Sunday, July 24, 2011

Libya: A Make Or Break Situation

By Musa Keilani
Western officials are talking about a deal with Muammar Qadhafi, under which the Libyan leader will leave power and perhaps be allowed to stay in the country without indulging in politics.
Whoever is suggesting that Qadhafi would agree to such an arrangement does not seem to understand one vital element: he will never give up power, but fight to the finish without caring what it takes to hang on to whatever is left of his country and people.
If there are “secret” negotiations on a compromise involving Qadhafi leaving power while he is alive, then whoever is involved in them is fooling himself or is being deceptive in order to buy time for the man who ruled Libya ruthlessly for more than four decades.
Qadhafi and his loyalists know only too well that he has no future in Libya, or anywhere else for that matter, since the international heat on him would be too strong, given the arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court. Any country inviting him to stay there would come under such pressure that it would not want to have anything to do with him. It does not matter whether the host country is an ICC signatory or not.
Nothing that happened so far in the Libyan strife that broke out in February should be surprising, particularly in terms of how Qadhafi handled and is still handling it. He is living up to his reputation of being “the mad man of Africa”.
For someone like Qadhafi, it is unimaginable that he would be stripped of power and held accountable for his oppressive and murderous rule that tolerated no dissent.
Those we see on television demonstrating in his support are either beneficiaries of his rule, having got what they could out of him without questioning his actions, or are coerced to take to the streets waving flags and shouting slogans praising him. No one in right mind would ever accept the way Qadhafi dealt with his people, without any regard for human rights.
Whoever questioned or even hinted at criticism of his rule was either thrown in prison and tortured or summarily executed. Qadhafi and those around him, including his sons, were only interested in perpetuating his regime. And they were rewarded for their loyalty to him.
At the same time, we have also seen a steady flow of defections by people who served the regime. They could simply not accept his whimsical, eccentric and often senseless behaviour or decisions, and they could not wait to get out.
Those who incurred his wrath were either liquidated or lived in perpetual terror if they opted to stay in the country.
Any talk about Qadhafi willingly giving up his power is simply a non-starter. There is little doubt that Qadhafi will use the people around him and sacrifice them if need be. A Russian report mentioned that his prime minister, Baghdadi Al Mahmoudi, spoke of setting fire to Tripoli if the rebels come near the Libyan capital. This threat should be taken seriously. Qadhafi would not hesitate to do it and he would take down with him whoever he could.
For the moment, the situation looks more or less like a stalemate, although the rebels are claiming slow advance towards Tripoli and it could be said that the momentum has shifted in their favour. We could expect stepped-up North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) air action to support them along their way, but it would be slow going, given that Qadhafi’s loyalists are employing everything in their power to stall them, including planting landmines and deadly chemicals.
Qadhafi’s military machine is being decimated by the ongoing Western air strikes, but he retains enough firepower to make a lengthy last-minute stand to defend his stronghold and make it highly painful for anyone trying to gain a foothold in Tripoli.
For the Western leaders lined up against Qadhafi, like Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, toppling the Libyan strongman has become an imperative. They have staked themselves in the conflict to the point where failure to dislodge him or allowing the crisis to get prolonged would have a serious impact on their political future. The cost of the military operations in Libya is steadily mounting and this would be telling on their economies soon.
Qadhafi knows that well and is determined to prolong the conflict as much as possible, in the hope that public opinion would work against his adversaries in the West. And that seems to be his best bet. However, he will not be able to hold out for much longer.
The West is hoping that his military commanders and security chiefs will realise that there cannot be a victory for them and decide that the best course would be to desert their leader and even take control of the country. It is anyone’s guess whether and when that will happen.
In the meantime, it is also clear that without closer US involvement, the military campaign against Qadhafi will not be making speedy and effective progress. US President Barack Obama will have to find a way to convince the US Congress to relieve him of the constraints it imposed on the US role in the Libyan conflict.
Any debate about what could happen in Libya should start from the basic point that this war is final for both sides. Given the Western support the anti-Qadhafi movement gets, the only logical conclusion is that Qadhafi will be toppled sooner or later. The only question is how many more lives will be lost and how many will be maimed for life before that happens.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 24/07/2011

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