has reached the point of enfeeblement that we sit like worried, helpless sheep while Iran arms itself with nuclear weapons, and are afraid to assist a clear majority in Libya get rid of a murderous fruitcake of a despot. At the time of Munich, Winston Churchill called for the return of “martial courage of olden time.” Here, we could settle for the purposefulness of the unprepossessing George W. in the Iraq Surge or of Obama escalating in Afghanistan. If NATO (the U.S. Sixth Fleet in practice) can’t take out Libyan air defenses at no or minimal cost, we should all start studying Arabic and spending an hour a day with our foreheads pressed to the floor.
The best solution to Libya, as I suggested here recently, would be an Arab one; the fraternal invasion of Libya by Egypt, in support of an amenable regime, as all friendly parties engaged in the expulsion of Gaddafi would welcome such an initiative, and Egypt could negotiate in advance a revenue-producing arrangement for itself in securing the pacification of the country and the full resumption of oil flows. The Egyptian army would raise its prestige doing so, but if it is too preoccupied assuring a satisfactory result in the post-Mubarak election, the West will simply have to carry the anti-Gaddafi rebels across the finish line (and collect some credit for doing so).
At least all indications are that in the buzz of collegiality with which the West is noisily worrying about the dangers of doing anything about Libya except imitating King Canute from the White House balcony, Canada is being consulted. And there is something Canada can do, which would be noticed by our allies: We should recognize the provisional government of Libya as legitimate, and make contact with it. This could have a catalytic effect, inspirit the rebels, nudge the Americans and Europeans into doing something, and generally start a rockslide around Gaddafi.
The Europeans, who are disposed to do something, would be grateful, and so would the U.S. Republicans, at the moment the majority party in the United States. Even President Obama says that Gaddafi lacks legitimacy; so let us confer legitimacy on those who have earned it. A gangster and terrorist regime is slaughtering its own population, which is fighting back gallantly. We owe them our support, and every day’s delay is shameful and could make a benign outcome more doubtful.
For once, Canada could make a difference and be seen by the world to do so. There is no excuse for waiting.
From the National Post of Canada.