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Monday, September 12, 2011
Iraqi Echoes In Nato’s Libya Adventure
It is said that Libya in 2011 is different from Iraq in 2003, but
there are striking similarities
By Edmund O'Sullivan
nations behind the war for Libya seemed to have learnt at least one important
lesson from the war for Iraq in 2003; they are avoiding premature claims that
their mission has been accomplished. But there was no mistaking the
self-congratulatory spirit that dominated the International Conference in
Support of the New Libya held on 1 September in Paris, which was attended by
the powers behind the overthrow of the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
consensus at this point about the war for Libya is that the world is not going
to repeat mistakes made in Iraq eight years ago. Everything is different this
time. Everything consequently should be different from now on, as well.
truth, however, is that the two wars have much in common. The first similarity
is in the lack of clarity about why they happened at all. The argument that
Nato and the rest are standing up for human rights is contradicted by
revelations at the start of September that Britain and America had cooperated
with the Qaddafi regime in detaining and torturing Libyan dissidents identified
as Al-Qaeda supporters. To the embarrassment of London and Washington, one of
those handed over to Tripoli by the UK and the US is now the commander of rebel
forces the two Western powers are supporting. The warm relations with former
Libyan foreign affairs and minister and intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa,
expressed in letters uncovered in Tripoli from British Intelligence officials
in the last decade, confirm the monumental scale of the double-talk and double
says it was a necessary part of practical diplomacy, but why the sudden
outbreak of principle now? The argument that Prime Minister David Cameron is a
nicer man than his two predecessors sounds unconvincing. There is evidence that
the war in Libya was driven by public opinion in Britain and elsewhere.
Television reports of violent repression, coupled with Qaddafi’s televised hate
speeches, probably had an impact, but there was nothing in them more
bloodcurdling than what has been said, in English, by Prime Minister Robert
Mugabe. No one is seriously suggesting Zimbabwe should be invaded.
confusion about motives echoes events in 2003. A senior member of President
George W Bush’s administration, who was intimately involved with
decision-making during the run-up to the Iraq war, told me earlier this year
that he still did not know why the decision had been taken to attack Iraq.
second parallel is in the course of the war itself. At least 100 air attacks
against targets in Libya have been carried out every day for more than three
months. The scale of Western military action is in line with what happened in
Iraq in 2003. The claim that there are no “boots on the ground” is misleading.
Advisers from Nato countries are serving in the rebel militia and there are
bound to be private security contractors, in reality Western soldiers wearing
civilian clothes, just as there are now in Iraq.
third parallel is in the process of nation-building. It is now universally
acknowledged that one of the greatest errors made after the war for Iraq was
the attempt to run the country as if it were a US colony. This year, Nato and
its partners have been working hard to find acceptable (if not unfamiliar) Libyans
to act as the face of the new regime. The aim is to deflect charges that the
country is under foreign control, but those that have devoted resources to
breaking the Libyan regime are unlikely to walk away from what they have now
created. Libyan sovereignty and independence are indefinitely compromised.
fourth parallel is that the proponents of the war are asserting, as their
equivalents did in 2003, that it was essentially about one evil man and his
kleptocratic family. The idea that the Libyan system was the work of a single
pair of hands is false. The Qaddafi regime enjoyed a higher degree of assent
than is now widely proclaimed. Libya, like most Middle East countries, was a
police state. And, as elsewhere in the region, the majority assented to a
repressive system in return for quiet lives. Basic infrastructure worked.
Healthcare and education were good, by Middle East standards.
fifth parallel is perhaps the most compelling. In 2003, support for war was
successfully stoked in Washington and London and the UN was marginalised. This
year, effective debate within the legislatures of the Nato countries behind the
war was even more limited. The UN has been a spectator and the public reaction
in the US, Britain and France has been minimal.
are more trivial coincidences. Qaddafi and his sons are on the run, just as
Saddam Hussein and his sons were in 2003. Perhaps, like Saddam, Qaddafi will be
caught, tried and executed, but the caravan of history has already moved on.
Qaddafi’s life from now will be a footnote in his biography.
that followed with dismay events in Iraq in 2003 comforted themselves with the
thought that they could never been repeated. That has proved to be just another
Middle East delusion. There is much that has happened in Libya less than a
decade later that suggests they already have.
-This commentary was published in MEED on 08/09/2011 -Edmund O'Sullivan is the chairman of MEED