Gaddafi throws down the gauntlet

Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, the ruler of Libya for 41 years — the longest in both Africa and the Arab world — could not be said to be the world's best loved person.

Whatever he is, or was, he, alone among the leaders of that part of the world, has stood up undaunted to the people's revolt and halted at his doorstep the people's juggernaut that had overrun similarly long-established and apparently secure regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

Thereby, he has plunged all the big powers such as the US and countries of the European Union (EU) into a state of confusion and disarray.

No-fly zone

The confusion is on three different planes. The first is operational.

There has been freezing of assets of Gaddafi and his family members, but beyond that, there has been no agreement among the Western powers on the question of denying the regime the revenues from oil and enforcing a no-fly zone so as to pin down the Libyan air force and prevent military supplies by air.

The proposal to divert oil revenues into an escrow account is reminiscent of the oil-for-food programme imposed on Iraq under Saddam Hussein which led to misuse and corruption on a world-wide scale.

As regards the no-fly zone, Gaddafi has made fun of it by saying, ““Such a move would be very useful in …that all Libyan people would then realise that (the West's) real intention is to take Libya under control, take people's freedoms away and seize their oil. Therefore, all Libyan people would take up arms and fight!”

That apart, the modalities and the efficacy of such a move are in question. The Americans, in particular, are not convinced of its merits, and have stalled decision-making on this matter by the EU.

The hesitation of the US is also from the realisation that when it comes to the crunch, it will be left to bear the brunt of any mess-up. Already mired in the quicksand of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is in no position to embroil itself further.

Also, no-fly zone is a double-edged weapon: It will make impossible evacuation of those wanting to leave Libya and put paid to all humanitarian assistance to those affected by violence from both sides.

The second is a political dilemma. One part of it arises from the fact that the rebel forces have not yet thrown up any individual or group who or which could be said to be in control of the whole situation and capable of replacing Gaddafi.

Philosophical conundrum

The other part is that for some years, following his condemnation of the Lockerbie tragedy, dismantling his WMD setup, and making up for his earlier excesses by offering the Lockerbie suspects for trial and paying a generous compensation, the UK and the US had been getting cosily closer to Gaddafi who was seen to be a friend of the West and even invited to address the UN General Assembly in September 2009.

He had steered Libya along a secular, economic growth oriented course. It is but natural if the West finds it against the grain to make an abrupt U-turn against Gaddafi. The third is the philosophical conundrum. Gaddafi may be all that he has been painted to be, but still, the West has itself conceded that he was the sworn enemy of al-Qaeda.

As an article in The New Statesman puts it: “…he has long set his face against the Islamists, and he acted against ex-mujahedin fighters returning from Afghanistan in the mid-1990s when other Arab states welcomed them home.

Indeed, Gaddafi was the first leader to call for an international arrest warrant for Osama Bin Laden in 1998.”

Will dumping him not mean killing the goose that had been laying golden eggs, whether it was oil or staunch support for measures against terrorism?

These must be the considerations that are behind the present betwixt-and-between attitude of the Western powers towards Gaddafi.

Published on March 11, 2011

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