Whether you like it or not, things in Libya have gotten a little more serious. Over the weekend, US warships launched over 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libya’s air-defense systems. Seems like a wildly different outcome than you may have expected from us just one week ago. So how did we get here?
The first thing that you need to understand about Libya is that it is a very rich nation; although that wealth is in the hands of the Gaddafi family, which has control over the Libyan economy. It is one of the world’s 10 richest oil-producing countries, with a fairly small population – 6.4 million people. Most Libyans (97%) are Sunni Muslims. Muammar Gaddafi has been running the show since 1969. Before that, Libya has known as the Kingdom of Libya .. yes, run by a king .. and was pretty friendly toward the West but unpopular with the people of Libya. So in 1969 while the King was out of the country, a group of young military officers led by Muammar Gaddafi staged a coup. The monarchy was abolished and the King was exiled to Egypt. Gaddafi scrapped the constitution and went on to govern based on his own political philosophy outlined in his “Green Book.” In 1979, Gaddafi resigned as the General Secretary for Libya’s Congress and decided that he was just going to run things himself .. becoming a de-facto dictator.
Are you with me so far? So this goon has been running things since 1969 and has declared himself the dictator since 1979, making him the longest-serving leader in the Arab world. So … fast-forward to 2011. We’ve got Libya sandwiched in between two countries: You’ve got Tunisia, which borders Libya on the West, and Egypt, which is on Libya’s eastern border. The people in Tunisia and Egypt decide that they’ve had enough of these totalitarian dictatorships. They revolt, they protest and eventually they kick their long-time dictators out of power. Gaddafi sees the writing on the wall …. It’s only a matter of time before people in his country want the same thing. So he decides that he isn’t going to go down without a fight. And the thing is, Gaddafi can do this. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, there are no political parties in Libya. While elections in Tunisia and Egypt were rigged for years to keep their dictators in power, at least they had some sense of political opposition established. That’s not the case in Libya. Without Gaddafi, there really is nothing. That was until February 2011. Among violent protests, Gaddafi’s former justice minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil established a national council to try and orchestrate the rebel opposition to the Gaddafi regime. All the while, Gaddafi is gunning down innocent Libyans throughout the country. As many as a thousand people have been reportedly killed by Gaddafi and his regime since the recent protests began. So the rebels are operating out of the eastern city of Benghazi – the second largest city in Libya, second only to the capitol of Tripoli. As of right now, France is the only country that has recognized this National Libyan Council as the country’s legitimate government.
While the protests and the killing have been happening for well over a month, as of just two weeks ago, the US seemed completely against any sort of action in Libya. Even just a few days ago, the US did not even want to support establishing a no-fly zone.
So what changed? It became quickly apparent that the rebel city of Benghazi was in danger of collapse. So while Barack Obama is picking out his college basketball bracket, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, jump into action. Hillary manages to convince the Arab League of Nations not only to support a no-fly zone but had Arab governments willing to participate in military action. Meanwhile, Susan Rice worked to get 10 nations in the UN Security Council to approve a resolution not only establishing a no-fly zone but authorizing a fuller range of options, including “all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country.” So by Friday afternoon, Gaddafi launched an armor assault on Benghazi. By Saturday morning, Gaddafi’s forces had reached a key bridge in Benghazi less than two miles from the headquarters of the National Libyan Council. So here we go … let’s put this “all necessary measures” to good use. On Saturday, the US launched 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles to knock out Libya’s air-defense systems and radar units near Tripoli. Meanwhile, the French launched an airstrike on the armored Gaddafi units around Benghazi.
And that brings us to today. Gaddafi says that he will arm one million Libyans with weapons “to rise up against what he called foreign aggression to occupy the country and steal its oil wealth.”
And now … the question: Is there really any compelling reason that we should be involved in this at all? Newt Gingrich has a few questions of his own:
1. Why not North Korea or Iran? Both countries are much bigger threats to the United States.
2. There are a lot of bad dictators doing bad things. Mugabe and the dictator of Sudan, for instance, have both killed more of their own citizens.
3. What is the Obama Standard?
4. How will success be defined here?
5. How far do we go to achieve that success?
6. How do we pay for this?
Gingrich refers to this as opportunistic amateurism without planning or professionalism?