Weird to sit here watching the Allies bombarding from the air and sea in the film The Longest Day, when something very similar is happening in Libya. Except of course that they will be stopping short of actually invading this time. We hope.
The mandate is vague – sufficiently vague to get an agreement – but we’re led to believe that NATO and friends will only do the minimum necessary to thwart Gaddafi’s counter-offensive on rebel strongholds such as Benghazi. After that we must hope that the Libyans can and will handle it themselves. Anything more, and it begins to look like another Western oil-grab. (Remember, Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa.) Already the Arab League has accused the NATO allies of going beyond what was agreed, though one might fairly assume the Arab League would have said that if they’d bombed with flowers and guided kittens.
And they have a point really. NATO may pragmatically accept that they will have to inflict civilian casualties if they are going to prevent Gaddafi inflicting civilian casualties. But on the ground, death inflicted by the domestic enemy will be seen very differently from death dealt by foreign powers. It could all so easily go horribly wrong, turn popular support across the Arab world against the Libyan rebels – perhaps even against all pro-democracy uprisings. Nothing could damage their cause more than being seen as Western proxies, fifth columns preparing their countries for ‘Crusader’ invasion. The hard thing for the allies, with their vastly superior fire-power, will be to stop firing – to know when they’ve done enough but not too much.
Unless of course they actually want to undermine Middle East democracy movements. That’s one Machiavellian possibility we may need to consider.