DICTATOR LOSES GRIP IN DESERT
Charles Levinson, Margaret Coker, & Tahani Karrar-Lewsley
Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2011
On the ground in the eastern chunk of this oil-rich desert nation, the signs of rebellion are plain to see in the armories of a military base near Baida: Weapons crates lie busted open and empty. Rifles are missing from their racks. Left behind are helmets and gas masks and cleaning kits—things that can’t shoot.
For four days, rebels newly armed with anti-aircraft guns and Kalashnikovs battled forces loyal to Libyan strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi and commanded by one of his sons. After days of firefights, feints and an ambush on unarmed local sheiks, the regime forces surrendered their hold on the vital local airport Tuesday morning—placing nearly all of eastern Libya outside Col. Gadhafi’s control.
The battle for Baida airport is one example of how quickly the tide across Libya has turned against Col. Gadhafi. A brutal crackdown by pro-Gadhafi forces across the country has left at least 300 dead over six days, civil-rights groups say.
On Tuesday, Libya’s top policeman, a longtime Gadhafi loyalist, joined the string of diplomats, soldiers and others to abandon their leader of 42 years. In a video aired on the Al Jazeera news channel Tuesday, Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi announced his support for anti-Gadhafi protesters and called on Libya’s armed forces to switch loyalties. It was unclear how much influence he has over the key security forces considered die-hard loyalists to the regime, such as the armed revolutionary committees or the military units controlled by Col. Gadhafi’s family members.
The defections came as Libya teetered. In the country’s eastern half, an anti-Gadhafi stronghold where protests began just last week, only one additional airport, in the region’s main city of Benghazi, remained in government control. In the coastal city of Tobruq, also in the east, Libya’s historic red, black and green flag, which was barred during Col. Gadhafi’s four-decade reign, flew over many buildings. The all-green flag of the Gadhafi regime was nowhere to be seen.
In the capital of Tripoli—a traditional stronghold of Col. Gadhafi’s power—the leader publicly defied protesters seeking to end his rule. He vowed to remain in the country “until the end.” “I am not going to leave this land. I will die here as a martyr,” he said in a rambling, 80-minute address on state television. He vowed to take back the eastern cities under rebel control and show no mercy to those he says have acted against the nation.
Around midnight, following the leader’s speech, Tripoli residents reported heavy machine-gun battles in the capital’s center and a near-constant wail of sirens. Residents say carloads of the leader’s supporters cruised around the city in the early evening, waving green flags as a symbol for their loyalty to Col. Gadhafi. Pro-Gadhafi security agents roamed the city, blaring a message over bull horns and loud speakers that people forming in groups on the streets would be shot, two residents of the capital said.…
With Col. Gadhafi inciting more clashes and the streets around Tripoli still heavily patrolled by uniformed security forces, many Libyans feared that the nation could fracture on tribal or regional lines. “We’ve been calling for an end to Gadhafi’s rule for years,” said Hafed Al-Ghwell, a U.S.-based Libyan opposition activist. “But what we’ve always feared is the day after. Right now it looks like the worst-case scenario is coming true—that Libya becomes like Somalia, with every strongman with a gun ruling his own fiefdom.…”
THE UN’S LIBYA FAILURES
Jerusalem Post, February 21, 2011
It was an old and festering wound in Libyans’ collective memory that was the immediate cause of the bloody clashes that broke out in the streets of Benghazi last Tuesday evening. A group of families whose sons were brutally massacred by the Libyan authorities would not abandon their quest for justice. They refused to be rebuffed yet again by state officials.
In 1996, an estimated 1,200 prisoners, mostly opponents of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorial regime, were rounded up and gunned down in the space of a few hours in Tripoli’s infamous Abu Salim prison. The victims’ bodies were reportedly removed from the prison in wheelbarrows and refrigerated trucks and buried in mass graves. To this day, the Libyan authorities refuse to disclose the whereabouts of these graves. It wasn’t until 2004 that Gaddafi admitted that the massacre had taken place.…
Neither the Abu Salim prison massacre nor the many other human rights abuses perpetrated by Gaddafi’s regime over the past four decades have been singled out for censure by the world’s purported protector of human rights—the UN’s Human Rights Council.
Established in 2006 with a mandate to reform its predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the HRC has in the past five years issued some 50 resolutions that condemn countries; of those, 35 have been focused on Israel, and not one has been issued against Libya. Even as of Monday evening, as protesters were being shot down in the streets of Libya, no emergency session of the HRC had been called by its members, which include the U.S. and the EU, as Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, noted in a soon-to-appear interview with The Jerusalem Post’s Ilan Evyatar. Neuer called this omission by the HRC and its members “not only a let-down to the many Libyans risking their lives for freedom, but a shirking of [the HRC’s] obligations.”
Indeed, instead of being condemned, Libya has been lionized. In May 2010, Libya was, absurdly, elected as a member of the HRC, a move that was not blocked by the Obama administration (as Iran’s bid for membership was). This was the culmination of a steady ascendancy to every important diplomatic body at the UN—including the African Union chairmanship, the UN Security Council and the presidency of the UN General Assembly. In a 100-minute rant given before the assembly in September 2009, his first since he took control of Libya in a military coup in 1969, Gaddafi exploited the opportunity to liken the UN Security Council to a “terror council” because of the veto rights enjoyed by the U.S. and the other four UNSC permanent members.
A month earlier, the man U.S. president Richard Nixon had referred to as the “mad dog of the Middle East” met with former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain. “Late evening with Col. Kaddafi at his ‘ranch’ in Libya—interesting meeting with an interesting man,” McCain tweeted the next day. Several weeks later, this “interesting man” ignored McCain’s request not to give a “hero’s welcome” to freed Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al- Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent.
While engagement has proved a dismal failure, other methods have been more effective. It should be recalled that it was in the wake of the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq that Gaddafi, anxious not to become America’s next target, magnanimously offered to scrap his nascent nuclear program.
Although the U.S. no longer enjoys the kind of influence it had in the region after the Iraq invasion, the Obama administration can move from a defensive strategy in the UN of vetoing the many anti-Israel resolutions, to an offensive approach—along with other democracies—singling out countries like Libya in a concerted shame campaign.
Perhaps if more pressure had been brought to bear against Gaddafi when he just might have been ready to listen, Libya’s citizens would not now be getting shot down in the streets by a “mad dog” regime. At the very least, the UN would have retained a modicum of moral legitimacy.
Michael J. Totten
New Republic, February 23, 2011
Not since Saddam Hussein’s regime was demolished in 2003 has an Arab head of state run a more ruthlessly repressive terror state than Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak were small-government libertarians by comparison. The implications of the uprising in Libya are therefore much bigger than they were in Tunisia or Egypt: If ordinary citizens can overthrow Qaddafi, of all people, every other despot in the region may look vulnerable—including Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran.
I managed to finagle a visa for myself just after Libyan-American relations defrosted in 2004, and the U.S. government lifted the travel ban. I was one of the first Americans to legally visit the country in decades, and what I saw there was appalling. The capital looks and feels gruesomely communist, which wasn’t surprising, considering that Qaddafi’s “Green Book,” where he fleshes out his lunatic ideology, is a bizarre mixture of the Communist Manifesto and the Koran (though references to Islam are stripped out). What did surprise me was how much terror he instilled in the hearts and minds of his people. No one I met said they liked him. No one would even speak of him unless there were no other Libyans present. Some were even afraid to utter his name, as though saying it out loud might conjure him.… “We keep our heads down and our mouths shut. We do our jobs, we go home. If I talk, they will take me out of my house in the night and put me in prison,” [one shopkeeper told me when we were alone.]
The system he runs is basically Stalinist and one of the last total surveillance police states in the world. Freedom House ranks Libya near North Korea and Turkmenistan, the most oppressive countries by far, in its utter dearth of human and political rights. I believe it. Obvious intelligence agents worked my hotel lobby, staring at and listening to everyone, and the U.S. State Department warned Americans at the time that even hotel rooms for foreigners likely were bugged.
Posters bearing the boss’s face are typical in dictatorships, but, in Libya, Qaddafi’s arrogant portrait is everywhere, on every street and in every shop. State propaganda appears on billboards along the sides of the road out in the desert. He even carved “Al Fateh Forever,” the name of his “revolution,” into the side of a mountain. The only way you can truly get away from him is to venture into the roadless sand seas of the Sahara.
The contrast between Libya and its neighbors is stark. When I visited Tunisia just a few months before going to Tripoli, I met plenty of people willing to criticize Ben Ali even when others were present. Sure, they lowered their voices, but they didn’t cower in fear. Egypt under Mubarak was even more open. I spoke to dissident bloggers like “Big Pharaoh” and “Sandmonkey” in restaurants and bars, and they didn’t care if anyone heard them slagging the president. Cairo’s mukhabarat didn’t seem to mind what anyone said as long as they didn’t act on their disgruntlement. Granted, regimes like these wouldn’t have lasted decades if they were easy to get rid of, but, ultimately, they lack the staying power of the hard totalitarian states.
States like Libya, that is. Tunisia is pleasant, prosperous, and heavily Frenchified, while Egypt is a poverty-stricken shambles, but Ben Ali and Mubarak were both pragmatic, standard issue authoritarians. Qaddafi, by comparison, is an emotionally unstable ideological megalomaniac. He says he’s the sun of Africa and swears to unite the Arabs and Africans underneath him. He has repeatedly threatened to ban money and schools, and he treats his country, communist-style, like a mad scientist’s laboratory. What I knew when I was there holds true today, even as his grip on power seems shaky: This guy is not going to liberalize, and he is not going to go quietly.
Indeed, his instruments of internal repression are proving as ruthless as promised in the face of strong civilian protests. (Libya’s second largest city of Benghazi and third largest city of Bayda are now reported to be in the hands of the opposition and under the guardianship of citizen militias and officers who have switched sides.) They’re busy assaulting demonstrators not with rubber bullets and tear gas but with artillery fire, attack helicopters, and war planes. Qaddafi has even imported mercenaries from Sub-Saharan Africa in case his own military officers flinch at orders to murder their neighbors (which some of them have, joining the demonstrators in the streets).
Ben Ali and Mubarak were low-hanging fruit, but, if a tyrant as vicious and murderous as Qaddafi can be taken out, it would seem just about anyone can be. If the people of Libya manage to overthrow him, it might even inspire Iran’s Green Movement to finish what it started in 2009 and push all the way to the end. But if Qaddafi survives by mass murder, which he just might, and if the world lets him get away with it, the Iranian regime and other despotic governments will take comfort in the knowledge that they, too, might do the same without consequence.
OBAMA’S PATHETIC RESPONSE TO LIBYA
Weekly Standard, February 23, 2011
With a thousand Libyans (and perhaps many more) dead already from the Qaddafi regime’s attacks on its own population, and with reports of thousands of mercenaries and militiamen streaming toward Tripoli, President Obama finally spoke to the nation about this violence on Wednesday afternoon. He announced solemnly that he was sending Secretary of State Clinton to Geneva to visit the U.N. Human Rights Council and “hold consultations”—next Monday! But fear not: Undersecretary of State Bill Burns is apparently traveling sooner than that to “several stops in Europe” and then even in the actual Middle East, to “intensify our consultations.”
This is not so much a feeble response as a non-response. It is an announcement to Qaddafi that we won’t even get the secretary of State moving for five more days—five more days of likely slaughter. The verbs the president employed in his remarks are toothless: we will “monitor” and “coordinate” and “consult.” We will “speak with one voice.” While he “strongly” condemned “the use of violence in Libya” the president could not bring himself to condemn the regime or its leader, the man who is imposing this reign of terror. He did say “the Libyan government has a responsibility to refrain from violence, to allow humanitarian assistance to reach those in need, and to respect the rights of its people. It must be held accountable for its failure to meet those responsibilities, and face the cost of continued violations of human rights.” But at what cost? He did not say. The closest the president came to speaking of action was this: “I’ve also asked my administration to prepare the full range of options that we have to respond to this crisis. This includes those actions we may take and those we will coordinate with our allies and partners, or those that we’ll carry out through multilateral institutions.” No one knows what this means, but it presumably may mean sanctions. Maybe. Next week. Because “prepare” is not an action verb either.
Some parts of the world are way ahead of us. Denunciations came faster and have been stronger in Europe, and yesterday Amre Moussa suspended Libya from the Arab League. That’s a good test. When Amre Moussa, the long-time secretary general of the Arab League, is ahead of you in denouncing human rights violations, you are reacting a bit slowly.
The administration has followed its near silence over Iran in June 2009 and its wavering on Egypt last month with days of silence on Libya. Finally the president has spoken and said next to nothing. For a superpower this is an embarrassment. Belgium and Luxembourg can consult and coordinate and monitor; can we do no more? How about sending Stuart Levey (leaving Treasury soon but still there) off to get freezes on all Qaddafi family assets? Instead of sending Hillary Clinton to the Human Rights Council, how about sending the Marine commandant or the chief of staff of the Air Force to NATO headquarters? Perhaps that message would be a bit more likely to capture Qaddafi’s attention. How about demanding indictments of Qaddafi for war crimes right now?
The administration has quietly told reporters that it can say no more, lest Americans in Libya be attacked by the regime or taken hostage. That’s a real concern, but once again silence is the right response for countries with no options and no capabilities. For us, the right reaction to such threats and such fears is to call Musa Kusa, Qaddafi’s long-time intelligence chief, and tell him that if the regime attacks any American we will find him wherever he is, however long it takes, and he will meet the same fate as Saddam Hussein. And tell him to pass that on to Qaddafi.