Libya: Tripoli (and others) Should Welcome Benghazi’s Demand for Autonomy


Last week, 3,000 militia and tribal leaders from eastern Libya announced unilateral plans to begin establishing their own autonomous government. They demanded a return to the loose federation that existed before Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi came to power in 1969.

Predictably, the leaders of the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Tripoli rejected these calls. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, even claimed that they were inspired by elements loyal to Gaddafi’s old regime.

This is a mistake. Although Libya would in an ideal world be just fine with a unitary government built around a single national assembly, it is more likely to create a robust state that can meet the needs of its people if it empowers its regions. Continue reading

Libya strains NATO

I’ve done a piece for YaleGlobal about the implications for NATO of its operation in Libya

With Operation Unified Protector in Libya, NATO enters war for the third time in its history. And like its first-ever conflict with Yugoslavia in 1999, the alliance is anything but unified. But gone to war it has, carrying out air strikes against forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and more than 100 sorties on most days. The half-hearted nature of the intervention can be seen as a glass half full or half empty for the alliance. But over time the cherry-picking approach of the members could reduce it into irrelevance … Read more

The right mix for humanitarian intervention

I’ve posted a piece on the BBC Editors’ Blog about Libya, Ivory Coast and humanitarian intervention.

Since the foreign military intervention began in Libya in early March, The World Tonight has been airing the debate over why action is being taken in Libya and not other countries, such as Ivory Coast.

Over the past decade, we have covered the waxing, in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, of so-called humanitarian or liberal intervention, and its waning in the wake of the Iraq invasion in 2003. It is never a simple case of the international community intervening to protect civilians who are victims of repression from their own governments. If it were, we would have seen foreign forces going into such countries as Sri Lanka or Burma as well as Sierra Leone and former Yugoslavia.

Read more

Gaddafi: ‘Championing a United Africa’

This piece from yesterday’s Africa Review contains much that is spurious. That coalition forces are ‘taking their lead from the US,’ that Libya will become ‘a basket country’ after Gaddafi goes, that African leaders see Gaddafi as a ‘benevolent godfather,’ and that in the Ivory Coast there is ‘little difference’ between Gbagbo and Ouattara are all at the very least arguable.

But these claims pale into insignificance compared with the article’s overarching point, which is that the West wants to remove Gaddafi because he is a ‘dangerous African likely to cause a united front against neo-colonialism in Africa.’ According to the Africa Review, the kindly dictator ‘identified himself with sub-Saharan Africa, championing a united Africa and showing the continent how if they formulated a collective vision, they would be able to stand on their own feet.’

The basis for this claim is unclear, for when one thinks of Gaddafi and sub-Saharan Africa, unity and self-reliance are very far from the first things that spring to mind. Was Gaddafi championing a united Africa when he armed Charles Taylor in Liberia and Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone, enabling them to kill tens of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans and maim, rape and torture many more (even Taylor’s defence lawyer at the Hague has asked why Gaddafi is not in the dock)? Was he formulating a collective vision when he sent Libyan troops to help the mad cannibal Idi Amin crush a popular uprising, or when he gave Amin arms to massacre sub-Saharan Africans in northern Uganda? Was he helping Africans stand on their own feet when he sent weapons to a rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo who is now on trial for war crimes? The list goes on and on; with friends like these, as sub-Saharan Africans reading the Africa Review must surely be asking themselves as they splutter over this morning’s cornflakes, who needs enemies?

Will West’s attacks on Libya help Al Qaeda recruit West Africans?

Last week, a pro-Gaddafi protest in predominantly-Muslim Guinea was banned. This week, a similar event in Niger has been outlawed, with the head of the apparently moderate Islamic Association of Niger describing the attacks as a ‘crusade against the Islamic world.’

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – the terrorist organisation’s West African branch – is already gaining strength thanks to ransom payments it has received in return for releasing Western hostages. There must be a risk that what is happening in Libya will push new recruits into its arms.

On the web: Bernanke’s reappointment, al-Megrahi’s release, foreign policy realism, the “perfect storm”, and more…

– With the news that President Obama has nominated Ben Bernanke for a second term, over at the New Republic Noam Scheiber assesses the merits of continuity at the Fed. Stephen Roach, meanwhile, examines the case against the incumbent chairman, arguing that Obama’s decision should open a “broader debate over the conduct and role of US monetary policy”.

– Taking us back to the depths of last September’s financial meltdown, Faisal Islam has some interesting insights into the collapse of Lehman Brothers as viewed from British shores.

– Elsewhere, debate continues apace about the rights and wrongs of releasing the Lockerbie bomber. Suggesting that “cock-up offers as convincing an explanation as conspiracy for the handling of Mr Megrahi’s release”, Philip Stephens argues that the decision highlights the “price of realism” in foreign policy.

– Speaking of which, in the latest edition of FP Magazine none other than Paul Wolfowitz assesses the realist credentials of President Obama; providing at once a telling insight into the mindset of a man at the heart of foreign policy making during the Bush years.

– Mark Easton’s BBC blog, meanwhile, takes a look at how the British government is looking to influence public behaviour in light of the Chief Scientist’s warning of a “perfect storm” of energy, food and water scarcity by 2030.

– Finally, as President Obama holidays on Martha’s Vineyard, the White House announces what he’ll be reading on the beach. Slate offers its take here.

Megrahi’s release: select your conspiracy theory now

As Abdelbaset al-Megrahi makes his way to the airport after his release from prison on compassionate grounds, you have a choice of two conspiracy theories about why he was allowed out.

Option 1: it was all about oil. Interesting fact: while Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa, Libya has the largest reserves.  You might therefore conclude that there’s plenty of exploration / production fun to be had there.  You might also observe that the Libyan Investment Corporation’s partner in this activity is, er, BP (see their annual review, p. 26).  Add in the reports that Peter Mandelson just happened to run into Colonel Gadaffi’s son in (where else) Corfu, and presto! Your conspiracy theory is ready to serve.

Option 2: Richard Ingrams, on the other hand, has an altogether different theory – and it goes like this:

The Justice Minister Jack Straw is old enough to know that we have a long and shameful tradition, where terrorism is concerned, of imprisoning the wrong people. And the notorious Irish cases in the 1970s and 80s wreaked havoc with the reputation of the police, the intelligence services and the judges.

The offence of which Megrahi was – almost certainly wrongly – convicted after a trial lasting six months before three distinguished Scottish judges was far more serious than anything the Guildford Four or the Birmingham Six were accused of doing. Resulting in the deaths of 280 innocent people, it was far and away the most serious act of terrorism in our history. So, what if Megrahi’s appeal succeeded and it was shown that yet again the security forces and the judges had got it wrong – and this at a time when the Government is trying to introduce more and more draconian measures to deal with the supposed threat of terrorism?

Opposition to giving the police yet more powers would inevitably be boosted and the awkward question would be raised – if not Megrahi then who did it? The official hope, now that Megrahi has applied to drop his appeal, is that we can finally draw a line under Lockerbie and move on.

Take your pick…