In a fortified bunker somewhere in Tripoli, Muammar Gaddafi is saying, “What’s the deal? I shoot a couple of protesters, who were probably Al Qaeda anyway, and NATO goes berserk. Meanwhile, over in Syria, Assad’s gunning down civilians like there’s a deposit on them. What happens? Nothing! All Bashar gets is a couple of nasty e-mails from Ban Ki-moon, and he walks away smilin’. Where’s the justice? And that’s not all. In Iran, Ahmadinejad is building a bomb the size of Baltimore. In Bahrain, Al Khalifa called in the Saudi tanks five minutes after CNN turned its back, and nobody even knows who’s killing who in Yemen – or how many! So why am I the goalie on the Cruise Missile team?” Actually, Muammar has a point. Protecting civilian populations seems to be a selective process at the UN these days. I’ll grant you, NATO can’t bomb everyone they’d like to, but just exactly what is the UN mandate? Something is going disastrously wrong in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab Spring that started out with such hope in Tunisia is rapidly deteriorating into Chaos Summer.
The rebels in Libya aren’t going to win anytime soon – not without a lot more help than they’re getting. NATO’s been blowing up everything bigger than a Safeway cart for nearly three months now. Some countries are actually running out of ordinance, for God’s sake. Yet, all I see on TV are smoke plumes in the distance and some scrubby guys with automatic weapons, firing wildly into the desert. No offence, but what are they shooting at? One would think, Gaddafi couldn’t have enough hardware left to defend himself against my nephew’s hockey team. Not so. Apparently, Muammar is just as nasty as he always was and about twice as defiant. Again I ask, what is the UN mandate?
The Canadian commander of the mission, General Charles Bouchard, has called this Libyan adventure “a knife fight in a phone booth.” I have never been in a knife fight — either in or outside a phone booth — but common sense tells me the object would be to stick the other guy. Unfortunately, the UN won’t let anybody do that: regime change is not on the table. I hate to keep asking obvious questions but… what, then, is the purpose of this Libyan debacle? Honestly, it’s beginning to look like the only way to get a favourable result is if NATO somehow manages to kill Muammar – accidently. Pack a lunch, folks: we could be here for a while.
Of course, the unforeseen side effect reality of sixty missions a day in Libya is every other dictator within F-18 distance of Tripoli can do as he damn well pleases. Bashar al-Assad isn’t really too worried about shooting protesters out of season in Syria when NATO is otherwise engaged. He knows the Western powers aren’t going to launch anything more than a stern warning in his direction, and he’s acting accordingly. The same goes for whoever is trying to be in charge in Yemen. The extra added attraction there is Al Qaeda already has a firm presence. Fortunately, Ahmadinejad in Iran has his own problems. He’s just one magic lamp away from getting charged with sorcery or cavorting with genies or some other such madness. Otherwise, he’d be putting the boots to his dissidents, as well.
What’s happened here is the West has squandered its power to influence events by actually using it. It has always been the threat of unleashing unlimited Hell that has kept the more petty of the dictators in line. They knew they could only go so far, dishing out nasties to their own people, before Hillary, Cameron and Sarkozy said enough is enough. The problem is power is not what you do, necessarily; it’s what you’re willing to do. If dictator A knows you’re willing to blast him out of his jackboots, he tends to tiptoe. Once he knows you’re not, he’s kinda got you over a barrel.
Everybody knows that the West can’t disentangle itself from Libya now without looking like jackasses. If Gaddafi’s still there when NATO goes home, Bashar and the boys aren’t going to worry about the UN, NATO — or anybody else, for that matter. Syrian dissidents might as well be put on the Endangered Species List. The best bet is for NATO to forget about UN Resolution 1973 and get rid of Muammar as quickly as possible. From there, the West could relax and rearm and tell guys like Assad to shape up and fly right — or there’s a good possibility they’re going to get the same treatment as the last guy who pissed us off. Maybe then the West could start directing traffic again — instead of standing on the curb watching the world go by.