Libya: Another Oily Killing Field

A female rebel supporter shoots an AK-47 rifle as she reacts to the news of the withdrawal of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces from Benghazi on March 19.

Colonel Gaddafi has supported terrorism against the United States and France; was responsible for the tragedy of PanAm 103; funded, armed and trained radicals in many African countries such as Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Haute Volta and a few Middle Eastern countries, including Lebanon. His regime has oppressed people and tortured and jailed his opponents for four decades. Few would dispute that he is a ruthless dictator. 

Why has the West been silent so long? Why is the West only now taking action against Gaddafi? Of course the answer has to do with oil. Western elites were morally and politically encouraging him by buying his oil and empowering him with endless cash as Libyan dissidents were dying in jails.

Now, as missiles are crushing Gaddafi's air defense systems and tanks, Western governments should be invited for serious self-criticism for having enabled this regime to last so long. Squeezing or even defeating Gaddafi should prompt a comprehensive review of past decades of Western policies towards this regime and its abuses of human rights.

The military operation should not end with the departure of Gaddafi from power. It should open the door for an examination of U.S. and European policies that have aligned themselves with petrodollars for over half a century. Such self-criticism should have surfaced with the removal of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, but it has been thwarted by powerful lobbies representing the interests of OPEC, the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Questions should be raised about the Arab League and OIC endorsement of an action against Gaddafi's regime. Where were they for decades when the Libyan dictator used to seize the microphone on their platforms and blast the very democracies they implored to act against him? These organizations catered to the interest of regimes they now are calling for sanctions against. Mr. Amr Moussa, the current secretary general of the Arab League, rises against Gaddafi after having supported him for years.

In my book, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, I call all these regimes and organizations a "brotherhood against democracy." They have supported each other against democratic movements and minorities everywhere in the region. From Sudan to Lebanon, from Iraq to Libya, the regional organizations were at the service of these regimes, not of the people. As these revolts are ongoing, these inter-regimes' organizations must be criticized and eventually reformed.

Last year, the Arab League and OIC were endorsing Libya's role in the U.N. Council on Human Rights. Egypt, Tunisia and Libya's representatives at the Geneva U.N. body were shutting up the voices of Libyan dissidents just a few months ago. Now that the uprisings have crumbled the regimes in Cairo and Tunisia, and Tripoli's ruler is cornered, the negative impact these inter-regime organizations have on dissidents and human rights on international levels must be exposed and their future representation comprehensively reformed.

Many jihadists have been recruited from Libya, particularly from its eastern provinces. Besides, Western policies towards Gaddafi's regime were incoherent. They should have supported true democratic forces and uprisings in the region from Iran to the Arab world.

In short, I would have advised for a different set of U.S. global strategies in the Middle East. We should have backed the Iranian Green Revolution in 2009, the Cedars Revolution as it struggled against Hezbollah, and Darfur in its liberation drive against the jihadist regime in Khartoum. In Egypt, we should have clearly sided with the secular youth and Copts as they asked for a new constitution. In Iraq, we should have been clear in supporting reformist and secular forces.

As far as Libya is concerned, removing Gaddafi is not the question. That should have been done years ago on the grounds of human rights abuses. The question is, who will come next? Clearly, the agenda of the Benghazi leadership is not clear. We know there is a layer of former bureaucrats, diplomats, intellectuals and military dissidents with whom partnership is possible and should be encouraged. But there is another layer below the surface that is made of Islamists, Salafists and, in some cases, jihadists.

Washington must partner with the secular democrats and warn that it won't endorse replacing Gaddafi's Jamahiriyya with a jihadi emirate. Why aren't the most liberal Libyan dissidents received in Washington and made visible? The U.S. and NATO military has been tasked to open the highways to Tripoli for the opposition, but we need to insure that on that highway we won't see the democracy groups eliminated by the next authoritarians.

Dr Walid Phares teaches global strategies in Washington, D.C. and is the author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East. His research is posted on www.walidphares.com.