A measure of anger in the Libya war

Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Western intervention this time lacked three vital factors that usually drive wars.

    I've always felt there's some something unusual about the Nato war in Libya. A war with cool nerves? A bureaucratic war?

    A sort of boring, over calculated "humanitarian" operation just like anything UN?

    The Korean War was UN-mandated but US-driven. The threat of communism engulfing Asia was enough provocation.

    But in Libya: no.

    And there perhaps lies the secret.

    Unlike even recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Western intervention in Libya lacked three vital factors that usually drive wars: anger, fear and hatred.

    In Afghanistan those three elements were at play. The September 11 attacks rocked America with fear in its own usually secure cradle. The anger and hatred generated by those attacks were enough fuel for a sustained war if not a series of wars.

    In fact, Iraq was part of the aftermath of that situation. But Iraq was more about fear than anger. Behind the scenes Israel was afraid of a potentially powerful Iraq. On the forefront the US was afraid Saddam might become too militarily powerful to control.

    But in the case of Libya none of those factors was at play when the intervention began. Gaddafi was at his best level of friendship with the West.

    He had long stopped supporting states and groups seen by the West as terrorist. To atone for previous "sins", he dismantled his nuclear weapons program and handed it over to the US. He generously compensated the victims of Lockerbie and other similar crimes which he was accused of.

    He killed al-Qaeda Islamists in hordes on his own behalf and on behalf of the US. He worked hard to curb illegal migration from Africa to Western Europe. He opened the country's oil fields once again to Western companies.

    His sons sponsored Western universities and allegedly even Western political leaders and pop singers.

    Freakish shenanigans

    Gaddafi had thus already been "rehabilitated" and "domesticated". And his freakish shenanigans were now treated with shrugs or even with amusement. He became a sort of clown in the Western political consciousness. A clown doesn't provoke fear or anger because he’s rather entertaining.

    Gaddafi clearly did all of that for the sole purpose of securing his grip on power and perhaps to guarantee a smooth succession for his son and family later. In this equation of mutual interest neither the West nor Gaddafi were motivated by the real needs and rights of the Libyan people.

    Ironically but also understandably it was those needs and rights of the Libyan people that have disrupted the said equation.

    Libya revolted for democracy and freedom. And the level of brutality in Gaddafi's response shocked the world. Arabs for the first time put aside their differences and called on the UN for action.

    Western leaders were overwhelmed and overpowered by their own public opinion. And more significantly Gaddafi seemed at those early days of the uprising as if he were about to lose his grip on power quickly and easily.

    That combination of shock at his brutality and illusion of his imminent downfall have made it look tempting for Western powers not only to just passively dump him but rather to contribute with a push.

    But Gaddafi turned out to be a hard nut to crack. He resisted and played war tactics successfully. And Western leaders looked inside their own hearts for the usual fuel of anger and hatred that motivates wars but could not find enough in stock.

    The man was serving them and he was not posing a threat to their security or their vital interests. They thought he would vanish in a moment and save them the trouble of feeling a bit ashamed of having abandoned a friend. They thought the rebels – the Libyan people themselves - would be able to easily achieve that task.

    None of that happened.

    Then came the turning point. Or is it?

    Gaddafi claims a Nato air strike has killed his son. His supporters attacked, looted and burned Western embassies. It's the first real provocation by the Libyan regime towards Nato members. So far Gaddafi's troops have passively absorbed Nato air raids and instead unleashed their deadly anger on their own co citizens.

    They have not killed a single Western soldier or even downed a single aircraft [one US fighter jet crashed allegedly for technical reasons]. The anti-aircraft fire that lit the sky line of Tripoli by night seemed more like fireworks than real surface to air defence.

    Moreover in all his speeches, aside from a few statements made for local consumption about defying the West Gaddafi remained lean and conciliatory towards the West. He begged for negotiation and pledged to make reforms. But his calls were rejected.

    Now we have the first real instance of anger on both sides.

    Nothing left to lose

    For Gaddafi to allow the burning of Westen embassies is a sign that he lost hope of any good resulting from his diplomatic overtures. And for the first time he’s acting as though he has nothing to lose anymore.

    He feels a little bit of betrayal on the part of his former friends, because since the beginning of the air campaign they made it clear his personal life is not a target. But now that illusion of immunity is gone and Gaddafi is both afraid and infuriated I'm pretty sure.

    On the part of Western nations, I have noticed anger towards Gaddafi for the first time since the war started. It's clear from the body language of the UK prime minster, David Cameron, as he reacted to the embassy attacks. The UK immediately expelled the Libyan ambassador in London.

    It’s the closest the two sides got to what looks like a real mood of war.

    The question is how this development is going to play out and affect the pattern of Nato action in Libya. That pattern during the last few weeks began to raise suspicions that Nato was dragging its feet, and only halfheartedly engaging itself in the war effort.

    Civilians continued to be killed in droves in Musrata every day and the western region of Libya.

    Gaddafi was able to badly damage the port of that city and disrupt the flow of humanitarian aid to the besieged population there. The whole operation began to stagnate and lose momentum. The country is drifting into chaos and the farther it goes in that direction the more likely Al Qaeda and perhaps even foreign intelligence services are likely to find excuses and suitable ground to step in and wreak havoc in the country just as in the case of Iraq.

    Will the new measure of anger and fear change the rules of the game as they stand?

    It's a tough question just like any other aspect of the war in Libya.

    Anger may galvanise Nato action and perhaps refocus it around the purpose of removing Gaddafi sooner than previously intended, something that Nato and the US had clearly steered away from in the past. It might help shape more clear goals and prompt their realisation.

    But on the other hand it may cause rash actions such as raids that kill innocent civilians, which will be detrimental to the cause of this war. So a happy balance should be struck between the two and that has always been the essential dilemma of this war.


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