The courage to do nothing?

So, the US and its allies are considering military intervention in Libya.

From Libya itself, from Gaddafi opponents, come both pleas for intervention and demands to keep out.

When we get reports of militias and Gaddafi loyalists gunning down protesters it’s natural to want to do anything we can to put a stop to the killing.

But given Libya’s oil reserves it will be almost impossible to intervene and it not be seen as a play to control the country’s resources; if not directly then by proxy.

That shouldn’t of itself rule out moves such as imposing a no fly zone or even deploying troops in the event that the regime shows itself prepared to kill even more thousands in order to preserve itself.

However we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’ll be thanked for it or that our motives won’t be impugned.  Moreover, in the long term, it may also retard the cause of democracy in the Arab world.  The totemic value of a people showing that they can remove an entrenched autocrat like Gaddafi, with no outside aid, that they can organise themselves and manage their own transition to a more democratic state is incalculable.

People power in Tunisia inspired people power in Cairo and Yemen.  Those in Cairo inspired protests in Bahrain and Libya.  If Gadaffi goes then what despot in the Middle East is safe?

However while the sight of Arab peoples freeing themselves might prompt the toppling of Assad in Syria and the House of Saud in the Arabian peninsular, US or NATO intervention is likely to have the opposite effect.  It hands the despots a propaganda weapon and diminishes the importance of the people on the streets.

It’s a tough choice, but as things stand politics across the Middle East is more likely to be transformed if the West stays out than if it goes in.  But that’s going to be a damned difficult line to hold if Tripoli is turned into a bloodbath.

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