Monday, 14 March 2011

Suspense and slaughter

The prospect of a massacre in Libya by a vengeful Qaddafy is so disturbing as to make commentary on the subject at least superfluous and perhaps slightly obscene. But our usual parochial topics shrivel in the face of this drama and carnage.

If we like, we can suppose that our clamor to respond in thus and such a way will have an impact, however negligible, on the actions of states, including our own. I am less sanguine than many in this respect to judge from the debates raging throughout the Internet and conclude that the proposed no-fly zone or some other action to stave off this outcome will either occur, or not, as the bosses determine.

Perhaps I am fatally skeptical and jaded, but I find it impossible to believe that anyone among the Camerons and Obamas and Sarkozys will act out of concern for the well-being of the Libyan populace. But Qaddafy is a long-time enemy even if the Libyan oilfields recently caused many among today’s hosanna-chorus for the revolutionaries to allow themselves to be seduced in the Colonel’s desert tents.

Would similar protestations of outrage and concern be emanating from western capitals if it were the Saudi royal family engaged in a bloody fight to the finish instead of the Qaddafy tribe, even if half the peninsula’s population were to be sacrificed? Just today, Saudi troops rolled across the causeway to aid the Bahraini monarch to suppress his internal revolt, and if the choice comes down to democracy or loss of key allies in the Gulf, I suspect we will be hearing a much more nuanced discourse on the use of force against civilians.

While it is now fairly clear that the military initiative has passed to the loyalist troops under Qaddafy’s command, I cling to the possibility that the apparent triumph of hardware and armor might not be the last word. The situation, while depressingly grim, remains volatile, and evidence abounds that there is more trembling awe of the Colonel in his own ranks than affection for his robe-swaddled person. Rebel sources say splits within loyalist troops mean that many remain loath to fire upon their fellow citizens to defend the Qaddafy family playboys. Successful resistance to the current onslaught by any of the towns or cities held by the opposition might put the entire civil war on a new footing.

But perhaps I indulge mere wishful thinking.

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