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Longuet’s surprising comments apparently did not appear out of thin air. Last Monday, in an interview with an Algerian newspaper, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam claimed that his father’s regime had been conducting negotiations the French government. The French foreign ministry immediately denied that direct talks were being held with Tripoli but admitted messages were sent through the rebel council and allies. So most likely an advanced agreement on negotiations had been reached between France and the Gaddafi regime before Longuet announced the U-turn in France’s Libya policy.
NATO’s failure to crack Gaddafi’s regime and its willingness to now end the war through negotiations will eventually have much greater consequences than the current splits appearing in the alliance. First and foremost, a failure to drive Gaddafi from power by military means will serve as a dangerous revelation and encouragement to other dictators that NATO is turning into a morally weak, willpower-lacking paper tiger that will turn tail and run when a conflict becomes too expensive or exceeds a certain time limit. As a result, NATO can expect more challenges thrown its way from thug regimes in the future.
The Libyan war has already shown the world how militarily weak the NATO alliance is. One retired British admiral found it disgraceful that NATO couldn’t get rid of Gaddafi in such a “tin-pot” operation, blaming military cutbacks for his own country’s navy’s poor contribution of only four ships. The fact that a sparsely populated country of only six million people, of whom many have risen in rebellion, and with an army of only 30,000 can withstand the military might of Europe speaks volumes about Europe’s strength.
But perhaps the worst feature the Libyan war has uncovered in NATO is that the military alliances’ governments are so caught up in their own human rights rhetoric and respect for United Nations (UN) rulings that they have actually tied their own hands behind their backs when it comes to dealing with criminals like Gaddafi. While the Libyan opposition was appealing to the world for help, President Obama and other Western leaders rushed off to the UN to get a mandate for action. During this three-week wait, however, the Gaddafi regime got over the shock of the uprising and captured the rebel-held areas of Eastern Libya, after which it sent in its secret police to hunt down rebel supporters. The resulting death toll is unknown.
What was worse, the UN mandate for action NATO finally did receive was actually a mandate for partial action. NATO was not allowed to send in ground forces, the one and only effective means of bringing the war to a quick and more humane end with limited casualties. Such quick, decisive and forceful action that ended in a deposed Gaddafi would also have shown other brutal dictators that NATO is a military and moral force to be reckoned with.
Like all half-measures, the action the UN did mandate arguably worsened the situation. Ironically, NATO bombing caused the current stalemate, from which France is currently trying to find an exit. When Gaddafi’s forces were about to capture Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, and practically end the war, NATO warplanes began their bombing campaign, which drove the government forces back to Tripoli. That was about ten thousand dead and hundreds of air strikes ago.
In the future, one can bet other hideous dictators will use the West’s respect for human rights and the UN to tie up NATO’s willingness to act against them, if NATO governments don’t do it to themselves first. They have already learned to use human shields to thwart military action, and one can probably some day expect whole populations to be held hostage.
Like NATO’s military effort, France’s current search for a diplomatic solution will neither sideline Gaddafi nor bring peace to Libya. It would be the height of naivite to expect Gaddafi to remain in his palace room. And with his prestige enhanced by NATO’s pullback, the Libyan tribes sitting on the fence in the conflict will probably now rush to support him to avoid revenge attacks. So in the end, France’s playing for the stalemate in Libya will only lead to more turmoil there and elsewhere.
Stephen Brown is Frontpage Magazine’s contributing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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