By Yasser El-Shimy
Best Defense Maghreb bureau
Despite what American generals and defense officials have been telling us, Libya is not Lebanon (1982), Somalia (1992) or even Iraq (2003). The common concern voiced against U.S. participation in imposing a no-fly zone over Libya is the fear of “mission creep.” The concern is legitimate, but it does betray a lack of understanding of the situation in Libya. Unlike previous American military interventions, the local population in this case is quite willing to carry out the hard task of ground confrontations. Washington could help oust one of the most repressive autocratic regimes in the world without sending a single soldier to the battlefield. The Libyan rebels in Benghazi, Tobruk, Misrata and other liberated cities are ready and willing to fight Qaddafi’s forces, when they are supplied with weapons that can match Qaddafi’s. What is more, given the personality cult that is Qaddafi’s regime, if an airstrike could target him (and his inner circle), the regime would collapse before the dust has even settled.
Another common objection raised against intervention is the potential terrorist ties some of the rebels might have. Whilst we have no method of ascertaining every rebel’s affiliation at this point, we know that a lingering civil conflict in Libya (certain to happen if Qaddafi clings to power) would create ample ground for radicalization and extremist recruitment. Al Qaeda in Maghreb (AQM) would surely exploit the deep resentment and grievances among the revenge-seeking population. Leading an international mission to save civilian lives, and help moderate figures come to power may well help prevent this scenario from taking place. Under no circumstances, however, should U.S. or international troops have a mission on the ground, as this may turn Libyan society on itself, and may become a quagmire akin to Afghanistan’s.
The world needs to understand what is at stake in Libya. First, although hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians have perished at the hands of Qaddafi’s brigades and mercenaries so far, these numbers would pale in comparison with the expected massacres, should Qaddafi be allowed to prevail. The Tripoli-trenched dictator would exact ruthless retribution against Eastern Libyans for what he views as their treason. Qaddafi has already promised to “cleanse Libya house by house.” If the world decided to stand by while the unfair fight rages on now, they must be prepared to witness acts amounting to genocide on the sidelines later. An intervention then would be far more costly than it would be now, and unlikely to succeed.