Why a no-fly zone would only be a boost for Gaddafi

March 13, 2011 - 0:0

Over the last few days while here in rebel-held eastern Libya, a few things have struck me that I wasn’t expecting.

It started in Benghazi where those behind the uprising against the dictatorship of Colonel Gaddafi have set up a makeshift media centre in a dilapidated building to help make their case to the outside world.
Almost from the moment I walked through the door I knew the place reminded me of something. It had to do with the excitement, commitment, revolutionary fervor and passion and the mainly young activists who ran it. It wasn’t just the banners and placards, slogans and graffiti; it was much more than that. The people here had real political purpose, a sense of all for one and one for all. Swap Benghazi 2011 for Barcelona of the 1930s and think Spanish Civil War and perhaps you will get a feel for what I’m meaning.
What I was witnessing could have been straight from a scene in George Orwell’s wonderful book, Homage to Catalonia or Ken Loach’s film about Spain, Land and Freedom. My God, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, when was the last time I saw anything remotely resembling this kind of political passion and belief at home in Scotland? There’s a belief that it’s possible to right political wrongs and that despite the odds against success the option to fight for a better way of life, more just and fair, is always there should people choose to raise their head above the parapet.
I’d be lying if I said that what I’ve seen here in Benghazi and eastern Libya wasn’t inspiring. I’d be lying too if I said that we shouldn’t seriously consider intervening in some way to help those Libyans determined to rid themselves of dictatorship. Already I can hear the clamor of skepticism. Remember Iraq, comes the warning. It’s not our conflict, we will only get mired, goes the argument. We should let Arabs sort out Arab problems.
Anyone who has regularly read this column will know that I vehemently opposed our intervention and war in Iraq. They will know too that I’ve often made the case for listening to what people really want in the Middle East and Arab world, rather than imposing our template of solutions on problems that we often created in the first place and went on to exacerbate. All I can say is that having sat down and listened to Libyans here in the rebel-held east of the country, all I hear over and again is the same question: Why is the international community so reluctant to help us by imposing a no-fly zone on Gaddafi’s airforce? Now, before I say whether I’m for or against that course of action myself, I should point out that next to that question, the other constant refrain you here in Benghazi is that under no circumstances should the international community think about placing troops or intervening on the ground directly. This is our revolution and we will endeavor to make it succeed ourselves say the rebels – with the help of a no-fly zone along the way of course.
Inspired as I am, and convinced that the cause for which the revolutionaries are now fighting in Libya is the right one, I would still argue against any commitment to a no-fly zone. My reasons are simple. To begin with, having seen up close the effects of Gaddafi’s air strikes, I’m not convinced that preventing them happening would alone give that much more of a military advantage to rebel fighters on the ground at this stage. Passionate and committed to the fight the rebels most certainly are, but so far they have failed to display any cohesive strategy or organization on the battlefield that would allow them to capitalize effectively on such support.
Then there is the tricky question of just what constitutes a no-fly zone and how it’s implemented. The idea that such an operation can be conducted without attacking Gaddafi’s air defenses is not only misguided, but wrong. Like it or not, in order to impose any no-fly zone the attack capability of the air force targeted almost always needs to be neutralized in the first instance by air strikes from those imposing the ban. Inevitably this runs the risk of causing civilian casualties and would, in Libya’s case I suspect, give Gaddafi the political rallying call of “foreign intervention” needed to galvanize those few supporters he has left.
No matter how angry and frustrated any country might be with its leaders and government, they are few and far between that would not have some kind of political backlash in the wake of such action. What’s more, just to put Gaddafi’s regime aside for the moment, the possibility of even this “minimal” intervention being used by Jihadist groups inside Libya and beyond to fuel suspicions of another Iraq in the making are a real possibility.
Gaddafi now has little international support or backing, and every diplomatic and economic effort must be made to help isolate and oust him from power short of direct military intervention and the imposition of a no-fly zone. That said, the West must be mindful too of the dangers of a protracted civil war in Libya should he survive for some time to come and the country becomes split along an east-west divide. Not only would this probably cause even more thousands of casualties than have already been inflicted, it would perhaps allow the Jihadists lurking on the fringes of the rebel ranks to increase their influence.
From what I’ve seen here for now though, there seems little sign of such influence in this revolution, which appears driven almost exclusively by a people sick and tired of oppression, economic exploitation and the chance to say what they feel.
On Glasgow’s Clydeside there is a monument commemorating those Scots who fought and died helping the Spanish people defend democracy in Spain in the 1930s. On it are inscribed the words of Dolores Ibarruri, the revolutionary better know as La Pasionaria: “It is better to die on your feet than to forever live on your knees.” Here in Libya right now there is no shortage of revolutionary passion, and ordinary people are certainly prepared to die rather than live under the horror of Gaddafi’s dictatorship.
The international community needs to be there to assist when these people need it. But above all else it must provide the right kind of help, not the sort that will hinder the Libyan people’s fight for democracy in the long run.
(Source: heraldscotland.com