Responding to the Violence of Qaddafi and Other Besieged Leaders
Previously published on Feb 27, 2011
Oppressive regimes, which use violence to hold onto power, are cultured to respond with mass violence when popular uprising threaten their authority. Consequently, it is no surprise that Middle Eastern and North African regimes would counter calls for responsive and democratic governance with open war against their Peoples. For years, scholars have been watching the corridor from Africa across the Middle East to the Indochina subcontinent for catastrophic unrest. Revolt, however, has come mainly from peaceful protestors. Unfortunately, state-sponsored violence perpetrated by rulers of countries like Libya, Iran, and Bahrain revives fears that widespread civil unrest could cripple the region. How to respond to events in order to diminish instability is, therefore, the question the International Community must answer quickly.
Given the negative history of Western involvement in the area, the scope of the uprisings, and fiscal realities at home, protracted military responses are not a very practical answer for major power players. Should peacekeeping forces enter a territory to depose a violent regime, forces risk getting bogged down by insurgents and terrorists, just as US forces did in Iraq. Looking at softer options, economic sanctions are more long-term punishments that can be useful if regimes remain in power, though they primarily hurt the populations of isolated countries. Cutting rulers off from assets stashed throughout the International Community and constantly condemning violence against peaceful protestors can add moral pressure to encourage factions within regimes; however, these options are not very forceful solutions, though they do help demonstrate solidarity with the Peoples of these countries in revolt.
While failures in conflicts like those in Iraq and Afghanistan leave us hesitant to commit support for new conflicts, deciding to step back is a challenge that goes counter to our impulse to defend our interests and human life. What will determine whether or not a territory in transition can transform into a stable democratic state hinges on the ability of a country's People to forge and support a new government. Endangering these transitions are leaders unwilling to make adequate concessions or advocate their power. Essentially, Muammar al-Qaddafi, as a bold example, has decided Libya will have him or he will plunge Libya into anarchy. By inciting violence through the use of violence, governments chance losing complete control over their territories, inviting terrorist elements into their countries, running the risk of civil war, and sharply polarizing their Peoples in general.
From Egypt, we know the solution lies in the ability of some institution to push the unpopular leadership out. The key factor in the Egyptian military's successful intervention was its strength as a social institute and its professional nature that instilled its members with a sense of duty to their People. Of course, the strategically divided nature of Libya's civil society makes it difficult for any particular group to lead. Then again, Libya may not have the advantage of strong, nationalized social institutions, but it is better off than countries with no such infrastructure as elements that could unite do exist. Components of the Qaddafi regime have fortunately split from their leader's increasingly erratic, desperate behavior, so elements of a transitional body are starting to form. Unfortunately, pro-Qaddafi forces might prove strong enough to entrench themselves in sections of cities, such as Tripoli, where they can work to retake lost territory.
Accordingly, outsiders must, at least, consider tactical maneuvers that will diminish the might of leaders like Qaddafi. Militarily speaking, foreign powers might move to target aircraft and heavy artillery used to attack civilians. In addition, limited uses of Special Forces should be considered to infiltrate and disrupt any functional military operations. Of course, this must be done in collusion with dissident elements from the regime and upcoming civil leaders. Meanwhile, any economic sanctions should be used to cut off the embattled regime from financial resources, material support, and mercenary forces. The idea is not to invade or spark violent revolt; but rather, the goal is to act against regimes using military might to squash rebellion and prevent the escalation of violence to ensure stability will return to the region as soon as possible. In other words, foreigners should takeout airplanes and tanks to give protestors a fighting chance, so they can takeover their own countries.
Beyond limited action in violent, protracted crackdowns like the one seen in Libya, the International Community must sit on its hands. The fact that foreign nationals have mostly been evacuated from Libya leaves the West more space to maneuver; however, because most security forces are attacking protestors on the streets with small arms, reality dictates there is actually very little we can do to safeguard the citizens of Libya. Since America cannot constructively take the lead in places, such as Libya, it is, therefore, best for major power players like the US to defer to allies with greater influence in specific countries. The same is true in other countries where regimes have declined to step down. As such, intervention by outsiders must be limited to preventing the escalation of violence against civilians and sending a powerful message that such behavior will not be tolerated.
Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, the rest of the Middle East and Africa will not have the guiding hand that allowed their Peoples to squander precious resources and lives deciding when they should take up the cause of democracy. There is very little the US, the West, and the rest of the International Community can do to prevent countries, which are ruled by defiant leaders facing unrelenting revolt, from collapsing into anarchy. There is a little more that can be done to help build up democratic infrastructure in countries already undergoing transition or political reform in order to maintain stability into the future, yet the success of the region depends upon the Peoples of the region, not outsiders. We may have strategic interests in the region, but democracy comes with growing pains while Middle Easterners and Africans will, ultimately, be the ones who decide their own fate. Moreover, limited, tactical maneuvers should be used solely to protect peaceful protestors, so complete anarchy does not ensue in the wake of violent crackdowns.