We are all aware that western intervention in the disputes of other nations is rarely done for the ‘humanitarian’ reasons the leaders are always so quick to claim. Underlying hostilities and old wounds which appeared benign soon come back to the surface when an excuse for war can be found, and if this excuse can be for the protection of democratic values, even better.
With the Libyan rebels making ground-breaking advances, capturing Gaddafi’s compound and coming ever closer to capturing the man himself, it is clear that this would not have been possible without the involvement of the international community.
With NATO air strikes removing much of Gaddafi’s communications system, the organisational assistance, and the intelligence and reconnaissance assistance, a strong backbone was provided for a military organisation which would have otherwise lacked the structure to pull off such a manoeuvre.
Whilst all this was occurring, Libya’s neighbours in the Arab world were experiencing the same turmoil but to different extent. Some fell semi-gracefully with the leaders stepping down to make room for the new generation, some fizzled out, and others, like Syria, blaze on as brightly today as ever, with aid from the western world consisting of words of support for the rebels, and hollow words of warning to president Bashar al-Assad.
On the action in the Middle East, David Cameron said,
This has to stop. We have to make it stop. I think it is vitally important that action takes place. That action takes place urgently,
He also continues to stress the importance of intervention,
It is better to take this action than to risk the consequences of inaction, which is a further slaughter of civilians, and this dictator completely flouting the United Nations and its will.
When Cameron spoke these words he spoke them as the cause and justification for military intervention against Gaddafi and his forces. The claims are not misleading or misrepresentative of the facts.
In order to quell the calls for his resignation, Gaddafi had turned his armed forces on his own people, using tanks and snipers to disperse protests, sending them into hospitals to execute and torture possible rebels, imprisoning and beating writers and intellectuals who were against him, rationing electricity, food, and water, censoring his own people and, allegedly using rape as an act of war.
Whether or not one believes western military intervention is right or not, we can agree Gaddafi committed unspeakable evils against his own people in violation of the UN Charter on Human Rights and international law.
Is it not the case though that these same laws have been broken by Bashir al-Assad? He also has used armed forces to break up demonstrations, killed protestors, censored citizens, and tortured, imprisoned, and killed opponents. The result is an EU travel ban and US and EU asset freezes for al-Assad, along words of support for the Syrian opposition.
It is clear that there are secondary reasons for intervention in Libya and if we look into the histories of both nations and their leaders we can see what these may be.
Although both leaders have taken a firm stance as anti-Israel and anti-West, the strength of these convictions has taken the leaders down different routes. Al-Assad’s main outlet for this has been within the Middle East, with accusations of support for militant groups, Syrian links to the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and a stance against the invasion of Iraq during the Syrian turn as a member of the UN Security Council.
Compare this to Gaddafi’s history.
Since taking power 42 years ago, Gaddafi has attempted to purchase nuclear weapons from China in ’72 and again from Pakistan in ’77, and in 2003 announced Libya’s active programme to develop weapons of mass destruction (later found to be consisting of 23 metric tones of mustard gas and 1,300 metric tons of precursor chemicals).
In the 1970’s, Gaddafi was a major player in forcefully increasing the cost of oil, demanding higher concessions from western oil companies, enflaming the energy crises. Most importantly of all, however, is the extensiveness of Gaddafi’s blatant support for terrorist organisations and activity.
During the 1980’s Gaddafi made it clear that Libya has supplied weapons to the IRA, financed the Nation of Islam and Al-Rukn (an organization known for planning the destruction of US government buildings and bringing down an airplane), and was training “suicide squads” to attack the US and Europe. The best known of these events remains the Lockerbie Bombing, in which 243 passengers and 16 crew members of a London Heathrow flight to New York’s JFK were killed when a bomb was detonated, with 11 people being killed by the wreckage falling on the town of Lockerbie, Scotland.
Muammar Gaddafi has, on several occasions, taken personal responsibility for ordering the bombing and with the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence officer found responsible for the bombings, in 2009 on compassionate grounds, the party-like reception he received on his touch down in Libya, with Gaddafi personally meeting him off the plane was a huge embarrassment for the west.
Just like with the invasion of Iraq, the intervention in Libya is not so much about the humanitarian or the support of democracy but it is about settling old scores and past humiliations. For the west, a Gaddafi controlled Libya has long been a hostile state and with his removal it can only become more open to the west, improving financial, social, and political ties beneficial to the west (and arguably to Libya also).
In Syria the same is not so. Although al-Assad has been a great critic of the USA and Israel, any attacks on the west have been limited and with his removal the west is gambling on whether the Syrian people will democratize and westernize, or simply turn to pan-Arabism, turning away from the west.