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To bomb and protect

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missileby Larbi Sadiki

Protection via war is a perfect oxymoron.

Like all wars, the intervention in Libya is questionable. However, the absurdity of war needs no commentary.

The conduct of war for the ''protection of civilians'' provides further proof of how war makes no sense even when executed with the best intentions in mind.

However, the absurdity of ''protection'' calls for questioning the context of the current military intervention in Libya.

Of course, this might be one war where academic intervention gives no comfort to Libyans threatened with death at the hands of Gaddafi's murderous forces and lijan thawriyyah – or revolutionary committees.

Nonetheless, it is still a war with many a paradox. That is, a war that inevitably solidifies the cynicism in many minds that the realist paradigm still prevails in international relations; as ever, might is right, the same logic which Gaddafi has deployed to save his dynasty and oppress his people.

The intervention in Libya confirms not the assumed diplomatic equation that ''legal'' war is ''right''. That is, the motivation behind the war may not be flawed, but the reasoning behind it defies logic.

Between Iraq and Libya

The war in Iraq was conducted in the name of democracy. The Libya war derives its mandate from UN Security Council resolution 1973 of March 17.

The authorisation to use force has a twofold agenda: to enforce a no-fly zone, and to protect civilians. Resolution 1973 thus sidesteps the twin problems of illegality and unilateralism present in the 2003 conflict.

To this end, it talks of taking "all necessary measures". This is obviously intended to defang and deny the Libyan state of its function as a repository of theoretical and practical monopoly over the legitimacy to kill (supposedly ''legally'') its own citizens.

Indirectly, the military-strategic drive to stop Gaddafi's forces from recovering Benghazi and Tobruk might have heightened the urgency for multilateral and UN-mandated intervention.

Gaddafi and his military chiefs no doubt feared the rebels' control of Tobruk, given its importance as a line of supply, communication and a bridge with the world – including Egypt.

But if one is to be guided by the benefit of hindsight of two messy wars – Afghanistan and Iraq – taking over the skies and dumping bombs are not sufficient to close the circle in conflicts aimed at promoting ''democracy'' (Iraq) or sacking ''mullah-ocracy'' (Afghanistan).

Invasion had to follow in both countries. Resolution 1973 gives no such mandate.

Here lies one flaw of the mandate to ''protect civilians''. The operative term here is ''protection'' – how much protection?

Is the mandate to protect civilians coupled with the possible survival of a weakened Gaddafi state in the western half of Libya reconcilable? What are the limits of and terms that must define ''protection''?

Living with the ''threat'' of dictatorship but not with the imminent physical danger to a population by its state may be one illusion that calls for redefining ''protection'' in light of the popular protests sweeping the Arab Middle East.

Protection and the Livingston Group

In an ideal world, protection should be instituted by prevention and principle, not war.

Many Western statesmen are guilty of failing on both counts. The rehabilitation of the Gaddafi regime was schemed in London and Washington.

Mutasim Gaddafi made it to Washington and was granted audience with the key architects of US foreign and security policy machines. The audience with senator Clinton was a quasi-signature of approval, unwittingly giving a murderous regime a second chance to re-enter the international arena.

Here lies one strength of the Gaddafi regime - having faced two rounds of sanctions and a previous bombing campaign under the Reagan administration - it proves to be durable.

That is one of the reasons why Gaddafi qualifies as a Houdini of political survival, and that is one of the reasons why he must not to be underestimated, even if he did commit political harakiri when he bombed his own citizens a few weeks ago. He may be more adept at surviving sanctions and pariah status than lots of other regimes.

Part of being a Houdini is mobilising human and financial resources to secure longer survival. The lobbying undertaken successfully by the US-based Livingston Group (TLG) on behalf of Libya was instrumental in the survival and rehabilitation of Gaddafi.

In particular, TLG's lobbying led to normalisation of US relations with the Gaddafi regime. TLG's work is summarised in a confidential 2009 memo titled "2008-2009 Full Normalisation Action Program: Moving the New Libya-US Bilateral Relationship Forward".

What is puzzling in all of this is not understanding TLG's reasons (business/fees) behind helping mend relations with a murderous and authoritarian regime; rather, it is the question of ''protection''.

Protection should have been through prevention. That is, enactment of principled policies aimed at isolation and boycott of murderous regimes.

Such prevention would have served as the best form of protecting the Libyans by withholding diplomatic recognition, legitimacy and military support.

Under the leadership of its chairman Bob Livingston, former speaker of the House, aided by Bill Zeliff, former congressman, TLG got Gaddafi off the hook – once fiscal arrangements were in place to compensate claimants of the Lockerbie bombing blamed on Libya.

In particular, their lobbying concentrated on what the memo describes as "securing relief from the punitive provisions of Section 1083, the ''Lautenberg Amendment''." Their Herculean task paid off on July 31, 2008, when the US Congress was unanimous in its vote in favour of S.3370, the Libya Claims Resolution Act.

Gaddafi won. His Libya secured "a full and unconditional waiver of Section 1083". He deployed his only resource – and money – and seized the opportunity for opening Libya up for business, using US democratic channels and local ''soft power'' to serve the agenda of a brutal, autocratic, dynastic and unpredictable failed state.

Unanimous vote for Gaddafi?

The confidential memo brags about the feat in winning the vote for the waiver and enlisting Republican and Democratic support for the legislation, one of the last laws signed by George W. Bush before he vacated the White House.

The memo states:

"The content of this legislation exceeded expectations. In planning the legislative strategy, it was most probable that two or more pieces of legislation would have been required to resolve the major issues Libya was concerned with: one dealing with the settlement, and a second establishing the waiver. Instead, S.3370 dealt with both issues in a single legislative vehicle. The possibility of having a waiver with conditions similar to the existing Iraqi waiver was also of concern, but thanks to bipartisan efforts, S.3370 provides a clean waiver without any ongoing conditions or limitations."

According to the confidential memo, a single dissenting vote could have derailed TLG's group, and with it the vote for the waiver. Unanimity was required, and that was TLG's objective.

To this end, Bob Livingston and Bill Zeliff, according to the same memo, actively worked on both Republican and Democratic senators – and above all else – identified five senators whose objections or reservations could have defeated the legislation.

TLG in consortium with the Bush administration and business interests worked actively to "educate, persuade and neutralise the senators with the greatest concerns." Obviously they succeeded.

The intensive, effective lobbying involved contacting every congressman before the vote, and securing endorsement of House leadership from both parties, which included House speaker Nancy Pelosi.

TLG was so dedicated to the waiver that one of its members, former congressman Bob Clement, did not take a break whilst recovering from heart surgery. He was tasked with calling and lobbying members of the House of Representatives.

TLG was made up of well-connected individuals who knew how to navigate their ways through the labyrinth of power in the US.

It went all the way to the top, and its lobbying succeeded thanks to vital Republican support by senator Biden, chairman of the senate Foreign Relations Committee, and senator Levin, chairman of the senate Armed Services Committee. Both were co-sponsors of the waiver.

Who is protecting whom?

Resolution 1973 gives protection a new meaning. Who is actually protecting whom? In an ideal world protection should be attained through prevention: preventive disengagement rather than hollow and interest-driven brands of ''constructive engagement''.

This calls for rigorous standards of ethicism in international relations even if states are not known to run charities.

What is not known is whether the weaponry used by Gaddafi's forces was procured from Western powers, who rushed to normalise relations with Gaddafi. TLG's lobbying effort aimed at upgrading bilateral, defence and security relations.

As a result International Military Education Training funds for Libya were set at $333,000 and $350,000 respectively for financial years 2008 and 2009. So presumably some of that US military know-how provided to Libyan officers was used by Gaddafi in oppressing the Libyan people.

Business opportunity and Libya's top quality oil at least partly accounted for the compromise of the world's oldest democracy. America's democratic machinery was manipulated into giving Gaddafi a second chance.

What is additionally puzzling as far as the mandate of ''protection'' is concerned is that hypocrisy that has now befallen those Arab voices who previously objected to Western intervention in Iraq now support it in Libya – such Yusuf Qaradawi.

There are other Arab citizens in need of protection from the world's financial institutions holding them ransom by having their authoritarian states on the bankroll of the International ''Misery'' Fund (IMF) or World Bank.

The children of Gaza need protection. So do dissident citizens in Bahrain, who have been protesting peacefully. If the new logic of protection persists, the world can expect the unexpected – more intervention in a number of the Arab League member states who supported intervention in Libya.

Nor are members of the Western powers arrayed against Libya paragons of virtue – some maintain racist immigration policies that ignore the new moral agenda of protection.

There is a hidden dirty war which casts doubts about the morality of Western interest and intervention in Libya.

The upgrade of relations even allowed the US to infiltrate the Gaddafi regime succeeding to recruit a few men, including foreign minister Musa Kusa, whose murderous history is known to all.

The Americans may have facilitated his escape to Tunisia two days ago, which would mean he has US support and ''protection''.

In these exciting but equally uncertain times, protection must not demote the agency of Arabs – they must be, so to speak, given the means of how to fish, and not the fish itself.

This must be heeded by democracy promoters and ''protectors'' of the revolutionary moment in the Arab World.

Libyans are valiantly fighting to earn freedom from tyranny and dynasty. But military intervention might have already wiped the shine off what they intended to be a verdict of people power against the legion of Gaddafi.   

Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratisation: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004), forthcoming Hamas and the Political Process (2011).

This article first appeared on Al Jazeera [31 Mar 2011]


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