France has proudly spearheaded the international intervention against Colonel Gaddafi and his regime. President Sarkozy made a point of being the first Western leader to officially recognise the representatives of the rebel movement as Libya’s legitimate authority of transition. Soon afterwards the French diplomats engaged in intense negotiations to obtain the approval of Resolution 1973 by a majority of 10 to 5 votes from members of the United Nations Security Council. As a result, the first air strikes were conducted by French warplanes near Benghazi on Saturday 19 March 2011.
“Operation Odyssey Dawn” has been launched and so far the allied forces are satisfied that their military actions are going according to plan. Nevertheless, even if on the ground the surgical strikes succeed in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya’s territory, all the governments concerned know that final success will only be achieved if the coalition holds together and the aim of the intervention is clearly defined. It is unfortunate to have to point out that at this stage neither of these conditions has been fulfilled.
As far as the coalition is concerned, France, The United Kingdom and the United States were anxious to involve some of the Arab nations in the military operation. So far this has not materialised, although four aircrafts from Qatar should be “in the fight” within the next few days, insists the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. More worrying are the criticisms made by Mr Awr Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, who said that “what is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone.” What they wanted he said “is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians.” It would appear that the ferocity of the strikes may well, in the long run, antagonise further Arab nations against the West and have a detrimental effect on the Muslim population in Europe, particularly in France.
Concerning the aim of the intervention, it seems that there is confusion among the allies. The UN Resolution states that the purpose of the intervention is to ensure the protection of the civilian population. However in practice, the aim pursued mainly by France with the support of the United Kingdom would appear to be Gaddafi’s removal from power in order to ensure a change of regime. Alain Juppé, the French Foreign Minister said “It is not written in the Security Council resolution that he [Colonel Gaddafi] has to go but it is quite obvious, let us not fool ourselves, that the aim of all this is to enable the Libyan people to choose their regime, and it is clear that they don’t want Gaddafi to remain in power.” This statement created discomfort within the coalition and the White House had to give reassurance that indeed “the goal of this resolution is not regime change.” Whatever the letter of the resolution, it would appear from what has happened on the ground that the real objective of the coalition is to remove Gaddafi from power by carrying out air strikes so as to provide support to the rebels and enable them to progressively gain control of Libya.
The West has now sided with the rebels against Gaddafi and his forces. The protection of civilians seems to be a good argument to justify air strikes in favour of the rebels and prevent them from being defeated by Gaddafi’s loyalist forces. A rebel fighter explained how one of the first strikes that occurred near Benghazi was a coordinated action with the French Air Force. He said “I called in the strike on this tank just after 4am, relaying word of its position to our headquarters in Benina airfield, who passed on its location to the French. They dealt with it quick.” The coalition is therefore closely collaborating with the rebels.
It is well-known that Gaddafi supported terrorist organisations such as the IRA in the eighties. There is no doubt that he was dangerous for Western democracies in the past but his aggressiveness has changed. Today he is confronted with rebels, armed with heavy weapons, who operate on Libya’s territory and want to destroy his regime and kill him. Little is known about these rebels and whether or not they will offer a better future and actually create a democracy once they are in power. From the information available it would appear that these rebels are Muslim fundamentalists. For the moment they are happy to see what they call “infidel nations” bombing Gaddafi who in their own terms is an “infidel himself.” This is usually the language used by Muslim radicals against other Muslims who are not fundamentalists and who for this reason should be killed.
Although this may come as a surprise to many in the Western world, Gaddafi may be a Muslim but he is not a Muslim fundamentalist. Since he took power in 1965 he has not enforced Islamic law but established a constitution and persistently fought Muslim radicals. It may be the case that the allies will realise, albeit too late, that they have in some measure associated themselves with extremists who, far from delivering democracy and respect for human rights, will eventually impose some form of Islamic regime.