I’ve been more interested in reading bits out of the flood of dramatic news and commentary on recent events rather than adding to it, especially because for once there are bipeds involved by whom even a profoundly cynical curmudgeon like me can be moved to inspiration bordering on awe. Our species does not frequently rise up as one to face down bullets and demand decency from its rulers, but when it does happen, you gotta show some respect.
Despite my underlying pessimism about our future on the planet, my default reaction to the blood-soaked daily chronicle of 2011 is one of cautious hopefulness. Even the very sad and terrible events taking place in Libya have, for me, a sanguine reading: I believe the western powers have decided that that regime cannot be redeemed and has to go, notwithstanding the many uncertainties about who or what will replace it. It may be done legally, or it may not, but Qaddafy, loose cannon of the desert, is going to eat sand.
The reason, I further believe, is Lockerbie. Despite the big show of kissing and making up with Qaddafy led by that prince of unctuousness, Tony Blair, no one has forgotten that somebody bombed a civilian airliner in the skies over Great Britain. If the intelligence agencies remain convinced that Qaddafy was involved (and were not just saying so to discredit him), his reaction to the popular uprising must have triggered a deep chill. Clearly a man vicious enough to give the order to fire live rounds into funeral crowds and to massacre his own officers who refused to participate in the slaughter was not joking when he threatened to disrupt commercial traffic in the Mediterranean. A Qaddafy wounded but still in power with restored oil billions at his disposal meant Europe would never be safe, and this state of affairs could not be tolerated.
In my view, the seesawing military fortunes on the ground in Libya are temporary inconveniences. In fact, it’s rather reassuring to see that the uprising against Qaddafy was so spontaneous and emotional that half the guys involved can’t find the business end of an assault rifle. But the struggle for control ultimately will not take place on the field of battle. Qaddafy’s regime will be throttled slowly, but I anticipate very effectively, by external forces, and yesterday’s flurry of ship-jumping by long-time collaborators like his foreign minister is a good sign that people on the inside can see that the game is up.
Critics of the creeping intervention are right, to a point, that the no-fly zone authorization is leading to mission creep, including direct aid to the rebel forces in all their ragtag glory. While the legality is certainly questionable, the broad consensus to be done with Qaddafy is quite real and marks an important difference from the criminal endeavors of the Bush years and the futile self-delusions of Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan. Mechanical denunciations of the Libyan intervention merely discredit much more substantive objections to the U.S. role in its other two current wars.
There will be plenty of time once the endgame arrives to worry about the nefarious and self-aggrandizing plans of western states, but meanwhile there is something to be said for liberating people from a murderous nutbag who threatens revenge on all of us. The precedents are worrisome, and the potential for abuse considerable. But this story just might have a happy ending.