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Ideals and interests coalesce in Libya

By Antoun Issa - posted Monday, 4 April 2011

On declaring the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, an eager French President Nicolas Sarkozy complained that the process had taken too long.

Within hours of receiving UN approval, French jets were in the skies above Libya, pounding Colonel Gaddafi's menacing tanks near Benghazi.

If one were to judge previous UN responses to global crises and conflicts, the international community's reaction to Gaddafi's massacres could not have been done with greater haste.


The West feared a most probable bloodbath in Benghazi had Gaddafi's forces entered the rebel stronghold, and reacted in time to spare the city.

The atrocities in Libya are certainly not the first to have surfaced in recent years. Not too far away, the autocratic rulers of Yemen and Bahrain are showing similar contempt for pro-democracy protesters.

The West's swift reaction to only Gaddafi's crackdown has aroused scepticism among many in the Arab world, as well as Western critics. Indeed, what the coalition is out to achieve in Libya remains unclear. Since Gaddafi's rapprochement with the West in recent years, Europe has significantly benefited from Libyan oil supplies and co-operation on illegal immigration.

No soon after Western fighter jets began bombing Libyan military targets had the charges of hypocrisy and imperialism erupted.

The West makes no secret of its inconsistent and hypocritical policies concerning human rights. It sat idly by as Uzbekistan's US-backed dictator Islam Karimov slaughtered hundreds of opponents protesting his rule in 2005. Nor is it intervening now as Saudi tanks station themselves in Bahrain in a bid to quash pro-democracy protests.

Selective intervention is not simply based on whether a state is a friend or foe, however. The West have also baulked when its opponents have equally used excessive force to repress dissidents. Condemnation was all the Burmese junta received in 2007, and Iran in 2009.


This suggests that Western intervention is contingent on several factors that are inclusive of all of the above: a state's relationship with the West, a cost-benefit analysis, and strategic interests.

Libya appears to tick all the right boxes to enable a military strike. Despite a rapprochement with the West, Gaddafi certainly does not qualify as an ally, or at least not of the same ilk as the Saudi royal family – given the history of violence between Tripoli and the West.

The costs of a No Fly Zone and air strikes are relatively little due to Libya's conventional inferiority. This would obviously change should ground forces be deployed, raising the costs of intervention as the threat to foreign troops increases.

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About the Author

Antoun Issa is an Australian-based freelance political writer, Global Voices Online author, and commentator on international affairs, with a specific interest in Middle Eastern issues.

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