Remember in your school days the kids circling around for a fight? Some were coaxing the combatants on just to see a fight. Some perhaps had grudges and wanted to see the object of their disdain get bloodied. The bottom line is they were happy to have a fight as long as others did it. That brings us to the international community and Libya.
Libya is an African country, ruled by a dictator's family, and supported by tribes. There are over 140 different tribes in Libya, of which 30 are the most influential. Of those 30 tribes, two are the largest and most influential: the Beni Hilal that settled in western Libya and around Tripoli; and the Beni Salim tribe that settled in Cyrenaica, the eastern coastal region of Libya. Gaddafi's own tribe is small in relation, but has risen to prominence with his rise. Loyalties of these tribes has traditionally shifted, but centers around the allocation of patronage and powerful positions within the government and military. For example, the Lockerbie bomber belonged to the Magariha tribe, which has the longest and strongest ties to Gaddafi. His long, drawn out extradition and the celebrations on his return can be directly linked to the importance of maintaining tribal loyalties.
The current divisions in Libya geographically center around Benghazi - Misratah - Tobruk, vs. the rest of the country. The strong rebel areas contain a population of approximately 2,000,000 while the government areas represent about 4,000,000 people. The big spin has been that the "rebels" represent the Libyan people. That is questionable at best. They more likely represent certain tribal groups trying to assert themselves over other tribal groups. There is certainly no justification to call this a revolution for democracy. Libyan democracy is based in the deals made by tribal elders, and not the equality of the common citizen. To believe that democracy was at the root of this insurrection would be to completely ignore Libyan history and culture.
UN resolution 1973 calls for a no fly zone, and all necessary means to protect civilians. To protect civilians. Civilians are not people that take up arms against their own government. In Canada we call that an internal insurrection, and is one of the criteria for being charged with treason. The United States Department of Defense (DOD) defines it as "An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict." The argument could be made that the Gaddafi government is not legitimate as it was not duly elected by it's people. Of course that would ignore the fact that it has been the recognized government of Libya for over forty years.Whatever the spin you want to put on it, the "rebels" are not unarmed civilians.
That brings us to the question of why intervene. After all, most African and Middle Eastern governments are not democratic. They are all trying to militarily or otherwise influence the business of their neighbours. Within the last week Saudi Arabia, at the invitation of the King of Bahrain, militarily intervened and used violence against unarmed civilians. On the surface it does not make sense. That's where you have to look deeper.
The fact is that the African continent is a battleground. Right now there are two main players trying to conquer that continent - China and the United States. The US just set up an official African Military Command a short while ago, and placed one General Petraeus in charge of it. The Chinese have been involved in almost every country in Africa - primarily economically. Two different approaches to the same goal. The Chinese are using investment, and civilian agencies to win a hearts and minds campaign. Their approach is to show the area the benefits of doing business with them. They get involved in the health care of countries and helping them build infrastructure. Not unlike the old US approach of the 1960-70's. The US approach is: "We won the Cold War therefore we don't need to play nice and win hearts and minds anymore".
Two different approaches to the same goal - economic domination. Why then would China, and their partner Russia, not veto the no fly zone? It lies in their understanding of the West's attitudes. They realize the optics in the rest of the world of cruise missiles striking a rather defenceless African country. They know how the rest of the African continent, and Middle East will view a Western assault on another Muslim country. More importantly, they know the message it will send to all the other dictators of Africa: The West are not your friends and can't be trusted not turn on you should it suit their purposes. A powerful message when these dictators have two different partners to choose from. The Chinese are famous for minding their own business and being defensive in nature when it comes to foreign affairs. Isn't a partner that doles the cash, helps your people, and doesn't judge you better than one that will slit your throat when it suits?
As if to reinforce this thinking Putin came out today and said the Western bombardment of Libya reminded him of "the crusades". Talk about speaking to your audience. The Chinese have come out and expressed their outrage at the use of disproportionate force. Even the Arab League has expressed concern over it. The UN Secretary General was mobbed outside the Arab League headquarters today, and had to use the back door. All the Russians and Chinese had to do was veto it, but it served their purpose. They wanted the Arab/African world to see the West take out the Libyan military while doing nothing to stop the "rebels" and their tools of war. They wanted that audience to see cruise missiles, and bunker busting bombs hammering Gaddafi's personal residential compound.
The problem for President Obama is he should have listened to Secretary of Defence Gates and not Hillary Clinton. Now the US is painted with this mission whether it takes a "back seat" or not. The Arab/African world will see it for what it is and take note. In a world where the monetary balance has shifted, the US seems intent on fighting the last war. Specifically, the world is to the point where it doesn't matter how big your war machine is, you have to pay for it. The Chinese continue to grow economically and politically. They have a disciplined approach to everything - including foreign relations. The Russians are with them all the way. Even Brazil, an ally of Hugo Chavez, thumbed it's nose at the resolution as a member of the Security Council. A bigger concern for the US might be India. India also abstained from voting on the resolution. It went along with the massive Asian bloc. A place where the US is desperately trying to get in for economic and strategic reasons.
There is an old saying: "You made your bed now lay in it". The Chinese and the Russians are handing this to the West, and more specifically the US, on a platter. The message: "We are your friends and we won't judge you. You can do business with us." The West has given the opposite message. I guess that makes us the patsies.
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)