Is the West not on a fool’s errand in Libya? – Asks Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

UNHCR has been helping migrant workers like these at the Egyptian border with Libya as they wait to be repatriated/Photo:UNHCR
…Military superiority doesn’t always lead to political solutions…

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Some developments indicate that the proponents of the ongoing bombardment of Libyan infrastructure might not have fully comprehended the implications of the military option before choosing it to solve the crisis in Libya. It is becoming clear that they are on a fool’s errand and may realize it only after the fact.

First is the lack of unanimity in NATO circles over the duration of the bombardment of Libya to enforce the “no-fly zone” mandate. This conflict of interest suggests that there is uneasiness in some circles, which may tilt the balance against the International Coalition if public opinion so determines. Now that the US claims it has incapacitated the Libyan air defence system and destroyed a quarter of Gaddafi’s military strength, is there any more justification for the continued bombing of Libya?

Second is the tactical withdrawal of the US from the frontline to give responsibility for managing the military intervention to NATO. As if that’s not enough, the US has just announced that it will no more commit its military aircraft to bombing missions, although it will provide assistance such as refuelling of the Coalition’s fighter jets, communication and aerial reconnaissance of Libyan territory. We see clearly that the initial enthusiasm over the mission is gradually dwindling. The US may cite its own reasons for taking those decisions but they raise serious questions that cast doubts on the operations of the Coalition itself.

Third, some former Chiefs of Defence Staff of the British Army have begun expressing fears that by participating in such international engagements, Britain is spreading its military resources and capabilities too thin and might be endangered if serious trouble erupts anywhere in the future to demand British involvement. These are genuine fears that should alarm all British citizens whose tax supports the military establishment. Such open utterances clearly indicate dissension against how the Libyan crisis is being tackled by the West.

Fourth, and perhaps the most unexpected development, is the announcement by the rebels that they are open to a ceasefire with the pro-Gaddafi forces. Regardless of the conditions attached to this consideration, the turn to a ceasefire instead of military operations speaks volumes.

The chairman of the rebel Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, said the Council will agree to a ceasefire if Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s troops withdraw from cities (BBC news reported). The BBC correspondent said the lack of military leadership and hardware is stopping this determined force of unprofessional soldiers moving forward and actually taking on the pro-Gaddafi forces.

Maj. Gen Suleiman Mahmoud, the second-in-command for the rebels, told the BBC that rebel forces needed time, patience and help to organise themselves. “Our problem [is] we need help—communication, radios, we need weapons,” he said, adding that the rebels had a strategy but fighters did not always obey orders. Moral has sunk low among the rebels and they have lost the cities that the Coalition’s actions helped them re-take from the pro-Gaddafi forces.

In reality, the rebels beat a quick retreat back to their stronghold in Benghazi. Coming to terms with their own position of weakness and their vulnerability, they seem to have chosen the right path toward securing their own safety and curtailing the massive destruction of their country by the International Coalition. They must have realized the futility of their armed rebellion against the Libyan establishment and sought the best option available to resolve the crisis.

This new direction should pave the way for a political solution to the crisis and shame proponents of the ongoing military option who have refused to listen to reason in their morbid desire to carry out their own premeditated punitive action against Libya in the name of crippling its leader.

Had the leaders of the UK, France, the US, UN, Qatar, and others supporting the International Coalition been reasonable in their assessment of the Libyan crisis, they would have done otherwise. Now that they have sunk deep into this mission of devastation, they seem to be maddened by ulterior motives. But gradually, the circumstances surrounding the Libyan crisis will unfold to prove them wrong in their choice of steps to attempt solving a political problem with a military option.

Political problems must be solved politically (diplomatically, if need be), not militarily. Common sense should have alerted the proponents of this military option to the fact that the Libyan problem is not similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt. But maddened by their own desire to annihilate Libya and neutralize its military capabilities, the International Coalition went into action and now seems to be at its wit’s end. In desperation, they are taking actions that may turn out to be double-edged swords.


US media reports say President Barack Obama has authorized covert support for the Libyan rebels. The CIA and White House have both declined to comment on the reports. But once we all know what the CIA does, we don’t have to look for official confirmation before seeing how the West wants to complicate the Libyan crisis for its own benefits.

Pushing the CIA into the fray certainly falls outside the UN Resolution 1973, unless the US wants to tell us that it needs data from the CIA to change its current modus operandus even at a time that there is a lull in the fighting between the anti- and pro-Gaddafi forces. It is an extension of the US’s long-held strategy of intimidating Gaddafi and preventing him from establishing Libya as a major force in that part of the world.


Another conundrum is the call for arming the rebels. The US and the UK have suggested the UN resolution authorizing international action in Libya could also permit the supply of weapons to them. Conflicting opinions from some NATO members indicate that there is lack of consensus on this issue.

Even in the US, opinions on the issue are not unanimous. Dissenting voices have been heard, indicating that it will be wrong for the US to arm the rebels. None other by the US’s Defence Secretary has made it clear that any move to arm the rebels would be counter-productive. Hasn’t history already provided enough antecedents of how rebels armed by the US can turn round to unleash that very force on the US and its interests? Afghanistan and Iraq are clear examples.

France—which helped push through the UN resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from Col Gaddafi’s forces—says it is not planning to arm the rebels. On Thursday French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said such assistance was “not compatible” with the UN Resolution 1973.

On the other hand, Qatar is willing to trade weapons with Libyan oil from areas being controlled by the rebels. This move will fuel the crisis further and set in motion many intractable reprisal actions with dire consequences.


Reports indicate that the African Union refused to attend last Tuesday’s conference in London, apparently in protest against its being sidelined by the forces pushing the International Coalition on to destroy Libya. That’s a bold decision to be commended and not regarded as likely to anger the international community into punishing the AU (invariably, African countries).

The AU has all along opposed the military option and sought to use political and diplomatic means to resolve the crisis. However slow its moves might be before the onset of this devastation of Libya, the AU’s option seemed to be one of the best possibilities to pick up and action expedited on it to achieve better results than what the Coalition has wrought now through its one-sided aerial bombardment of the Libyan infrastructure. The current developments seem to be proving the AU right in its option.

If what we are beginning to see turns out to be the reality, it will confirm that might is not always right. That’s the lesson all the war-mongers in the West have to learn and desist from putting all their trust and faith in armaments. Military superiority doesn’t always lead to political solutions. The Libyan case will eventually prove that common sense should be allowed to prevail in the handling of such complicated political disputes. It will prove to the West that it is not every conflict anywhere in the world that they must jump into with an inflexible belligerent attitude. Sometimes, the peculiarities of the conflict demand that commonsense be allowed to dictate the line of action to be taken in resolving conflicts.

By the end of the day, the West will realize that its mission in Libya is nothing but a fool’s errand. This fool’s errand will definitely cause more harm than good, and those whose belligerence prevents them from seeing things beyond their noses will come to realize too late that they have wasted resources chasing a mirage in the Libyan desert. Then, they should come to understand Gaddafi’s admonition to them that they don’t “understand the Libyan system.” We will continue monitoring the situation.