By Paul Wolfowitz, Friday, April 1, 8:28 PM
We do not speak about the French Civil War of 1789 or the American Civil War of 1776. When armed thugs of the Mubarak regime attacked peaceful demonstrators recently in Tahrir Square, no one called it the Egyptian Civil War. It would be equally wrong to call the conflict in Libya a “civil war.”
It is, in fact, a popular uprising or revolution that began peacefully like the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Moammar Gaddafi has turned it into a war against his own people.
Gaddafi knows this — and he knows that how that war is characterized is important. Scholars generally define civil war as a conflict between organized groups within a country that aim to take power at the center or in a region. Legal definitions are similar. So when Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam refer to a “civil war,” they understand that this description equates the two sides in the conflict and strengthens the argument against intervention on behalf of the opposition.
How can the international community be sure that this is not a war between two groups that both enjoy broad support, and that a rebel victory might simply reverse the roles of oppressor and oppressed? Simply put, we can’t. We don’t know the loyalties of people in regime-controlled cities, including Tripoli. Journalists have no unrestricted access to the population. Consider the treatment of Iman al-Obeidi, the Libyan woman who recently described how she was detained by Gaddafi’s forces and gang-raped. When she tried to speak with journalists in a Tripoli hotel, she was physically dragged away — just one demonstration of how thoroughly the regime restricts journalists’ access to Libyans. The obviously staged encounters that are permitted — with ever-present government minders coaching people on what to say — are another indication of the difficulty of knowing what Libyans in regime-controlled areas think.
Even if access were not so restricted, it would be hard to know Libyans’ true opinions because they have been living under a regime-imposed blanket of fear for four decades. That fear has intensified with the uprisings as informers go through neighborhoods to identify participants in demonstrations for pickup by the feared “Revolutionary Committees.” Some of those taken away never return; others return to tell horrific stories of the tortures that await those who are detained. Most terrifying of all is the regime’s practice of cracking down on family members of activists. As one Libyan in Tripoli, with his face hidden, recently told al-Jazeera, “Those who spoke up had their families harassed. So they fear for their families more than for themselves.”
Despite the difficulties of assessing public sentiment in Libya, the international community must keep a few fundamental points in mind: A regime that enjoyed genuine loyalty from its people would not have to terrorize them. Nor would it depend so heavily on foreign mercenaries and hired militias to do its fighting. Yet while popular opinion is almost certainly against the regime, the balance of military power favors it.
Much could be done now to shift that balance against the regime — and hasten the end of Gaddafi’s massacres — without escalating foreign military involvement and perhaps even without supplying weapons to the opposition. Officially recognizing the Interim Transitional National Council would signal clearly that the United States and others have taken sides and that the Gaddafi regime is doomed. That simple, powerful message would encourage defections from the regime that could hasten the end of the conflict. And the United States could assist the council in the crucial communications battle by getting satellite providers to stop carrying Libyan State Television (or by jamming it directly) and helping the opposition to establish its ownbroadcasting capability. We could assist Libyans throughout the country in communicating to the outside world in ways that could not be monitored by the regime, such as providing communications gear to opposition fighters that would free them from dependence on the regime-controlled cellphone network.
By embracing the Interim Transitional National Council we could help set in motion a process that would provide the only true expression of the loyalties of the Libyan people: free elections. The council’s recently published “Vision of a Democratic Libya” lays out an eight-point plan that guarantees basic political and human rights “regardless of colour, gender, ethnicity or social status”; that “condemns intolerance, extremism and violence”; and that provides for an elected government with separation of powers.
So far, it is only a piece of paper, but international recognition could help make it something more than that and pave the way for a post-Gaddafi Libya in which differences are decided not by wars of any kind but by democratic processes, including peaceful demonstrations.
Paul Wolfowitz, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was deputy secretary of defense from 2001 to 2005.
Libya, Gaddafi, rebels and intervention
Monday, April 4, 2011 - Stories of Faith by Clark Eberly
ARLINGTON, Va., April 4 -- Some objections have been raised over the U.S. involvement in the coalition air campaign, begun March 19, to aid the rebels opposing the forces of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Chief among them are that it is costly to our government, and that we don’t really know much about the rebels other than that they want to be free from Gaddafi. However, two important reasons for supporting the air campaign trump the objections.
To begin with, suppose that no country, not the U.S., Great Britain or France, or any other nation, had intervened to aide the rebels in Libya. Considering Gaddafi’s overwhelming power in aircraft, tanks and artillery, it is almost certain that his forces would have crushed the opposition fighters by now. They would all have been killed or imprisoned, or if they were lucky, some of them might have escaped across the border as refugees. Their cause would have been lost.
There couldn’t have been a better way than inaction, for the West to pour cold water on the newly emerging reform movements in North Africa and the Middle East. The clear message to dictators and autocrats would have been that if they respond to protesters and reformers with ruthless force, they will remain in power, and they won’t have to change anything at all.
And the clear message to reformers in nations such as Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or even Iran would be that the West is not going to exert much effort to help them, and that they are on their own.
Thanks to the coalition air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces and the no-fly zone they have established, the situation is different. The rebels in Libya are still alive, and they have a chance of success. Although the rebels are still largely unknown to the West, Gaddafi is definitely known, as a tyrant. It can be hoped at least, that from among the rebels can emerge true leaders who will bring their people into better times.
Moreover autocratic rulers in a number of other countries in the region may be more likely to treat reformers and protesters with some respect and to listen to their appeals for constructive change. Hopefully, the reform efforts in many of these nations can bear fruit through mostly peaceful means, rather than the kind of warfare that Libya is enduring.
The second good reason for the coalition intervention has simply to do with conscience. Do you remember the genocide in Rwanda in the 1994? In this situation the world governments knew that extremist Hutu militias threatened minority Tutsis, and they had ample time to prevent loss of life, but they failed to act decisively.
The result was that around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered when the militias overwhelmed the tiny, token United Nations force that was supposed to provide security. In 1995 over 7000 Bosnian Moslems were rounded up and murdered by Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica, a town that the U.N. had designated as a haven of safety. Again, the world had failed to take decisive action to prevent a massacre.
Essentially, the U.N. and the U.S. have acted in Libya in order to get it right this time, to prevent yet another massacre. If the coalition forces had not acted, would Gaddafi have killed his opponents on a massive scale? He was certainly attacking rebel-held cities with ruthless abandon, with air force and artillery attacks.
Would he have hurt any rebels or suspected rebels who survived long enough to be taken prisoner? Consider the recent testimony of three BBC journalists who were briefly imprisoned by Libyan government forces before being released. They reported that in the military compound where they were held, they saw many other prisoners who had been terribly tortured. One of the journalists, Goktay Koraltan, said, “I cannot describe how bad it was. Most of them were hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all with swollen hands and broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming.” There is no doubt that had the world not intervened, Gaddafi would have taken a horrible vengeance on those Libyans who had had the temerity to ask for reform of their government and of their lives.
It is true that the U.S. and coalition effort in Libya is an expensive gamble, a little like the gamble that the French took in supporting the American revolutionaries in the late 1700s. But sometimes gambles pay off. Moreover, we did the right thing in acting to prevent the annihilation of rebel fighters and civilians in Libya. Around twenty centuries ago, a very wise man told his friends, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Doesn’t this wisdom apply not only to how individuals should relate to other people, but to how nations should relate to those in need? When an individual, a nation or a coalition of nations does the right thing, the effort may be costly. Nevertheless, Heaven often tends to reward the effort, even in ways we might not expect.