I just caught up with this piece by the Guardian’s Chris Stephen in Tripoli. (H/T B of MofA.)
Tell me again why anyone ever thought that NATO missiles were capable of somehow ‘delivering’ democracy and a system of respecting basic human rights in Libya?
Stephen writes of the country’s current rulers, the National Transitional Council:
- The NTC refuses to say who its members are, or even how many there are. Although it appointed a cabinet last month, policy decisions are taken inside what amounts to a black box. Meetings are held in secret, voting records are not published, and decisions are announced by irregular television broadcasts.
Typical was last week’s announcement, which came out of the blue, that the oil and economy ministries would be moved to Benghazi, and the finance ministry to Misrata. Diplomats scoffed at the impracticality of such a scheme, which would leave Libya’s administration scattered over hundreds of miles. This opacity reminds some Libyans of how things were run in former times…
And there’s this:
- According to diplomats, the country can move forward only when the national army controls the militias. However, the national army is neither national nor an army.
It was formed in the February revolution in the eastern city of Benghazi by several hundred army officers who defected to the rebels. But most of the army itself remained loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. All of which has left this “national army” with plenty of chiefs but precious few Indians.
The militias, meanwhile, are getting organised. Those of Zintan and Misrata are in effect citizen armies, controlled by their leaders and military councils. Discipline remains a problem, with older members complaining of too many unemployed young men with guns, but order in both cities is more complete than in Tripoli, where gunfire crackles on most nights.
The news peg on which Stephen hangs his article is a grim reminder of how deep the political fragmentation in Libya currently is. basically, it’s the tale of how the militias were all lining up to control tripoli’s international airport, in the expectation that the UN was about to fly in several planeloads of Libyan dinar bills that had just been printed in Germany… with the hope that whoever could control the airport and the road from there to the central Bank could take a hefty rakeoff from the booty in the name of “providing security services.”
Here is the scene that Stephen described:
- Last weekend the army tried to storm the airport and was stopped in a battle at the main airport checkpoint, which left two militiamen wounded and flights suspended as tracer fire arced over the runways. The army tried again midweek, summoning reinforcements from eastern Libya, only for the column to be stopped 200 miles west by units from Misrata, which are allied with Zintan.
More fighting is expected after unidentified gunmen shot and wounded a son of army commander General Khalifa Hifter in a battle outside Tripoli’s biggest bank, then kidnapped another on Friday.
Meantime, even people in the ranks of the rebels are conceding that somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 Libyans were killed during the seven months of fighting that followed NATO’s entry into the fighting March 19. Prior to that, the death toll was only one-tenth as high.
My old friend Hugh Roberts knows 100 times as much about North Africa as I do. In November, he was writing these very sane words in the LRB:
- The claim that the ‘international community’ had no choice but to intervene militarily and that the alternative was to do nothing is false. An active, practical, non-violent alternative was proposed, and deliberately rejected. The argument for a no-fly zone and then for a military intervention employing ‘all necessary measures’ was that only this could stop the regime’s repression and protect civilians. Yet many argued that the way to protect civilians was not to intensify the conflict by intervening on one side or the other, but to end it by securing a ceasefire followed by political negotiations…
This was, of course, the very same argument that I was making back in March. So was Hugh: He was then working for the International Crisis Group, which as he noted in the LRB piece put forward its own very sensible proposal for a negotiated de-escalation at the time. But no: The foul humors and animal spirits of the west’s warmongers won the day on that occasion– as they seem to, only too, too often.
But why, I wonder, had so many western liberals and rights activists learned nothing from what had happened in Iraq over the preceding eight years? Truly tragic.