By Stephen Gowans
In explaining why his government supported the UN Security Council resolution authorizing all necessary measures to protect Libyan civilians, US president Barack Obama explained: “The U.S. doesn’t want a war. But we want to prevent a slaughter.”
Noble sentiments, but the Security Council resolution could lead to more deaths, not fewer.
Libyan government forces were well on their way to defeating the rebel forces (which may have been the trigger for the resolution.) Had they done so, the conflict would have ended.
Intervention may prevent a slaughter of rebel forces, but it could lead to a prolonged civil war, with more bodies piling up than would have, had the conflict been allowed to quickly culminate in a resolution. Among the corpses will be the civilian collateral damage that Western bombers are so proficient at producing.
Another possible outcome (perhaps more likely) is that Western military intervention tips the scales overwhelmingly in the rebels’ favor. Others have noted the similarities with Kosovo, where NATO signed on as the KLA’s air force in the guerrilla army’s fight with Serb forces. This time, however, the intervention has UN authorization, though whether it does or doesn’t hardly makes a difference. This one is no more defensible than the Kosovo intervention and is no less motivated by Western geo-political and elite economic interests.
Membership has its privileges
Meanwhile, the firing of live ammunition at protesters by Bahraini forces, backed by Saudi troops and tanks, has drawn no calls for all necessary measures to protect Bahraini citizens. There haven’t even been calls for mild measures. The best Washington can do is “express distress” and urge “the government (in Bahrain) to negotiate with the opposition and pursue change.”
Why the double standard?
As the New York Time’s Helene Cooper and Mark Landler explain, “Bahrain is an American ally. The Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based here and the Khalifa royal family has warm relations with Washington.”
Libya, of course, is neither a US ally (though it has in recent years cooperated with Washington on some matters), isn’t the site of US military bases, and its leader hasn’t had warm relations with Washington.
Had any of these things been true, we can take it that Qaddafi would now be free to slaughter as many Libyans as he pleased (though Washington would publically profess distress, while sitting on its hands.)
For bloodthirsty leaders, membership in the club of US allies has its privileges. The same can’t be said for the people who live under them.
Postscript, March 21, 2011.
From today’s Wall Street Journal (“Leaders struggle to define next moves”):
Security analysts fear Western airpower could decapitate Tripoli’s military command but not swing the balance of power firmly in the rebels’ favor, leading to protracted civil strife and a splintering of the Mediterranean country. Ungoverned areas, meanwhile, could provide sanctuary for al Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups that are active in northern Africa.
“The risk is that the no-fly zone became a cover for a widening civil war,” said Emile El-Hokayem, a Bahrain-based Mideast analyst for the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It’s not clear if the Obama administration has firmly grasped this.”