Months ago, when I was a much more active blogger, I made my support for deposing Saddam Hussein pretty clear but while I’m certainly no fan of Colonel Gaddafi, I reckon the current action against him will fail.
There was a lot of excited talk at the weekend, with Tory Lord General Sir Richard Dannatt (who I’ve previously written off as ‘an old warhorse not cut out for politics’) telling Sky News that Gaddafi’s forces would quickly defect and the Libyan opposition claiming that ‘99 percent of the people were with them’. All of this is clearly nonsense; Gaddafi is a brutal dictator and sponsor of international terrorism, but he retains a large loyal following. Many people appear willing to die for him. These human shields have already proved effective.
So much is unclear that the alliance already looks shambolic. The British government has been confused, perhaps split on war aims, as minsters contradict generals. Worse, the Arab League appeared to get cold feet on day one. They didn’t appear to understand that they were endorsing bombing raids and so we may reasonably assume they will resist interpreting the war aims too widely. This is understandable as these are not democratic countries and at the back of each despot’s mind must be the fear that what they agree may be done against Gaddafi today, may be done against them tomorrow.
And this explains why Gaddafi is a target and not other countries; like Bahrain, where a blind eye has been turned to pro-democracy demonstrators being brutally put down by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Gaddafi is a real outsider. The ruling families of the Arab world would be delighted to have him gone. And to have him gone in a way that diverts attention from the crushing of revolutions in their own countries would be delightful.
Finally, there appears to be an assumption that the Libyan opposition is democratic. This is overly optimistic given that they are led by military men who, given that Gaddafi has been in power for forty years, must have done plenty of bad things over their careers. More likely, they have decided to put tribal loyalties first and that many are aspiring warlords.
Much has been made of Gaddafi’s forces early retreat, but this is most likely a tactical withdrawal. Given their limited UN mandate — to do no more than enforce a no-fly-zone that protects civilians — the allies will not be able justify doing much more than they have already. The rebels won’t be able to meet Gaddafi’s forces head-on and a period of stalemate will follow. The allies, mystified by Gaddafi’s staying power, will suddenly realise it’s all going pear-shaped and start talking about exit strategies.