Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Are the Western Powers repeating the errors of the Spanish Civil War in Libya?

The Obama administration and most of western Europe has, up to this moment, shown a great deal of hesitancy in taking any part in the current uprising against Muamar Qaddafi in Libya. In doing so, they risk repeating the errors of the Spanish Civil War from 1936 through 1939. The root of the western powers' hesitance to get involved seems to be an underlying assumption that Qaddafi has already lost and it is only a matter of time before he quits.

There is a parallel here with the history of the Spanish Civil War. In 1936 a civil war broke out between the liberal Republican government and the conservative, pro-fascist forces of Francisco Franco. While the Western Democracies dithered and even undertook to withhold assistance to the embattled Republicans, fascist Italy and Nazi Germany worked tirelessly to reinforce Franco. Bolstered by his totalitarian allies, Franco overcame the Democratically-elected Republic.

A similar dynamic seems to be underway in Libya. Working under the assumption that no matter what they do, Qaddafi is bound to lose, the Western allies, now known as NATO, are dithering when they ought to be offering some form of concrete support to the insurgents. Qaddafi is no where near surrendering. He has rallied his forces and is launching brutal counterattacks. Qaddafi is recruiting mercenaries in Sub-Saharan Africa and arming them with weapons flown in from Belarus.

NATO needs to wake up to the possibility that Qaddafi could win and win big. Qaddafi could re-establish control over all of Libya and set up one of his sons to continue with another four decades of oppression of the people a Libya. Committing ground troops may not be desirable or even necessary, but steps should be taken to neutralize Qaddafi fixed-wing aircraft by cratering their runways and then covering them with area-denial sub-munitions. Qaddafi's helicopters pose a greater challenge, he has several Mi-24 Hind gunships. Despite this, the insurgents seem to be well-equipped with heavy machine guns and and automatic cannons and have brought down some of these helicopters. I will leave the details of the aid provided to the experts.

But the one thing that must change is the "we-can't-lose" attitude of NATO. The forces of totalitarianism don't hesitate. Qaddafi and his friends are working tirelessly to crush the uprising and they are perfectly willing to murder as many Libyans as they need to in order to achieve this goal. Unless we want to spend the next forty years in a standoff with one of Qaddafi's sons, then it is time to think of concrete ways we can help the Libyan insurgents without becoming bogged down on the ground.

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