In a few weeks or months after the Libyan civil war is resolved, we may look back and marvel at the tenacious determination and sacrifice of that population. To see people so fed up and enraged that they are ready and willing to die is terrifying as well as inspiring, but words fail at the sight of a megalomaniac set on slaughtering all of them if need be to preserve his reign.
Even the other encouraging trends in the Middle East—the seizure of the secret police headquarters in Egypt, the demands for constitutional rule in Jordan and Bahrein, the ousting of hated satraps from the ancien régime in Tunisia—fail to distract from the potential for carnage in Libya. The idea of a no-fly zone such as the one imposed on Saddam for years is tempting and attractive given our sense of impotence and sympathy for a civilian population as vulnerable as the cities of Europe exposed to the Nazi war machine a century ago.
But the intervention in Iraq did not have a happy ending, to say the least, which raises the question of whether or not a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace would work. ‘Work’ in the sense of enabling the revolutionary forces to dispose of Qaddafy swiftly, restore order and rebuild the society, utilizing the country’s oil wealth for the people’s well-being instead of decadent parties with American pop stars.
I don’t pretend to know the answer to this question, but I think it is worth raising given the stakes. Libyans are heroically inclined to fight and die for their freedom and their country’s future, and this provides a telling psychological advantage over the terrified and coerced troops of the dictator. How would this key element shift once American or European warplanes began bombing Libyan soil to eliminate Qaddafy’s air defense system? Would the madman of the desert’s hysterical railings against the ‘colonial’ powers acquire an echo of plausibility among his remaining loyalists?
War is a strange animal. It is fought with tanks and planes, hand grenades and ammunition belts. But it is fought by human beings, which makes the outcome more than a matter of materièl. I hope the world finds the right way to put the necessary tools in the hands of the people trying to end this nightmare and Qaddafy's crimes.