‘Unforeseen Consequences’ and the Unravelling of Libya
- April 03, 2012
The imperium and its cohorts are in a hurry these days. No sitting around waiting for the wheels of diplomacy or negotiations to take their course for them. Not when there’s a world to be put to rights, wars that need to be fought, rebels to be armed, regimes to topple. And when they want things done, they mean now, you hear?
Only last weekend Hilary Clinton was in Riyadh warning that “time is running out for diplomacy with Iran”. Then on Sunday she was in Istanbul to issue yet another warning that the US was “losing patience with Damascus” even though Assad has accepted Kofi Annan’s proposals.
Swept along by a heady impulse to bring law and virtue to the world’s dark places, the US and its allies have been surprisingly silent about the increasingly dire situation in Libya. It’s little more than a year since NATO began its bombing campaign to topple the Gaddafi regime, using the UN-authorised no fly zone as a pretext.
That campaign was begun in order to ‘save lives’ and avert a humanitarian catastrophe, and its protagonists displayed the same breathless haste and urgency that is so evident today. On the day the first missile strikes were launched, David Cameron declared:
“There will always be unforeseen consequences of taking action but it is better to take this action than to risk the consequences of inaction which is the further slaughter of civilians by this dictator.”
These unforeseen consequences included a civil war that killed between 30,000-50,000 people, and a chaotic post-war situation that continues to form new tributaries of violence both inside and outside Libya. Nearly six months after the execution of Gaddafi and the fall of Sirte, the National Transitional Council has yet to restore control over the country’s 500-odd militia groups, many of whom continue to act as a law unto themselves.
The last five months have been punctuated by violent clashes between rival militias and ethnic groups, and the victimisation of African migrants or black Libyans by Arab militiamen. acting out of revenge or pure racism. Last month there were armed clashes in Benghazi, when demonstrators protested the announcement by a conference of tribal and militia leaders in Benghazi of a semiautonomous region in the oil-rich eastern region of Cyrenaica.
Last week 147 people were killed in clashes between Arab fighters and members of the Tabu ethnic group in the southern city of Sabha. Now new clashes have broken out near the Tunisian border in the West. Meanwhile Tuareg fighters, armed to the teeth with weapons that they once received from the Gaddafi regime, have captured the Malian city of Timbuktu as part of their campaign to create and independent Tuareg homeland.
It may well be that the intervention that was supposedly intended to save Libyans from the wrath of a dictator will bring about the destruction of the Libyan state, with a further knockon effect beyond its borders. This is the problem with wars. They are easy to start – and even to win – but, as our prime minister so wisely observed, they also have unintended consequences
If Libya does collapse, don’t expect the governments who helped bring about this outcome to accept any responsibility or acknowledge that it is even happening. The European Union and the US have had little to say about the disastrous consequences of a war that they rushed into with such manic haste, and where, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, the militarist cure has proven to be worse than the disease.
Hardly had the smoke cleared in Sirte than the same governments were already stocking up on bombs and missiles for the next intervention, with the same deranged disregard for the consequences. Like a restless Robocop with attention deficit disorder, militarism continues to seek new targets and new objects of virtuous violence.
And as in the past its proponents are always running out of time and running out of patience, and rarely pause to look behind them at the many broken eggs that have yet to produce an omelette.