Muammar Qaddafi’s goal is obvious: If he goes down, he wants to bring Libya with him. He wants the day he falls to be remembered as a day of bloodshed, not of joy. His fighter jets are firing on protesters and a new report says he has ordered the destruction of his country’s oil facilities, which would eliminate 75 to 90 percent of the next government’s revenue and make the world feel his pain as oil prices skyrocket. It is time for the U.S. to step in.
President Obama finally made a statement yesterday about the uprising in Libya, saying the violence is “outrageous and unacceptable” and that the government had a “strong responsibility to refrain from violence.” As for a response, no specifics were offered beyond: “We are reviewing a variety of options with our international partners…”
President Obama should have called for Qaddafi’s resignation days ago. If Hosni Mubarak qualified as a leader unworthy of office, then Qaddafi surely does as well. Yet, in the speech, Qaddafi’s name was not even mentioned. The Obama administration has made improving the image of the U.S. a top objective of its foreign policy but its failure to decisively side with the people dying for the rights we cherish is tarnishing it. It is time to unequivocally stand in favor of the Libyan revolution.
As Paul Wolfowitz points out, the Arab world is seeing a connection between the unengaged attitude of the U.S. and Secretary of State Clinton’s 2009 meeting with one of Qaddafi’s sons. The Libyan ambassador to the U.S. has turned on Qaddafi and is cautioning the U.S. that its current posture gives the appearance to the Arab world that the West “has only a materialist mind—they don’t care about human rights…except when it comes to their own interest.” The Arab and Muslim world, he said, “[won’t] trust America or the West if they behave that way.”
The U.S. and its allies should immediately reach out to any non-Islamist party or opposition leader in Libya, including the tribal chiefs, to begin forming a transitional government. This expression of confidence that Qaddafi will not last will do much to motivate the Libyan people. This transitional government, if put together before the dictator falls, should be given authority over liberated territory like Benghazi. The military and police who have defected can become part of the new security forces that can prevent anarchy, and elements of the regime that have embraced the revolution should be welcomed. Through this government, the West can deliver humanitarian supplies to bring relief to the conflicted areas. The creation of this body would help non-Islamist forces organize for the day when elections are held and would make for as smooth of a transition as possible.
The U.S. must take the lead in the international community in warning that the names of anyone carrying out violence against the protesters are being collected and they will be prosecuted. The assets of any official who has not turned against Qaddafi should be frozen. Fighter jets being used to fire upon the Libyan people can be shot out of the sky, especially if Libyan airspace must be entered to evacuate staff and citizens. The mere threat of this would cause most, if not all, of the fighter pilots to go AWOL. The alternative is to watch Libyan protesters get massacred while they ask why the U.S. does nothing and time is given to Qaddafi to destroy his oil infrastructure.
Those concerned about a nationalist backlash in response to this type of intervention are misreading the situation. Libya’s deputy ambassador to the U.N. and the ambassador to India have asked for the creation of a no-fly zone over their country. An army commander who defected in Tobruk is pleading for the U.S. to intervene and implied that the West’s oil business with Qaddafi may explain why they have declined to.
“Tripoli is burning…The people are being killed in a brutal way. The people are armless…Please, please help the Libyan people. Help them. They are burning. They are being killed in their streets, their houses,” the ambassador to the U.S. begged. On February 19, CNN had a heart-wrenching interview with a Libyan woman in Benghazi who, with her voice quivering, said, “Mr. Obama, please help us.”
There are several other measures that can be taken. Senator John Kerry is proposing that the sanctions removed under the Bush administration by re-imposed. Paul Wolfowitz suggests that Libya be suspended from the U.N. Human Rights Council and that the West help the Libyans communicate, such as by providing SIM cards for their phones. These are all ideas that need to be discussed to correct the damage done by the embarrassingly delayed response.
There will be those that will say the U.S. should stay out of it, lest Qaddafi fall and an Islamist government comes to power. The reality is that it is very probable that the Qaddafi regime is coming to an end, and so the U.S. should start acting now to influence a post-Qaddafi Libya, such as by helping non-Islamists organize. It is incorrect to assume that Qaddafi’s secular governance means that he is not contributing to the spread of radical Islam. He may not materially support terrorists or implement Sharia law in his country, but he and his media outlets are factories of the ideology. For example, in February 2010, he had this to say: “They want to prevent Muslims from undertaking jihad which means ‘struggle’ by calling it ‘terrorism.’”
“We will not abandon jihad because it is Islamic duty. It is the defense of oneself, defense of religion, defense of the Prophet, defense of the Quran…defense of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and defense of our independence,” Qaddafi said. He condemns Al-Qaeda but vocally supports jihadists fighting Western forces in Muslim lands, Israel, etc. It is not a coincidence that Libyans accounted for a large percentage of the foreign fighters in Iraq. Qaddafi even declared jihad “by all means” against Switzerland for banning minarets on mosques, though he backtracked to say he did not mean through violence.
If the U.S. does not get involved as outlined here, the consequences will be disastrous. The Islamists will have a better chance of out-organizing secular opponents and a lack of security will permit terrorists like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group to gain a foothold. Massive destruction, including of the oil facilities, could ensue with all its horrific economic effects for the world. And if the regime survives, there’s no telling what Qaddafi will do, especially if he reconsiders his abandonment of weapons of mass destruction. All the other leaders in the region debating between accommodating and ruthlessly suppressing their own uprisings will choose the latter.
On the other hand, if these options are exercised, the U.S. will align itself with the people fighting for freedom, doing more to blunt anti-Americanism than President Obama’s Cairo speech ever could. The destruction to Libya will be limited and a smooth transition that gives an advantage to non-Islamists will be underway. Western investment could flow in as the situation stabilizes and those fighting governments willing to use violence, like Iran, will know they can prevail.
It will be a glorious day when Qaddafi meets his demise, and the U.S. should be able to say it helped make it happen.
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