Rudd was talking some sense on Gaddafi
The situation in Libya is constantly changing. For the latest updates see news.com.au.
It is hard to agree with the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on many things these days, but his efforts to effect a no-fly zone over Libya three weeks ago struck a controversial, but important, note. A pity, then, that the usual international politics surrounding the Western alliance and the United Nations bogged down the process to the point that the rebels in Libya were on their last legs when the UN Security Council vote was taken on the matter.
Centre after centre of opposition were lost to Gaddafi’s reorganised forces, and his family-led offensives bit into what seemed like a promising revolutionary movement late last month.
The Colonel is a seasoned campaigner both within Libya itself, and in global politics. Ronald Reagan tried to take him out by a surprise missile attack on his palace in 1986. The missiles didn’t harm him, but were said to have killed an adopted daughter and some other members of his extended household. He reportedly took to spending his nights in shifting tents from then on, blending traditional culture (he was born in a tent) with forms of security which have been most effective.
Nearly three years after that attack, or so we are led to believe, his regime achieved a measure of revenge by bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland.
The explosion cost the lives of 270 innocent passengers and villagers. The Lockerbie bombing resulted in a protracted process, extradition and trial of Libyan agents thought to be responsible, and, in mid-2008, an eventual pay-out to victims’ families. This helped to bring Gaddafi’s Libya back into the fold of nations.
Gaddafi’s government also had a 15-year stand-off with the UK government as a result of the killing of PC Yvonne Fletcher by a bullet fired from the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984. The police had been there to maintain order in the course of a demonstration against the Libyan government. No-one was ever charged, but Gaddafi’s government finally accepted some responsibility and agreed to pay compensation to her family.
By 2004 the Blair Government had extended a hand of friendship after Gaddafi renounced the use of weapons of mass destruction (he still possesses 10 tonnes of mustard gas). Blair even agreed to train his special forces, which are being used to such powerful effect today.
The Colonel obviously takes a long and complex view on politics. And when he plays his games of political poker, he doesn’t blink.
All the more remarkable, then, was the rare sight of his regime apparently on its knees, with population centre after population centre falling to the rebels, and diplomats and senior military defecting to the opposition. For a moment, Tripoli was seen as the next stop for this wave of change and conquest.
Today, and despite the concerted allied bombing of his major military control centres, the situation is a stand-off. The rebels have been shown to be far weaker than they claimed, or appeared. Gaddafi supporters, whether paid or genuine, make their presence felt as human shields. Announcements that the rebels are poised to move on Tripoli have now to be taken with a pinch of salt. His government’s skill at spreading disinformation seems to be unshaken.
Where to next, then, for the allies and the Gaddafi regime itself? The US, the UK and France have categorically ruled out boots on the ground in Libya. Theirs will be air support for the rebels (whether it is described as this or not) and a watchful eye on the government’s military activities. Despite this, his forces will continue to selectively attack in a frustratingly discreet way.
To be feared more than his regular troops are loyal civilian militias which can wreak havoc in townships held by the rebels. Again, this can be done selectively and relatively quietly.
Gaddafi has also threatened to ‘open the arsenals to the (read his) people’. A chilling prospect. Given the street violence that came into play in Iraq when Operation Iraqi Freedom for a time triumphed in that country, Saddam’s army was disbanded and personnel, weapons, as well as tonnes of explosive, went missing, the US had a hellish localised war to deal with for the next seven years.
On a smaller scale, Libya can turn into this. How effective allied planes, helicopters and missiles can be in controlling the situation is an open question.
The Colonel’s regime has already unilaterally declared two cease-fires, using both to buy him precious time to manoeuvre. He can go on doing this while taking advantage of the lulls to plan military prairie-fires and political storms.
Of course, the allies can tighten the noose through further constraints on his personal financial power, blockades of access points for supplies to Tripoli, but the latter would affect ordinary Libyans. And as his use of human shields has already shown, with the Arab League, Russia and China all decrying the extensive bombing and the potential or actual collateral damage, the stakes will be very high indeed for the US and its friends.
Blockades and air strikes often hurt ordinary civilians as much as, and perhaps even more than, they do an unacceptable regime. The propaganda value of this would be great, and make no mistake, it will be seized upon by the regime, as demonstrated by the immediate production of bodies after the allied missile strikes over the weekend.
Under the circumstances, more and more logical would seem to be the idea of ‘enforced regime-change’ by the allies. A stray missile directed to the Colonel’s personal sanctuary, or the targeting of his sons, who are the commanders of his elite forces, would be likely steps in this regard. But even if he and his lieutenants are ‘surgically removed’ from the picture, his followers will still represent a potentially serious challenge to the re-shaping of Libyan politics post-Gaddafi. He would, after all, have secured martyrdom.
And finally, the Gaddafi regime has long seen its forms of retaliation in asymmetrical terms. A missile strike at home can, in principle, be countered by a terrorist act thousands of miles away, in the heartland of its enemy. Do we know how many Libyan sleepers there are abroad, or how many mercenary, or ideologically-aligned, terrorists can be bought or converted to Gaddafi’s cause? Now that is a chilling prospect to consider!
We, and the international community, should have listened more closely to Kevin when there was a reasonable prospect of the Libyan opposition’s move on Tripoli. Now it’s down to a fraught, multi-handed game of high-stakes poker; a game Gaddafi clearly is quite good at, and, worse still, seems to enjoy.
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