Friday, March 18, 2011

More on the Libyan Crapshoot

The hope-inducing news is that the Libyan government has declared a cease-fire.  What that means, how long it lasts, what happens now - all remain to be seen.  But as to the extent of the gamble that Obama and the UN are taking, Marc Lynch's piece at Foreign Policy (which was also highlighted by Andrew Sullivan)  is very good at laying it out.

The intervention is a high-stakes gamble. If it succeeds quickly, and Qaddafi's regime crumbles as key figures jump ship in the face of its certain demise, then it could reverse the flagging fortunes of the Arab uprisings.  Like the first Security Council resolution on Libya, it could send a powerful message that the use of brutal repression makes regime survival less rather than more likely. It would put real meat on the bones of the "Responsibility to Protect" and help create a new international norm.  And it could align the U.S. and the international community with al-Jazeera and the aspirations of the Arab protest movement.  I have heard from many protest leaders from other Arab countries that success in Libya would galvanize their efforts, and failure might crush their hopes.  

But if it does not succeed quickly, and the intervention degenerates into a long quagmire of air strikes, grinding street battles, and growing pressure for the introduction of outside ground forces, then the impact could be quite different.  Despite the bracing scenes of Benghazi erupting into cheers at the news of the Resolution, Arab support for the intervention is not nearly as deep as it seems and will not likely survive an extended war.  If Libyan civilians are killed in airstrikes, and especially if foreign troops enter Libyan territory, and images of Arabs killed by U.S. forces replace images of brave protestors battered by Qaddafi's forces on al-Jazeera, the narrative could change quickly into an Iraq-like rage against Western imperialism.   What began as an indigenous peaceful Arab uprising against authoritarian rule could collapse into a spectacle of war and intervention. 

The Libya intervention is also complicated by the trends in the rest of the region. There is currently a bloody crackdown going on in U.S.-backed Bahrain, with the support of Saudi Arabia and the GCC.   The Yemeni regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh is currently carrying out some of its bloodiest repression yet.  Will the Responsibility to Protect extend to Bahrain and Yemen?  This is not a tangential point.  One of the strongest reasons to intervene in Libya is the argument that the course of events there will influence the decisions of other despots about the use of force.  If they realize that the international community will not allow the brutalization of their own people, and a robust new norm created, then intervention in Libya will pay off far beyond its borders.  But will ignoring Bahrain and Yemen strangle that new norm in its crib? 

 And Andrew Exum at Abu Muqawama poses many of the same questions I did yesterday - including the "Petraeus question." 

What happens if Gadhafi pulls back? Do we continue to try and press the advantage of the rebels until his government falls? Do we have the authorization to do that? Do we expect a civil war in Libya to drag out, and if so, how will we take sides? If Gadhafi falls, what comes next? What will the new Libyan government look like? Will they be friendly to U.S. interests? Someone please tell me how this ends.

No comments:


Blog Archive

Cluster map

Search This Blog

ICAHD - 18,000 Homes Campaign (large banner)