As the Libyan rebels gain ground towards Tripoli every news station is talking about an end to the grip on power that Gaddafi has had over Libya for 42 years. And just some hours ago the Colonel lost a grip on himself and in an outburst called the rebels ‘dogs’ and ‘rats.’ This got me wondering who are the real rats and dogs in this equation. The unarmed civilian protestors who, inspired by their counterparts in the region, peacefully assembled asking for ‘democratic reforms’ and in return received warplanes, warships, tanks, artillery, and live fire from their government? The rebels who, provoked by a rigid government that was not willing to negotiate took up arms and welcomed assistance from NATO forces to resolve their ‘Libyan’ crisis? The leaders and nations behind the NATO forces who ‘could’ be driven by nothing more than political and economic expediency? A leader and his government on the verge of total collapse who for 42 years systematically eroded all freedoms of the media, speech, assembly and association; who tortured all opposition, disappeared many and killed scores more? A leader who launched a war against his own people and killed more than 6,000 lives in just 6 months?
Surely without NATO intervention we would have seen one of the following outcomes in Libya:
1. Disintegration into a perpetual civil war
Highly likely! When two or more warring sides are driven the battle will go on until one side has no more people or resources to fight. Another DRC – another Somalia – a protracted war, with a government that holds power in some regions of the country while others are controlled by rebels. Lawlessness and ultimately a debilitation into a perpetual state of insecurity is what we would have seen.
2. Defeat for the rebels-brutal punishment from the restored leader
With no NATO to stretch the Gaddafi resources both human and military, the rebels would have faced the full wrath of the Gaddafi forces. Eventually they would have run out of arms, if no (more) covert supplies were given to them. Gaddafi would have regained his control over Beghazi. This would in all likelihood signify severe bloodshed as the wounded leader wiped out every single trace of an attempted mutiny. Libya would have given historians yet another ‘Reign of Terror’ to document. Very likely! No wonder NATO did not leave it to chance for this outcome to come to pass.
3. Defeat for the rebels-mercy from a benevolent leader
The rebels would have run out of ammunition. Gaddafi would have crashed the protests and resumed his post at the helm of Libya as President. He would then have reflected on the cause of the protests, instigated reforms, promised to step down, arrange for the holding of free and fair elections and we would never heard of him in a bad light anymore. Really? More of a pipe dream and delusional wishful thinking, I would say, given the man’s history.
4. Impasse-Negotiated solution
Maybe the two sides would have fought until they were tired of it then sought a negotiated solution whereupon they would enter into a power sharing government and live happily ever after the way Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki in Kenya or Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai have been doing in Zimbabwe. To borrow one my friends’ expression this would have been ‘[absolute] nonsense upon stilts.’
What we have now is a post-NATO-intervention Libya. NATO efforts were ‘allegedly’ focused on ‘ the protection of civilians.’ To what extent this is true history shall reveal in due course as it has always done. But what other alternative was there really? Would it have been better for NATO to stand on the sidelines while Gaddafi, the butcher prepared a barbeque out of his own people’s flesh? Would the intervention have been more legitimate had it been by the African Union? Was the African Union ever going to stop the killings?
Fears remain that factions within the rebel groups could disintegrate into inter-rebel fights for political control. More fears are that pro-Gaddafi fighters will continue to pose a security threat to Libya launching incursions, possibly ‘terroristic attacks’ and haunt Libya even after Gaddafi is gone. Worse still as I write, Gaddafi himself is nowhere to be found. God forbid that he be on his way to Zimbabwe to join his long term friends Bob and Mengistu. I am convinced the four scenarios I posed above would never have been better options and if the rebels do not rapidly assert control a protracted war could still be a possibility. Should the new authorities also fail to assert control over their resources then history shall reveal the real rats and dogs.