If Libya's chief export were asparagus, countries like the U.S., France and Britain would be much less interested in its affairs, Noam Chomsky recently pointed out. For years, in fact, all three countries were once staunch supporters of the Gaddafi regime -- and to an appalling degree. Of course, that was before the Mideast tumult magnified Gaddafi's sins for the world to see, and before the global elite decided the Libyan dictator had finally become unmanageable and their profitable alliance with him untenable.
Gaddafi had been cherished by Western powers more than anyone could imagine. Consider that last month the Libyan ruler was supposed to be tried in an international court for war crimes in Sierra Leone, where he "was ultimately responsible for the mutilation, maiming and/or murder of 1.2 million people." However, the U.S., U.K. and a host of other allies mysteriously intervened to protect Gaddafi, blocking the indictment. When asked why, chief prosecutor David Crane responded: "Welcome to the world of oil."
Crane's cryptic summation actually sheds light on the decision to intervene in Libya, with the now stated goal of regime change. In a country where dissent has been a crime punishable by death since 1973, how curious to see such outrage suddenly emanate from Western leaders. Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron paved the way for the United Nations Security Council to implement a no-fly zone because Gaddafi, they felt, was on the verge of committing mass atrocities against his own people.
It bears mentioning that this is the same UN that sat on evidence linking Gaddafi to the Sierra Leone war crimes since 2003. The same UN that, just as the civil war was erupting in Libya, was set to adopt a major report hailing Libya's human rights record. Yet, somewhere along the way, Gaddafi transmogrified into a pariah to be toppled post-haste.
Not to say Gaddafi isn't a brutal despot, but the evidence that he was going to commit mass slaughter is scant and raises quite a number of questions. How do we know he was going to commit war crimes tantamount to genocide and wasn't simply going to violently quell the protest and then call it a day? Why would Gaddafi's approach be any different than the other U.S.-backed tyrants in the region who routinely rack up body counts while repressing dissent? Sure, Gaddafi would have ordered up his fair share of summary revenge executions, but is that not standard fare for your run-of-the-mill dictator? And, finally, was it made clear that prior to the no-fly zone "the mad dog of the Middle East" was on the brink of wounding and/or slaughtering more innocents than he had been accused of murdering and/or maiming in Sierra Leone?
A 10-year old could point out the double-standard at play as the U.S. intervenes in Libya yet sits idly by while Western-backed dictators and monarchs violently repress popular uprisings in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. In addition, America's most favored ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, has a worse human rights record than Libya, according to the Economist's democracy index.
Some will deny that the coalition has dubious motives on the basis that Libya's oil output accounts for only 2 percent of worldwide consumption. However, a few key NATO members rely on Libya for petro at levels not easily replaced on short notice, such as France, which imports 15 percent of its oil needs from the North African country.
Plus, regime change could be extremely beneficial if Gaddafi is replaced with a controllable asset, because Libya has Africa's largest oil reserves but limited refinery capacity -- which means sizeable profits for Western corporations yet to be had. Not to mention, any unrest in the region impacts global oil prices, typically causing them to spike. The fact that Libya is the first OPEC member on the brink of collapse only serves to intensify fears of supply disruptions, regardless how irrational.
Practically speaking, the Western coalition in its fervor to secure energy resources might have acted too rashly as allegations abound that notorious jihadists are leading the resistance movement, which is reportedly now being supported by the CIA. Hence, the Gaddafi regime, if and when toppled, could be replaced by an Al Qaeda-led Islamic caliphate, which may not necessarily turn out to be a "controllable asset," as the situation begins to resemble yet another U.S. Frankensteinian endeavor à la the Afghan mujahideen.
From a humanitarian perspective Western involvement, even if averting a short-term massacre, has simply stalemated the struggle through NATO's combination of providing air support to the weaker side while refusing to commit ground troops, all in an effort to avoid the appearance of yet another full-scale invasion of a Muslim country.
Unfortunately, such half-pregnancy is not protecting Libyan civilians, but simply prolonging their civil war. Because NATO leaders have been bogged down bickering over the logistics of intervention, its forces have neglected to provide the cover promised, the cover the rebels are now expecting. As a result, the nightmare of slaughter envisioned on the eve of intervention is now being realized.