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Just Whom is the US backing in Libya?

Posted on March 22 2011 2:15 pm
Carl in Jerusalem runs the popular Web site
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Over the past weekend, the United States and its allies have instituted a bombing campaign in support of Libyan rebels seeking the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi. While Gadhafi is a despicable tyrant, very little consideration appears to have been given to who the rebels are, what they represent, and what kind of Libya they might create once Gadhafi is gone. As John Rosenthal writes at Pajamas Media, the US may be strengthening the same forces they were fighting in Iraq.

But the problem is that it is not only Muammar al-Gaddafi who has identified the coastal cities of Libya’s eastern Cyrenaica region as al-Qaeda strongholds. The analysts of the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point have as well. The findings of the latter are based on the so-called Sinjar Records: captured personnel records identifying foreign combatants who joined al-Qaeda in Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007. (The full study is available online here. The relevance of the study to the current situation in Libya was first pointed out by Andrew Exum in a blog post here.)

The West Point analysts’ statistical study of the al-Qaeda personnel records comes to the conclusion that one country provided “far more” foreign fighters in per capita terms than any other: namely, Libya. Furthermore, the records show that the “vast majority of Libyan fighters that included their hometown in the Sinjar Records resided in the country’s Northeast.”

The contributions of two cities in particular stand out. One of these has in the last month become a household name: Benghazi. The second is precisely Darnah: the city in which, according to Libyan government sources, an Islamic emirate was declared when the unrest started in February and that thereby earned a visit from the New York Times to prove that it was not so. Darnah lies to the east of Benghazi, behind the battle lines created by the furthest advance of Libyan government forces prior to the announcement of Thursday’s UN Security Council resolution.

Judith Apter Klinghoffer points out that we have long been aware that the choice in the Middle East may be between dictators and Islamists, and that real democracy has often required more than just intellectual support from the West.

Democracy promotion in the Middle East meant turning over power to the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah except in cases where the American military was present to limit the ability of Islamists to limit the power of governments and ensure that second and third elections take place. This was the case in Bosnia, Kossovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. The quick removal of such forces, created chaos in Somalia. Let us remember that boots of the ground were also needed to secure German, South Korean and Taiwanese democracies.

Will Tunisia, Egypt , Libya etc., become another Iraq or Iran? Is there anything the West can do to ensure the more favorable outcome without boots on the ground? How successful will the efforts of anti-democratic forces of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and China be in bringing about an unfavorable outcome? These are the 64 million dollar questions.

In private email correspondence with me and others, Professor Barry Rubin criticized the apparent American ignorance about just whom they are backing in Libya. Caroline Glick refers to this as the United States’ strategic dementia.

WHAT THE US foreign policy fights regarding Egypt and Libya indicate is that currently, a discussion about how events impact core US regional interests is completely absent from the discussion. Consequently, it should surprise no one that none of the policies the US is implementing in the region advance those core interests in any way. Indeed, they are being severely damaged.

The rebels are reportedly represented by the so-called National Transitional Council led by several of Gaddafi’s former ministers.

But while these men – who are themselves competing for the leadership mantle – are the face of the NTC, it is unclear who stands behind them. Only nine of the NTC’s 31 members have been identified.

Unfortunately, available data suggest that the rebels championed as freedom fighters by the neoconservatives, the opportunists, the Europeans and the Western media alike are not exactly liberal democrats. Indeed, the data indicate that Gaddafi’s opponents are more aligned with al-Qaida than with the US.

None of this proves that the US is now assisting an al-Qaida takeover of Libya. But it certainly indicates that the forces being assisted by the US in Libya are probably no more sympathetic to US interests than Gaddafi is. At a minimum, the data indicate the US has no compelling national interest in helping the rebels in overthrow Gaddafi.

And Israel may yet be asked to pay the price for America’s foolishness, according to Herb Keinon at the Jerusalem Post, who points out that whether or not it benefits Israel–but especially if it is seen as benefiting Israel–the Jewish state is put in a difficult position once Western armies are involved in ousting an Arab dictator neighbor of Israel’s.

One does not need to have a particularly fertile imagination to envision French President Nicolas Sarkozy or British Prime Minister David Cameron needing to repair damage with the Muslims and the Arab world after causing “collateral damage” – meaning civilian casualties – and going beyond what the Arab League is already saying it empowered the Western powers to do in the first place.

And, on a superficial level, there seems no better way – no easier formula – to mend ties with the Muslim world than to come down on Israel.

But one can easily imagine the French and the British proposing hard lobbying inside the EU for a unilateral declaration [of a Palestinian state] after pulverizing Libya. This would be a relatively cost-free way of showing the Arab world and the Muslim public – both domestic and global – that those bombs were not a Western crusade against Islam. It’s a move that would earn wide applause among many Muslims worldwide.

And such recognition may very well be just one manifestation of what could turn into a full-court press on Israel to take the steps that these countries think are necessary for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

This should sound familiar to supporters of Israel. In 1991, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) sided with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the First Gulf War. Despite that, when the war ended, the United States sought to make amends to the Arab world by convening the Madrid Conference and allowing “Palestinian representation” as part of a Jordanian delegation. The Palestinian representation was not supposed to include members of the PLO, but it quickly became obvious that its members were taking orders from Yasser Arafat. Israel found itself involved in its recurrent nightmare – an “international conference” in which the rest of the participants were aligned against it – with the PLO sitting at the table. Subsequent efforts by the Israeli government to extricate itself from the disaster resulted in the suspension of loan guarantees that Israel was using to resettle Russian immigrants, and a noticeable worsening of relations between Israel and the Bush (41) administration.

While there is little Israel can do to prevent this scenario from recurring, it ought to urge its allies – particularly the neo-conservatives in the United States – to consider what sort of Libya they might be bringing about and at what price. Otherwise, Israel is likely to find itself being forced to pay the price for the creation of an Arab state based on Shari’a law by allowing another such state to be created in its own backyard.

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