I’ve been following the situation in the Middle East as best I have been able to manage over the past couple of months. All attention is now on Libya (as if Egypt, et. al., had suddenly quietened down), given that western nations have decided to provide the rebels with air- and sea-support. However, lingering questions remain about this particular country, and the actions coalition forces have taken:
1) What is the western coalition’s ultimate goal in Libya? Is it merely the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime? Or is it paving the way for a full-blooded democracy? There seems to be a disconcerting lack of planning and long-sightedness going on in this operation. Following on from these questions, to what extent is the western response committed to defending the rebellion against Qaddafi? If the stalemate that seems to have developed endures for some time, what then?
2) Even if a flourishing democracy is the ultimate goal for western forces, can this be achieved via bombs from 3000m and Tomahawks from the decks of U.S. warships? At some point (assuming the goal is democratic change), much more will be needed. Are coalition forces willing to put boots on the ground, especially since the campaign thus far has failed to deliver a knockout blow to Libyan loyalist forces?
3) Who is actually being supported by western forces in Libya? Pure, blue-blood democrats? Opponents of Qaddafi who wish merely to see him gone? Radical Islamists? The answer is probably lies between these three groups, but a recent report in The Economist (“A Golden Opportunity?”, April 2nd, 2001) states that some in Libya who are cheering on the NATO-led bombing campaign are jihadists who have trained in Afghanistan. Islamism is apparently a diverse ideological community (stretching from the mildly Islamist AKP in Turkey to brutal and violent strains in places like Pakistan), but given its sectarian and authoritarian bent, it remains to be seen how a new polity in Libya would fair with such figures and groups in power.
4) What does this say about future interventions? Would western forces intervene in, say, Zimbabwe? And what of the horrors of a place like Darfur? Does that call for an armed response? The lack of consistency – even granting the complexity of international affairs and the constant need for flexibility – leaves one scratching one’s head over the apparent lack of an underlying philosophy.
5) A comparatively minor point, but a question raised nonetheless. Why is NATO taking charge of this operation? Of course, I know the answer – the U.S. was loathe to lead this campaign, lest its image in the Middle East be damaged. And none of the other participating countries have the power or the global reach to legitimate a supervising role. But NATO is a specifically European and North American organisation, founded for the purposes of collective defence during the Cold War. North Africa, as far as I’m aware, is not part of NATO’s remit. Its very involvement in this campaign raises more fundamental questions about its raison d’etre.
A final note: one may wonder why talk of secular politics is cropping up on a Christian blogsite. Well, aside from my natural interest in such matters, this blog is about wise reflection on all of God’s world. Last I looked, Libya and the Middle East were a part of it. But seriously, matters of justice, freedom, truth and life – biblical concerns all – are on display at the moment across North Africa and the Middle East. I believe that Christian wisdom does have something to say. But for now, I leave these questions to stimulate your thinking.