Friday, 8 April 2011

Intervention lite isn't working in Libya

The Daily Star
Friday, April 8 2011
By Michael Glackin

Wanted: Accommodation for a soon-to-be-retired dictator. Will live in a tent, but must provide enough room for female bodyguards and occasional pop concerts by international superstars such as Beyonce and Mariah Carey.

Laugh if you will, but the idea of allowing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to spend his dotage in exile is becoming increasingly attractive to the British government, amid the realization that, despite two weeks of coalition airstrikes, the war to oust him has now reached a stalemate. At last month’s London conference on Libya, British Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted that the government was “not engaged in looking for somewhere for [Gadhafi] to go”; but then he quickly added, “that doesn’t exclude others from doing so.”

Unfortunately, a week remains a long time in politics and the failure of the West’s military operation, at least in its current form, to topple Gadhafi appears to have emboldened the Libyan leader. Last month Mohammad Ismail, a confidante of Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam, offered the West a way out by proposing Seif as leader while his father headed to his Elba in either the Libyan desert or Sudan. But this week, Abdelati Laabidi, Gadhafi’s deputy foreign minister, was busy touting the idea that Gadhafi himself should lead Libya’s transition to democracy, in return for a cease-fire.

All this comes at the same time as it has emerged that NATO’s bombing campaign is running short of aircraft, following America’s withdrawal of its fighter planes earlier this week. So as Libya settles into a de facto division between the rebel-held east and Gadhafi-held west, what else is the coalition doing to secure Gadhafi’s removal?

Talk at the London conference of arming rebels is a non-starter. It is being raised as a feeble alternative to deploying coalition troops, something the United Kingdom and the United States in particular are desperate to avoid. First, it is doubtful that the largely untrained rebels could operate the sophisticated weaponry they require to take on Gadhafi’s military might; and second, fears persist, particularly in Washington, that such weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

Indeed both the U.K. and the U.S. have now dispatched teams of diplomats to Benghazi in a bid to “better understand” who the rebels are, amid fears that many are allied to Al-Qaeda. The Foreign Office remains tight-lipped. But insiders say the primary focus of the British government now is to prevent Gadhafi from regaining control of any more of Libya by continuing the airstrikes, while at the same time encouraging members of the regime to abandon their leader.

This brings us neatly to the many conspiracy theories surrounding the arrival in the U.K. of Libya’s former foreign minister, Moussa Koussa. Initially some believed he had brought a secret message from Gadhafi, hard on the heels of Ismail’s secret visit. Another interpretation was that he believed the regime is doomed and that facing British justice would be preferable to facing rebel justice.

Because the West is so urgently trying to engineer an end to the war that allows them to avoid dispatching soldiers, not surprisingly there is little talk from the government of Gadhafi being hauled in front of the International Court of Justice, as this might hinder a negotiated outcome. Although the government insists that Koussa was not offered immunity from prosecution, it is hardly likely that a man with his background would have headed to the U.K. if he expected to pay for his past misdeeds. It is worth noting that Washington quietly removed Koussa Monday from its list of Libyan officials subjected to financial sanctions. Moreover, if the threat of legal proceedings in the West was left hanging over Koussa, it would hardly help the British policy of encouraging other regime figures to abandon Gadhafi.

Indeed speaking before Parliament earlier this week, Hague stated that those Libyans who deserted Gadhafi and came to the U.K. would be “treated with respect.” And despite the fact that Koussa spent two decades running Libya’s foreign intelligence service, the government has been careful to downplay claims that he was a key figure in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988.

That said, Koussa may well face a court case brought by victims of Irish Republican Army bombings in the U.K., in which Libyan-supplied Semtex explosives were used. Court documents filed in the U.S. three years ago claim that Koussa oversaw the supply of Semtex to the IRA during its bombing campaign in the U.K. during the 1980s and 1990s. Lawyers representing the victims may well seek an arrest warrant for the Libyan, similar to the warrant that British magistrates issued for the former Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and which forced her to cancel a trip to London in 2009.

Will Gadhafi, Koussa, and other Libyan officials eventually end up in court? Or will Gadhafi head off into the sunset to enjoy a happy exile with his family and friends? The multitude of possible outcomes stems from the coalition’s reluctance to follow through on the logic of its decision to remove Gadhafi from power. Intervention lite is not working. It is time for the West to show that it has the courage of its convictions by ending this war and Gadhafi’s tyranny.

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