North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Thursday, March 10, 2011

To intervene or not intervene, is that (really) the question?

As the bloody Libyan conflict continues, and it appears that "Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi" may be regaining the upper hand, intervening at some level by the civilized world seems to be the simplified and increasing frantic question.

Yet a broader set of questions delving into why, from what matrix of priorities, and the historical record of interventions and just importantly non-interventions, makes this a much more complicated calculation.

Libya is a country of 6.4 million people, most of them situated in urban enclaves along the Mediterranean Sea, with scattered desert tribes moving about the vast Southern desert interior. Of importance are (were) the hundreds of thousands of guest workers (Chinese, South Asian, fellow Arabs from neighboring countries, and "European Westerners") nearly all connected to pumping oil from the desert oil fields to refineries and ports. The governance over the past 42 years is a Gaddafi dictatorship (I've caved in terms of spelling, and its easier phonetically), who overthrew a monarchy established in 1951 when the nation gained independence from Italy.
Young Colonel Gaddafi taking power after 1969 coup

Gaddafi's reign has been a cruel one towards his small population, though not particularly worse than most other autocratic Arab regimes - see earlier posts. But his record in terms of actions and alliances with other world leaders and conflicts over the past 4 decades is worth a short review.
Gadaffi today with a 42 yr resume of dictatorial actions

* After his coup in 1969, Gaddafi created a haven for all "anti-imperialists" and threw out most Italians by the end of 1970.

*In 1973, he read out his famous "5-point address", imposing Sharia law, purging the "politically sick," creating a people's militia, and implementing both administrative and cultural Revolution (emulating Che Guevara and Castro in Cuba.) He imitated Mao who had published his little red book, with one of his own - a "little green book."

*In the 70s, he championed pan-Arabism, built close relationships with Communist regimes, sent out hit squads to execute Libyan dissidents in exile, and morphed the nation's institutes into his personal family's control. He invaded Chad (which was repulsed with French and US aid), fought a war with Egypt, led forays into Sudan's Darfur region, tried unsuccessfully to buy a nuclear bomb from China, Pakistan, and India in that order, and ended the decade supporting Uganda's notorious Idi Amin in a border war with Tanzania.

Gaddafi, friend of Idi Amin, tyrant of Uganda who was responsible for an 8 year reign ('71-'79) filled with mass killings and disorder.

*During the 80s, Gaddafi concentrated on assassinating exiles abroad. Amnesty International records 25 Libyan individuals killed by Libyan hit men in that decade. In October 1981 when Egypt's President Anwar Sadat was assassinated, Gaddafi applauded the murder and remarked that it was a punishment. US President Ronald Reagan dubbed Gaddafi the "mad dog of the Middle East," and in December 1981, the US State Department invalidated US passports for travel to Libya, followed in March 1982, by a ban on the import of Libyan oil.

In early April 1986, Libyan agents bombed "La Belle" nightclub in West Berlin, killing three people and injuring 229 people, and in response a few weeks later, the US bombed Libyan military assets (Teatree and family were living in Kenya at the time, and remember the incident well when the headlines screamed, "US attacks African soil!!). To end the decade, though many other instances are not mentioned here, on December 21 1988, a Boeing 747–121 named Clipper Maid of the Seas was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers, 16 crew members, and 11 on the ground. Over time, the investigation pointed to Libya.

Libya planted a bomb on an airliner which exploded and crashed into the village of Lockerbie, Scotland - an event in 1988 that languished for over two decades before guilt was admitted.

*The 90s were relatively quiet, US sanctions were in place throughout, and Gaddafi had to react to the dissolution of the Soviet empire with which he had cultivated his anti-Western powerbase. Choosing once again to ally himself with the "wrong side of history," Gaddafi developed close ties with Slobodan Milošević, aligning himself with the Orthodox Serbs against Bosnia's and Kosovo's Muslims. In 1995, Gaddafi expelled some 30,000 Palestinians living in Libya, in response to the peace negotiations that had commenced between Israel and the PLO.

Gadaffi, friend of Slobodan Milosevic, Serbian leader during the early 90's Balkans War who died in 2006 in The Hague while on trial for genocide

*In the past 10 years of this century, Gaddafi had to first deal with a new US "cowboy" in town. After the 9-11 twin towers attacks, the un-nerved Gaddafi was quick to declare his hatred for al-Qaeda. Seriously focused by the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, he declared a termination of his own WMD programs, allowing third party inspections. International inspectors subsequently turned up several tons of chemical weaponry in Libya, as well as an active nuclear weapons program resulting in a systematic destruction of those weapons over the next several years. In August 2003, Libya wrote to the United Nations formally accepting 'responsibility for the actions of its officials' in respect of the Lockerbie bombing and agreed to pay compensation to the families of the 270 victims.

After the concrete steps to terminate his WMD program and weapons, relations began to warm with Western countries. In 2008, Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed a landmark cooperation treaty in Benghazi, where Italy would pay $5 billion to Libya as compensation for its former military occupation, and Libya would take measures to combat illegal immigration coming from its shores and boost investments in Italian companies.

During a two-day visit to Italy in August 2010 Gaddafi upset his hosts by stating that Europe should convert to Islam. It was during a lecture in front of 200 young women whom Gaddafi had paid a modeling agency to attend that he urged the women to convert to Islam and, according to one of them, said "Islam should become the religion of all of Europe." Each of the women was given a copy of the Koran. Continuing his choices to side with autocratic rulers wherever they are found, Gaddaffi has supported Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, and has close ties with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Gadaffi, friend of Sudan's Omar Bashir, wanted by a UN court to answer charges of genocide

Which leads us finally to February 2011, the Arab unrest, and his willingness to fight back against Libyan reformers or rebels as one chooses to call them, in contrast to his neighbors on either side, Tunisia and Egypt.

Once again, the world is subjected to nearly minute by minute coverage of conflict, truly excruciating to watch and read.

To intervene or not intervene.

One is reminded of the 3 years of carnage in the Balkans as Yugoslavia tore itself apart, with a narrow, tepid mandate under the UN which resulted in the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 by Serb forces of 8000 Bosnian men and boys under UN peacekeepers eyes who had no "authorization" to intervene. When in the current Libyan situation, US Secretary of State Clinton says it is up to the UN to authorize intervention, one is also reminded of a similar stance in Rwanda in 1994, where the world turned its head as 800,000 + were slaughtered; where UN and Western reluctance to act degenerated into a bizarre parsing between the terms "genocide" and "acts of genocide."

One can point to other conflicts where the cost of not intervening was apparently calculated much less than the resulting loss of life: 2 million in Sudan's civil war; 5.4 million in the Congo war - itself an aftermath of the Rwanda genocide; Darfur even today where lives lost are estimated between 200,000 to 400,000, yet the biggest squabble has revolved around whether those were deaths from direct conflict or simply disease that resulted from displacement and lack of food.

When the first of two US interventions in Iraq occurred, the coalition army that liberated Kuwait stood literally nearby by while 60,000 - 100,000 Shiites were killed in an uprising against Saddam after his defeated army retreated back across the border. That number in relative terms over several months was swallowed easily by the powers that be, but when a similar number was killed in the second Iraq invasion by the US in 2003-2008, it was condemned in world opinion, notwithstanding that much of the bloodshed was faction upon faction, with an al-Qaeda jihad underway to boot.

So there are costs and deaths ahead in either direction - to intervene in Libya or not. France has now declared itself for the Benghazi reformers, but what manner of material aid is forthcoming has yet to be spelled out. Make no mistake, however, the world has shown time and time again it is able to tolerate if not outright ignore the deaths of hundreds of thousands if not millions.

After Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam is next in line.

Oil seems, as always, a large factor - a "national strategic interest" that prompts unilateral action. UN authorization, on the other hand, is often a convenient diplomatic sanctuary or cover for those powers who do not wish to act - and even if authorized, it does not guarantee acceptance in world opinion. The question of what actions will Gaddafi (and his son) take afterwards if he succeeds in regaining control looms.

What should and will, the world do?

1 comment:

Teatree said...

Spelling woes. A rather fascinating quandary over how to handle Muammar's surname. Because of the lack of standardization of transliterating written and regionally pronounced Arabic, over 30 variations exist.

From Wikipedia, Gaddafi is the spelling used by TIME magazine, BBC News, the majority of the British press and by the English service of Al-Jazeera.

The Associated Press, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News use Gadhafi. The Library of Congress uses Qaddafi.

The U.S. Department of State uses Al-Qadhafi, although the White House chooses to use el-Qaddafi.

The Xinhua News Agency uses Khaddafi in its English reports. The New York Times uses el-Qaddafi and the Los Angeles Times uses Kadafi.