No Easy Answers, But Let’s Pretend Anyway

OK.  Let’s play God.  Or rather let’s play Prime Ministers.  In the minds of the latter the two are often conflated anyway.  But just for the sake of the exercise imagine that one has the power to intervene in Libya, what would one do?

Well I suppose that depends on what one wishes too achieve.   There are three broad options.  Firstly there’s the ‘let’s keep Gaddafi in place option.’  Of course if Gaddafi re-establishes control that will almost certainly mean slaughter, torture and disappearances, not reconciliation.   It’s a pretty hideous option.  However if you are the imaginary prime minister of an autocracy, say China, it”s not without its appeal.

Firstly as a Chinese premier you know that China is the centre of the world, that your own citizens barely count and that Arabs, like Africans, are inferior to your own (c.f. Zambia and Sudan).  Moreover, whereas the West has numerous sources of oil, your growing economy does not.  Given that your country is more or less impervious to moral pressure it wouldn’t be that difficult to prop up a weakened Gaddafi, a Gaddafi loathed by tthe West, Africa and the Arab world alike and pathetically grateful for any friends he can get.

No matter that Suez is blocked to shipments of Libyan oil.  The Chinese people will happily fund a pipeline through Sudan where China already has substantial interests.

But let’s say you’re not utterly unscrupulous, just a pragmatic Western politician who needs to get re-elected next November.  What would you do?  Well perhaps, given your access to considerable military power, you’d step in to rescue the revolution or at least hasten the denoument.  Perhaps with a new government in place they might express their gratitude by giving you access to the oil fields of the Libyan desert.

What would that achieve however?  It would leave the new administration facing the dilemma of refusing to reward that assistance and risk angering a superpower or showing its gratitude and risk appearing tainted.  More widely it would simply risk being portrayed as a cynical Western intervention, both too late to prevent significant bloodshed and  with strings attached.

As I suggested previously it would also hand the likes of the Saudis, Assad in Syria, al-Bashir in Sudan and their ilk across the Arab world a powerful weapon against dissenters.  Democrats will be portrayed as unpatriotic, and as Western agents, simply swapping the tyranny of home grown despots for the interference and control of foreign, infidel powers.

So what could a prime minister do that would help the forces of democracy in Libya and not undermine them.

Firstly a ‘shock and awe’ deployment of humanitarian aid: hospital ships in free Libyan harbours, loan of ambulances and all the medical supplies required.  It could involve setting up a field hospital in Malta and airlifting serious casualties to safety.

We could drop food supplies and medicine into rebel held towns.

But beyond that what could we do?  Direct military intervention snatches the victory from the people who really deserve it.  A no fly zone looks problematic.  However would it be worth considering giving the rebels hand held ground to air missiles to enforce their own no fly zone?

That risks making Libya a no fly zone for all sides – it’s a high stakes strategy in itself.  There would be no way of guarranteeing that the people using the missiles wuld be trained.  There would be no way of guarranteeing that they wouldn’t be stupid or that they wouldn’t fall into the hands of Gaddafi’s forces.  It wouldn’t be beyond the relams of likelihood that Western aircraft, even those bringing aid or evacuating casualties, could be shot down.

No one who cares about the well being of their fellow humans can be unmoved by what is happening in Libya.  None of us can feel other than frustrated.  However the laws of unintended consequences are at play.  If we act only in ways calculated to preserve life we might yet support the right cause without undermining our own.

Now, having played with the easy answers, we must return to a reality where there are none.


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