Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why Moammar? Why Now?

The current mission against Libya's Colonel Gaddafi is a bit murky.  Is the objective to simply protect those trying to overturn him so that they can hopefully finish the job they started?  Is it to protect innocent civilians?  Is it to remove him from office?  Is it to kill him? 

There is no doubt that the Colonel deserves to be banished from the face of the earth.  If there was capital punishment for erratic, irrational behavior, or for weird dress by a dictator, the man would leapfrog over all his fellow tyrants in the queue.   His years of repressive rule and his current willingness to murder his opponents garner him no sympathy. 

Despite this, it is a little curious to see so much of the world support the effort to stop him and to join the forces devoted to the effort.  After all, there are many places in the world where thousands, even millions, are suppressed, tortured, and killed, and the world says nothing.  Usually it is just too busy condemning Israel at the U.N. to bother with such minor problems.  So one wonders why all of this attention on Gaddafi and his bad deeds.  Is the world just fed up with weird dictators?

The French, not exactly known for leading the charge in the big wars that really counted, are suddenly in the lead with aggression we haven't seen since the Foreign Legion hit the showers after long, tough months in the desert heat.  Have they confused Libya with their prior colony, Algeria?  Is their newfound bravado due to the fact that Libya has a third or fourth-rate military at best?  Is this Sarkosy's de Gualle moment when, like the want-to-be great General, he can deny that France is no longer a world power and try to re-assert itself without much downside?

Why are the British so involved?  They are now on the attack with missiles and planes, using methods similar to what they used in the Falklands, the islands off the coast of Argentina that they occupy.  Is this their effort to stay in practice should they ever have to defend their occupation again?

Secretary of State Clinton has said that Gaddafi has "forfeited any legitimacy to rule Libya."  Didn't he do that 40 years ago when he came to power in a coup?  Didn't he do that for the last four decades when he held no free elections, committed terror around the world, suppressed free speech, and prohibited any opposition?  Why has this illegitimacy suddenly stunned Secretary Clinton and many others? 

While any decent person is shocked by Gaddafi's willingness to kill his own people to stay in power, his ruthlessness is nothing new and, unfortunately, nothing unusual, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.  Sad to say, but many other regimes that routinely and unjustly imprison, oppress, and  kill thousands are considered fully "legitimate," go unchallenged, and are treated with great respect at the U.N.  Indeed, several serve on that auspicious body that repeatedly condemns Israel, the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The most curious development is the Arab League's action in calling for a no-fly zone and effectively joining those that want to see Gaddafi overthrown.  Many of these countries are led by folks with the same modus operandi as Gaddafi: one-man or one-family rule, brutal suppression of freedoms, corruption, and enrichment of themselves and their cronies.  It is just a bit difficult to think that their sense of humanity and decency is so disturbed by Gaddaffi's conduct that they feel the need to join the stampede against him.

 Further, if the reason the world is now concentrating on Gaddafi is due to a perception that it is not just about Gaddafi, but about an entire movement in the Middle East to be rid of oppressive dictators, these folks sure wouldn't want to be encouraging that trend, unless they don't have mirrors in their palaces.  It could be that they now want to position themselves as liberation leaders and reformers and try to get out in front of the movements in their own countries.  If any of them are successful, I would say watch out, Houdini, your legend as the all-time top magician and contortionist is under threat.

While Libya does have oil,  that alone cannot explain this sudden willingness to join forces against him.  Indeed, the current battles threaten the unterrupted flow of oil.  Libya's location is not particularly important strategically.  It does not sit on a strategic strait or control the headwaters of a critical water source. 

At the end of the day, could it be that so many countries are piling on simply because the guy is so unliked and unlikeable?  He has been a huge irritant to many people in the region and the world.  He has ingratiated himself to virtually no one.  He has intruded into many affairs that were none of his business.  He gives long, incoherant speeches that some people feel obliged to sit through.  In short, he is a royal pain in the backside and no one has an ounce of sympathy for him.  This is a chance to get rid of a bully without much of a downside.  Who doesn't like to see a guy like that fall, and who, whether they admit it or not, doesn't get a little joy out of giving him a good kick down the hill?

Just hating a little weasal is not a particularly good reason to go to war and put many lives at risk.  It is difficult to come up with any other credible reason why the world is suddenly upset with this dictator's ruthless tyranny when it gives a pass and, indeed, often extols the purported virtues, of many others.

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