The West Fiddles, Libya Burns

After having encouraged the Libyan insurgents the West is pulling the plug on them. Obama "believes in organic revolution."

Amiel Ungar , | updated: 7:19 AM

Guido Westerwelle
Guido Westerwelle


Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Britain's former Secretary of Defense and an elder statesman of the ruling Conservative party, appealed for an end to the arms embargo on Libya that effectively penalized only one side --the insurgents. According to Rifkind, this was all too reminiscent of the mistake by the West in Bosnia where an arms embargo worked to the advantage of the Bosnian Serbs and enabled them to commit atrocities.

The supporters of Moammar Qaddafi have had no difficulty in arming themselves; and have effectively conducted an arms shuttle between Belarus and Libya to replenish their supplies. The policy also recalls the Spanish Civil War, when England and France were caught up in the appeasement spirit and established a Nonintervention Committee that would prevent arming Francisco Franco's Nationalists and the Spanish Republic. With Germany and Italy actively intervening on behalf of the Nationalists and somewhat balanced by covert Soviet support for the Republic, the nonintervention became a farce.

In their desire to avoid another Iraq and another Afghanistan, the Western countries keep setting the bar to intervention higher. Barack Obama has aroused criticism by enunciating a doctrine that a revolution must be organic to deserve respect. By organic, the American president did not have a health food store in mind. This was his way of saying that the insurgents had to succeed without foreign intervention in a sort of do-it-yourself revolution.

Professor Niall Ferguson effectively demolished the argument in Newsweek by reminding Obama that without French naval power the Americans would not have been able to besiege Yorktown and bring their revolution against Britain to a successful conclusion. Imperial Germany bankrolled Vladimir Lenin in the correct assumption that a Bolshevik victory would take Russia out of the First World War. How is the DIY revolution expected to succeed when the other side has a monopoly of planes, tanks and helicopters that are being used to telling effect?

Some of his sources are leaking that the administration is concerned about a problematic successor. This did not deter Obama when it came to Egypt.

France and Britain have been more upfront. France, of course, recognized the insurgents and favored the no-fly zone early on. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé ruefully noted that if a no-fly zone had been established in Libya earlier, a limited amount of force could have sufficed and then perhaps "the reversal taking place to the detriment of the opposition would not have happened." But it was France that vitiated the policy by insisting on UN approval and such approval would have to get by a Russian and Chinese veto.

The next attempt by Britain and France was to take the matter to the G8 and here the Russians were joined by the Germans who claimed that the proposal required greater reflection. If during the late 1930s some politicians placed extravagant hopes on the League of Nations, this naiveté or sophistry is being repeated by investing equally false hopes in the United Nations. "Qaddafi must stop the civil war against his own people," thundered Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle."

How and why would Qaddafi stop? "The Security Council must take action," answer the Germans. But how was the Council going to take action when two permanent members were against the very idea? How would Qaddafi be held responsible for his crimes if nobody was willing to take military action?

 Westerwelle warned against military intervention because it "would lead to a weakening of the democratic movement in North Africa. We want the opposite: a strengthening of the democratic movement."  By this logic the West, by allowing the Soviet Union to crush the revolt in Hungary in 1956, strengthened the democratic movement. If one allows dictators to repress revolutions, this presumably serves as a democratic incubator.

Britain, like France, was ahead of the curve and Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that if the Gadhafi regime survives, Europe will face a pariah state in close proximity to its shores, one that may even resume its nuclear program abandoned in 2004. Yet Britain as well finds it difficult to get off the fence and state bluntly that it will dispense with UN approval.

Foreign secretary William Hague attempted to play with the idea "'In cases of great, overwhelming humanitarian need, then nations are able to act under international law, even without a resolution of the Security Council,' he said. But then how many people does Gadhafi have to kill to create overwhelming humanitarian need?

One Libyan insurgent suggested mass suicide to meet the need quota. Hague walked back his idea by saying thatthat "in relation to a no-fly zone there have to be three criteria met: there has to be demonstrable need; there has to be a clear legal basis; and there has to be involvement of those countries in the region as well.'Who is going to supply that clear legal basis other than the U.N.? What happens if the Arab countries are slow to commit themselves?

 The Libyan insurgents, having been pushed off the front pages by the Japanese disasters, have sensed where the wind is blowing and are justly talking of betrayal. As a desperation move, they are threatening to withhold oil rights from countries who did not come to their support. Unfortunately for them, Qaddafi is now in control of the oil industry and he is making the same siren call to India, China and Russia. Please be good enough to wait until I have totally repressed the insurgents, he is telling them and then you will be repaid in oil contracts.

Oil, it should be noted, is an organic substance. The West has not looked as ridiculous or impotent for a long time.