In a piece in the online publication Global Research a few days ago, William Engdahl wrote: “At issue is not whether or not Gaddafi is good or evil. At issue is the very concept of the civilized law of nations and of just or unjust wars. The Libya campaign attempts to force application of a dangerous new concept into the norms of accepted international law. That concept is what is termed by its creators ‘Responsibility to Protect.’”
One of the curious developments to which this so-called Arab spring of 2011 has given rise is what looks to be a quiet acquiescence to the turn of events referenced in that Global Research article. For some reason there’s been but muted criticism of the NATO attacks on the government forces in Libya that seem to have staved off the anti-Gaddafi forces probably being routed by now. Because there hasn’t exactly been a halo surrounding Muammar Gaddafi over the decades-long course of his turn at the helm in Libya, some of that absence of outrage is of course understandable.
But as Engdahl notes, this isn’t about Gaddafi’s character and his style of leadership. George Bush, trying vainly to justify the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, frequently cited Saddam’s use of nerve gas against some of his own people. It did nothing in the way of ameliorating solid opposition to the Bush administration’s neo-imperialist move to wage unprovoked war on a sovereign country.
With today’s Libya situation, somehow there seems to be precious little consideration given to the idea that violating a country’s sovereignty ignores a basic tenet of the code to which the international community supposedly subscribes. For the nations who have signed on to the NATO alliance being utilized as the operating umbrella for the campaign, “Get Gaddafi” appears to be the overarching imperative. And the question that arises is: Why is there a legitimacy ascribed to the current maneuvers, when moving against another “bad dude” leader back in 2003 was so roundly frowned upon?
This time around, at least so far, they’re doing it on the sly, so to speak. The “no boots on the ground” guidelines that frame the military engagement here perhaps provide some solace for those committed to it – a sense that this is some distance away from the real deal. Fiddlesticks to that, of course. Limiting the NATO attacks to bombing raids by manned aircraft and drones may reduce the chances of casualties on the invader side of the ledger, but it sure as heck doesn’t call for labeling the action something less than foreign intervention.
The rush to go this route with Gaddafi has about it one feature that contrasts dramatically with the Saddam goings-on, and that’s the position taken by France. Eight years ago, Jacques Chirac, the then president of France, made emphatically known his objection to the Iraq invasion. In the earlier phase, in particular, of the Iraq action, Chirac and France came in for much vilification from those who championed taking the fight to Saddam. But turning that narrative on its head, current French President Nicholas Sarkozy has been the foremost agitator for the West getting involved with Libya’s state of unrest. He is probably the individual most responsible for the vote by the NATO allies to support the anti-Gaddafi rebels having gone down the way it did. Sarkozy further flew his colors when he announced France’s recognition of the rebel outfit, such as it is, as the official government of Libya.
We don’t know how much cajoling, if any, by Sarkozy of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and any others was necessary for the U.S. to be party to that NATO plan for dealing with Gaddafi. And we frankly would be surprised if it were that this administration found immediate common ground with Sarkozy and the practice he espouses of intervention being fully justified on humanitarian grounds. Not that, on its face, injecting the military somewhere to relieve human suffering isn’t something laudable. But, given that human suffering is to be found in so many locations on the planet, it seems obvious that the debate over which situation rates humanitarian intervention and which doesn’t could pose the ultimate trap. As was previously noted in this space, the U.S. and all the heavy hitters of the U.N., NATO and such would have a hard time rationalizing why the suffering in Darfur didn’t command the kind of spirited action that Libya triggered from Sarkozy and his world community cohorts.
Playing favorites is quite candidly what we’ve got here. And it’s difficult to understand why American policy, if Libya type action is replicated, won’t continue to be perceived as the 21st century version of “Big Stick.” Like him or not, and notwithstanding his route to getting into the catbird seat in Libya not being viewed by the West as at all wholesome, Gaddafi has been in the role since 1969. Protests against his regime constitute the kind of occupational hazard that anyone in his shoes is well aware of. And protesting elements know the drill no less than he. Mass protests brought about the downfall of the Shah of Iran three decades ago. No outside help for besieged protesters was needed then. None is needed in Libya from Sarkozy, the U.S. and other “benevolent” types beyond the country’s borders today.