Here we go again! It's Iraqi-style shock and awe for Libya.
With deep déjà vu we see US cruise missiles being launched, Libyan AA firing helplessly into the night sky, and the burning wreckage of armor and vehicles on desert roads.
As with the Iraq, the assault on Libya was preceded by a huge barrage of anti-Gaddafi propaganda and steaming moral outrage by western media and politicians. American TV crews rushed to Libya to witness the wicked colonel get his comeuppance. None went to Bahrain or Yemen.
The attack was led by France. President Nicholas Sarkozy just suffered his own bout of shock and awe when polls showed his conservative party trailing the hard right National Front of Marine LePen. Blasting Arabs is a sure-fire way to win back the hearts of France's rightwing voters. So "aux armes, citoyens!"
Bien sure, the French attack had nothing, nothing at all to do with unsubstantiated claims by Gadaffi's number one son, Saif, that Libya has secretly financed Sarkozy's last election campaign.
The ever-bumbling Arab League had first given a tepid OK to a no fly zone to stop Gaddafi bombing rebels civilians, but then recoiled as western warplanes began attacking Libyan ground targets and civilians -- including Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli.
The fireworks were most impressive. To no surprise, Libya proved a total pushover. Its feeble military was routed. But the nasty question then surfaced: what is the objective of this operation?
Wars are waged to attain political objectives. Killing enemy forces is merely the means to this objective. The UN mandate is only to protect civilians, not to remove the Gaddafi regime. The US is targeting Gaddafi but claims -- wink, nudge -- that it is only after command and control targets.
But Gaddafi has been through such attacks before. In 1987, he took me by the hand and led me through the ruins of his residence which had been demolished a year earlier by a US bomb that killed his two-year old daughter.
For the moment, the most likely scenario is that Libya will end up split into warring western and eastern camps. The western powers -- minus Germany and Turkey who wisely refused to join the Libya attack -- are likely to arm and support the Benghazi rebels. It's also noteworthy that the African Union failed to endorse the anti-Gaddafi operation.
Gaddafi still retains some support in western Libya and from important tribes. So welcome to a Libyan civil war. Shades of Afghanistan and Iraq, where the US intervened to support rebelling minorities and ended up stuck in the middle of maddeningly complex civil wars.
Little is known about the rag-tag Benghazi rebels, now adopted by the western powers. Britain's MI6 intelligence service has maintained some links with them for over a decade. But the rebels have no organize military power -- which suggests western special forces and intelligence agents will soon become involved. This writer has reported their presence in Libya for many weeks.
It is possible that the Senoussi tribe will emerge from Benghazi's chaos and reassert its historic overlordship of eastern Libya. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Senoussi were a powerful force that spread an Islamic revivalist movement from the Egyptian border to Morocco, and across much of the northern and middle Sahara.
The Grand Senoussi was one of the first authentic Arab national rulers and opponents of European colonialism of the modern era. Gaddafi overthrew the last Senoussi, the doddering Ibn Idris, in 1969. I met a number of the senior Senoussi clan in Tripoli and have no doubt they would be ready to assume leadership of anti-Gaddafi forces.
But what then? Are we to see a Libya riven by civil war? How long can a very expensive no-fly zone be maintained? Is the west ready to risk getting sucked into another conflict in the Muslim world? Are not Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan enough?
Interestingly, the Libya operation is being run by Washington's new Africa Command, a harbinger of growing US military involvement in oil-rich Africa. Yet here in Washington there seems to be no clear plan for an endgame in Libya, not even a notion of what to expect. Even normally hawkish Republicans are expressing concern.
There's another big problem with Libya. Everyone hates the prolix Gaddafi, particularly Arab despots who he routinely blasts as "old women in robes," "Zionist lackeys," and "cowards and thieves." But the Arab world grows restive as it sees US-backed despotic regimes in Bahrain and Yemen gunning down protestors. Or watching reports of US air strikes killing large numbers of Pakistani and Afghan civilians. And, of course, seeing Israel using heavy weapons against Palestinian civilians.
America's glaring double standard in the Mideast and Muslim world is a major reason for growing hatred of our nation. Events in Libya may end up further enflaming such feelings.
America would be hailed as genuine liberator of long-suffering Libyans if it also intervened in Bahrain and Yemen -- and perhaps Saudi Arabia -- to protect civilians from the ferocity of their despotic governments and promote real democracy.
But it's only oil-rich Libya that is getting the "humanitarian" treatment from the US and oil-hungry western European former colonial powers.
A fractured Libya will not only curtail oil exports, it will open the gates to a flood of African emigration to southern Europe. Gaddafi has long been cooperating with France, Italy and Spain to halt the flow of such economic refugees. He now threatens to open the flood gates. There is also a risk that the Libyan conflict could spread into neighboring Mali, Chad, Niger and Sudan.
Turkey has been proposing sensible diplomatic solutions but no one is yet listening to peaceful plans. Once again, the west is gripped by that old crusading fever, a combination of moral outrage at the wickedness of the unspeakable Saracens, combined with a pulsating lust for their riches.
The question President Obama should be asking himself is: given our $1.4 trillion deficit, can we really afford another little war whose rational is unclear and outcome uncertain?
copyright Eric S. Margolis 2011