ANALYSIS: The West Has Begun Eating Its Own Vomit in Libya – By Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The writer, Dr Michael J.K. Bokor
After creating the impression that Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi has lost his legitimacy to continue ruling the country and must “go,” the West is now backtracking in desperation. It is changing the tune. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said yesterday that “Gaddafi must relinquish power but “may not have to leave Libya,” according to a BBC news report.

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This statement, which reinforces a similar one made last week by France’s Defence Minister, Alain Juppe, conflicts sharply with what we have heard since the West inserted itself into the Libyan crisis on March 19. We wonder what other surprises there are yet to come.

The “Gaddafi-must-go” refrain seems to be the favourite tune of US Foreign Secretary, Hillary Clinton, which she sings loud wherever she finds herself. But now that that tune has been changed by the French and British NATO partners, will she alone continue to sing the old tune; or will she also sooner than later turn to the new chorus?

This shift in stance suggests that the West is gradually coming to terms with reality. Its political rhetoric and military campaign in Libya are fraught with inconsistencieshich can’t help the rebels overthrow Gaddafi. Nor can the International Coalition itself do so without paying a huge price. They must have known by now that dislodging Gaddafi from Tripoli will be more costly than bending over to eat back their own vomit—which is what they are doing. This turn of events doesn’t surprise me at all.

The reversal by the French and British confirms the pervasive ambivalence that runs through the International Coalition’s campaign in Libya—by loudly claiming that they were in Libya to solve purely humanitarian problems and not for regime change only to turn round to attempt doing that very thing. To say that Gaddafi can live in Libya is annoying. Who do the political figures in the West think they are to determine where a country’s President should be? They are behaving as if they have any right to call the shots, which is nonsensical.

Also unbecoming is William Hague’s suggestion that whether Gaddafi should leave or remain in his own country is a “question for Libyans.” Who are these LIBYANS? It appears that Hague and those who think like him cannot comprehend the Libyan crisis in its entirety to know that those fighting Gaddafi are in the minority and can’t hold the majority to ransom just because they are being backed by superior military armaments from the West.

Conservatively, we can say that the anti-Gaddafi elements constitute just a third of the Libyan population of nearly 5 million. So, if Gaddafi’s fate is to be determined by “Libyans,” should that onus be on the minority who are against him or the majority who support him?

According to William Hague, “What happens to Gaddafi is ultimately a question for the Libyans” (BBC News). If that were the case, why should the West not listen to the majority Libyans who are against the NATO military campaign against their country? Or the hounding of their leader?

Of course, the shift in stance seems to affect the rebel leadership too, now that they know removing Gaddafi from power won’t come as easily as they had anticipated. And fully aware that taking Tripoli or Sirte (or any other territory with solid support for Gaddafi) can’t be done without much cost, the rebel leadership is buckling to indicate that Gaddafi and his family can remain in Libya conditionally: to give up power and agree to certain conditions as part of a political deal to end the war.

Again, we view Hague’s suggestion as a clear demonstration of frustration at the West’s own inability to remove Gaddafi from power. It is becoming increasingly clear that the International Coalition cannot achieve its objectives in Libya without further exposing its own fundamental weaknesses. At different levels of engagement, its approach has turned out to be ineffectual.

We know that the International Coalition entered Libya with the express objective to solve the humanitarian problems created in mid-February when the uprising erupted in Benghazi against Gaddafi. But that urge quickly turned into a different objective when, instead of enforcing the “no-fly zone” mandate authorized by the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, the International Coalition took it upon itself to launch devastating airstrikes on anything perceived as pro-Gaddafi as part of efforts to actualize the sub-text of regime change.

In pursuit of this objective, NATO has taken over the anti-Gaddafi battle to fight on behalf of the rebels. While it destroys pro-Gaddafi forces and Libya’s infrastructure from airstrikes, it paves the way for the rebels to fight on the ground. So far, more than 710 of such installations have been destroyed by the British Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, and Army Air Corps since the military action began on March 19, according to the British Ministry of Defence (BBC News, July 5, 2011).

Despite all that havoc, Gaddafi is still in power and his loyal followers in the major cities (Tripoli, Sirte, Zawiya, and Zlitan, among others) continue to reaffirm their support for him. Gaddafi has persistently refused to heed the demand that he should not only step down but must also leave his country.

By refusing to obey such an imposition, Gaddafi may be complicating matters as far as the AU’s peace overtures are concerned; or he may be repudiating the Libya Contact Group’s so-called political solution in the form of proposals for a ceasefire that he is to obey. But his stance further questions the justification for NATO’s military campaign itself or France’s back-door arming of the rebels, contrary to the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1970.

Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi/Photo:ISN
Gaddafi has proved to be resilient and calculating enough to withstand the enormous pressure being exerted on him. Having already known the objectives of his opponents, Gaddafi has no other option but to fight on. Only then will the political powers behind NATO’s mission come to realize that the Libyan conflict is a political one that must be solved politically.

In a clear demonstration of duplicity, the Libya Contact Group has suggested that it wants to solve the problem through political means; but with NATO’s persistent bombing raids on Tripoli and other pro-Gaddafi territories, there is no iota of doubt in my mind that the West has nothing new with which to solve the problem. It has only adroitly changed its game plan—hiding behind the so-called political solution to intensify the airstrikes in addition to enforcing sanctions to worsen the plight of Libyan citizens in pro-Gaddafi territories.

The objective is to starve those territories of much-needed commodities like petrol—as we can tell from the long queues at petrol stations in Tripoli. The expectation is that when the people can’t get what they need to live under Gaddafi’s government, they will revolt and create conditions for NATO and the rebels to take advantage of.

Gaddafi is in no mood to be dictated to; hence, the conflict will persist for as long as it will take him to prove to his opponents that they have bitten off more than they can chew.

Now in its 6th month, the Libyan conflict has exposed the lapses in the International Coalition’s militaristic agenda. Many instances confirm that the International Coalition entered Libya with no other plan but to remove Gaddafi from office and install in his stead the Benghazi-based rebel leaders grouped into the Transitional National Council.

Spurred on by the belief that with the superior weapons and funds at their disposal they could quickly dispose of Gaddafi, they have refused to look for any other option but the military one. Thus, in their characteristic war element, they have spurned at several times all good advice proffered by peace-lovers.

Having taken over the war to fight on behalf of the Benghazi-based rebels, the International Coalition seems to be haunted by its own belligerence. Having deceived themselves that with superior armaments Gaddafi would be a mince-meat for them, and having failed so far to remove him from power as such, the West and its allies in the Arab League are really desperate.

Indeed so desperate are they that they are now backtracking in their rhetoric and eating back their own vomit. If the “Gaddafi-must-go” refrain hasn’t already become too cacophonous for comfort, it has indeed grated all ears and ended up being a surfeit. Gaddafi has proved that he is no pushover nor will he allow himself to be cowed into submission. As he has insisted all along, those in the West (outsiders) haven’t comprehended the Libyan conflict as a political one that can’t be resolved militarily, despite the immense military hardware at NATO’s disposal.

Now that the tune has changed from “Gaddafi must go” to “Gaddafi can remain in Libya,” one wonders what exactly the West wants to tell the world about its purpose in Libya. And being too arrogant to admit their failure, they will continue doing what they know best (airstrikes) in the hope that they will accidentally hit Gaddafi in one of those installations and, thereby, eradicate the threat from him.

No matter how we view events, the suggestion that Gaddafi can remain in his country exposes the West to public ridicule and raises interesting questions. What next will the West say or do to confirm speculation that its military campaign in Libya is nothing but a ruse to destroy that country’s military capabilities and prevent Gaddafi from rising as a potentate to confront their arrogance in world politics? What else will the West say or do to betray its hidden agenda of neutralizing Gaddafi’s power structures that threaten their military and strategic interests in that part of the world?

Certainly, Gaddafi’s resilience has unnerved his opponents and forced them into desperation. I will not be surprised if the West turns round to ask the International Criminal Court to set aside its warrant for the arrest of Gaddafi, his son (Saif al-Islam Gaddafi), and brother-in-law and intelligence chief (al-Sanusi) as part of its face-saving manouevres to end the hostilities and create an exit point for NATO. In its current configuration, the NATO military mission is not only ineffectual but it is also a typical example of how senselessness combined with arrogance can humiliate those who trust only their military muscles.