Libya: a victim of international power politics
The Iranian diplomatic analyst S. Hesam Houryaband elucidates the action of the international coalition in the Arab country in accordance with the interests of each country involved in it
Over the past couple of months, a hurricane of popular uprisings has swept across much of the Arab North African and Middle Eastern countries. With the eye of the monster touching down in Tunisia, and then Egypt in Northern Africa, and picking up pace in the lower Arabian Peninsula nation of Yemen, and not even sparing the tiny Persian Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain. The reverberations of this storm have even reached several periphery nations such as Jordan and Syria.
It is obvious from the developments on the ground in many of these nations, that these revolts and uprisings are mostly politically motivated and coming from the grassroots levels of their respective societies. In only one or two cases, do these popular uprisings carry with them a strong hint of sectarian differences, as demonstrated most notably by the situations in Yemen and Bahrain. Overall, excluding the latter two cases, most of the other ones are categorized as popular unrest and dissatisfaction with their respective governments, and for the most part, contained within the borders of their respective countries, which do not hold true for the cases of Yemen and Bahrain, where Sunni-Shiite rivalry and animosity could very easily spillover into surrounding countries, sucking in regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, into the whirlwind.
Both of these cases would have required immediate and delicate international scrutiny and intervention to contain the possible worst-case scenario consequences. Yet the international community, including the West, was reluctant to act, despite heated rhetorical outbursts of support and advocacy for respect of human rights, abstention from use of force, respect for rule of law, etc. Instead, the attention was turned to Libya, where the situation, as dire as it was, did not require the heavy-handed response that the West took upon itself to exert. This begs the question as to why Libya was needed to be made an example out of, when elsewhere, such attention and energy could have served a much better purpose.
In analyzing the motivations behind the so-called coalition’s recent political and military attacks against Libya, the underlying motivations of the main actors of the two camps should be taken into consideration: the Arab camp, including several Persian Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the Western camp, including the US, France, and Britain.
Although not proactively looking to bring down Gaddafi’s regime from the onset of revolts in that country, yet the main Arab nations’ acquiescence to Western military intervention in Libya served the interests of Saudi Arabia and her Arab allies in the region. By diverting attention from the Persian Gulf crises unfolding in Yemen and Bahrain, to Libya, this gave the Saudis and some of their other Arab League and Persian Gulf Cooperation Council allies an open hand in intervening and meddling more freely in places such as Bahrain, Yemen, and possibly Iraq and Syria. Especially with the case of Bahrain, it is no secret that the Saudis, with a possible green light from the US, would do all in their power to keep the Bahraini Sunni ruling family in place, only to counter possible future Iranian encroachment in their backyard, and prevent an Iraq-style outcome. The Americans as well, would definitely not want to see the host country of their Fifth Fleet base in the Persian Gulf fall into the hands of the Bahraini Shiites, most of whom have some sort of an affinity for Iran, ethnically and religiously, which would force the US to look elsewhere to move their fleet to.
In the Western camp, the motivations and interests of the main participating actors are wide and varied, specific to the national and global interests of each actor. But there are also certain common grounds between all of them regarding Libya. All view Gaddafi as a wildcard and no less evil than Saddam Hossein. And equally so, they all feel somehow humiliated by years of Gaddafi’s actions, stretching as far back as the Lockerbie bombing, to more recent events such as the spat between Switzerland and Libya concerning Gaddafi’s son, and the mockery of the Europeans that Gaddafi portrayed, on his several trips to Italy. And finally, with the deepening economic crisis in each of their respective countries, the political leaders of the West see a limited military engagement against Libya as a blessing in order to alleviate economic suffering, as well as to divert their publics’ attention from a worsening domestic situation.
More specifically, France as the main instigator of the group, finds that the Libyan crisis fits comfortably with its power projection and muscle flexing strategy that has been undertaken by the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, ever since his election as head of state. Internationally, Sarkozy’s main policy has been to expand French political and military outreach and power, to show the world that France is a major world power, capable of contending as a superpower. In this context, France views North and Western Africa as her backyard, where she can flex her muscles more easily, as demonstrated by French meddling in Ivory Coast, and extending her economical and political influence in countries such as Algeria. However, Libya offers France the opportunity of a leading role in a broader coalition (as opposed to a more limited role in the Ivory Coast crisis), to take a political and military leadership position, which would strengthen France’s international standing and prestige.
Britain on the other hand, sees this operation as a way to reel back from the more recent embarrassment it suffered at the hands of Gaddafi concerning the release of the sole Lockerbie suspect held in British custody, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Especially with all the rumors of some sort of a secret deal reached between Libya and British-Scottish officials, this allows the incumbent British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to show his constituency that he can stand firm against international terrorism and blackmailers.
Last but not least, the United States of America certainly needs this Libyan operation. President Obama came into office, much like some of his other Democratic predecessors, on a platform of human rights advocacy. President Obama finds the Libyan crisis a good case and point example to show that he means serious business regarding the proliferation and advocacy of human rights across the Arab-Muslim world. Although his stance has been biased at times, yet the message seems clear: that the US will support any populist movement across this region, in any shape or form, and using any means necessary, in order to help the people of these countries gain an upper hand against their governments. Also, President Obama needs a limited military victory, as a means to bolster his own standing domestically and raise his chances for reelection. If the current operation is successful in Libya, it would serve President Obama well to silence domestic opposition against his administration, by showing that he can be a competent Commander in Chief. From the Obama administration’s point of view, Clinton succeeded in the Balkan crisis, and Bush had Iraq and Afghanistan and the War on Terrorism. Therefore, President Obama needs a victory and a staging ground, and for him, it seems to begin with Libya.
Low and behold, what will determine the outcome for all of these actors is the success of Operation Odyssey Dawn. Because, if this military engagement in Libya proves to be lengthy and messy, then it will turn the achievement of these actors’ goals from a dream, into a nightmare.
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