Friday, March 11, 2011

Impose a no-fly zone and recognize Libya's democracy movement now

As the struggle to oust Muammar al-Qaddafi shifts in favor of his regime, the Arab world and the West are doing very little to help the Libyan rebels. The waffling by the international community is very disturbing. Libya is not Iraq. No one is calling for foreign troops to invade the country. Instead what is needed is to provide the forces seeking to oust the Qaddafi regime with the necessary material and political support that will allow them to be victorious. Will the international community meet its obligations?

Muammar al-Qaddadi is culpable for human rights abuses, both in Libya and beyond its borders. It is clear that he has indiscriminately killed large numbers of Libyan civilians, many of whom are not even involved in the current uprising that seeks to end his rule. A former member of his regime has indicated that Qaddafi personally ordered the downing of Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland in December 1988. We also know that Qaddafi was involved in terrorist attacks in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. By any legal standard, he is responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, both in Libya and abroad. Thus there is a prima facie case for his removal from power under international law.

The rebels have said that they do not want to see foreign troops enter the current conflict. Nevertheless, there is much the international community can do. As many commentators have noted, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates' assertion that imposing a no-fly zone over Libya would be difficult was exaggerated and even he has backed down somewhat from his original statement in testimony before the US Congress. As Qaddafi's air force - both helicopter gunships and fighter aircraft - continue to bomb rebel emplacements, inflicting serious collateral damage in the process by killing more civilians, there is a strong basis in international law for intervention by the international community to stop these massive human rights violations. What form should international intervention take?

As for material support, the critical first order of business is to impose a no-fly zone. Thankfully, former US president Bill Clinton has come out in support of this action. A no-fly zone would prevent Qaddafi from continuing to bring in more mercenaries to bolster his forces, especially from sub-Saharan Africa. There are reports that Qaddafi still has billions of dollars in cash on hand which he is using to recruit new fighters. It would also prevent his fighter bombers from attacking rebel and civilian targets. Second, the runways of Libyan air force bases should be destroyed so fighter aircraft can no longer take off to engage in attacks on rebel and civilian targets.

Third, rebel forces should be provided with weaponry, especially surface to air missiles, that will allow them to fend off attacks by Qaddafi's helicopter gun ships as well as press on with their efforts to oust his regime. Fourth, the international community should impose a naval blockade that would prevent shipping from entering or leaving Libyan ports, except those controlled by rebel forces.

Finally, the Libyan rebels and people in areas under their control are in desperate need of medical supplies and personnel. Physicians, nurses and medicine should be sent to Libya along with other humanitarian aid to help those in need of medical treatment and food.

At the political level, the international community should recognize the nascent democracy movement as the legitimate government of Libya. So far, only France has had the courage to do so. If more countries would join France, this would give tremendous moral support to the rebels as well as boost their self-confidence.

While the "realist" pundits in the West continue to caution against intervention because of the instability that it is causing in global financial and energy markets, they should realize that it is precisely the rule of brutal autocrats such as Muammar al-Qaddafi that presents the greatest threat to the long-term economic stability of the world market. International intervention in Libya is not just a moral imperative but an economic one as well.

Here in the US, we need remember that the American Revolution would not have been successful had France not intervened to support it. Had the Revolution failed, its leaders no doubt would have been hung for treason by King George III. If the Libya uprising fails, there will be a bloodbath of enormous proportions in which not only the rebels but large numbers of civilians will be killed by the Qaddafi regime.

When the day is done, does the UN, the Arab league, and NATO want to have such a bloodbath on its conscience?

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