Monday 21 March 2011

US should not follow Europe in Libya (USINPAC)

M.D. Nalapat

The Truman administration ended the brief dalliance with Asian nationalism that had been begun by Franklin Roosevelt,who as President of the US prodded Winston Churchill (with zero success) to grant India the very freedoms that the Atlantic Charter was designed to promote.

Had successive British governments been less Teutonic in their views, the UK may have gracefully conceded Dominion Status to India in the 1930s, thereby ensuring an alliance with the West that has since taken more than eight decades to move forward. After World War II, US policy was to march in sync with the European powers, for example in Vietnam, where France was backed in its occupation of the country.

While the world may have changed since the 1950s, US foreign policy seems to have remained stuck in a "Follow the Europeans" mode. The latest example of this is Libya, where US military assets are assisting France and the UK as they seek to carve out a zone of influence in eastern Libya, where more than 70% of the country's oil reserves are.

While the protection of civilians against the depredations of autocrats is indeed laudable, a question may be asked to why only Libya - and not Bahrain or Saudi Arabia - has been singled out for intervention. In Saudi Arabia, the eastern part of the country provides the bulk of the nation's oil, although the majority Shiite population there is given less than 5% of the state funding given to the Sunnis (including the Royal Family).

In the 1990s,this writer had warned against the Clinton administration policy of allowing the growth of what became known in 1995 as the Taliban, pointing out that this group presented a long-term danger to the interests of the democracies, and that their alliance with the West was only tactical. As yet, there does not seem to have been a public audit of US policy in Af-Pak during 1993-96,the period when the Taliban were incubated in Pakistan and finally took over all but 18% of Afghanistan. Had there been one,a closer look may have been taken of the societal dynamics in eastern Libya, the part of the country where US, UK, French and possibly in future Qatar forces are helping local tribes set up a Kosovo-style enclave within the country.

Given that the entire Middle East is riddled by potentates and "strongmen", the fundamental dynamic of the Libyan situation is a war between tribes. In particular, the opposition to Colonel Gaddafi has been centred in the Banu Saleem tribe, a significant part of which subscribes to a Wahabbi ideology that is at odds with Gaddafi's brutal but secular rule. Perhaps because of the "friendly advice" given by Wahabbi elements in the ruling structures of countries such as Saudi Arabia, the US, UK and France are in effect following the footsteps of the Clinton administration in ensuring the takeover of territory by a group of religious zealots. As in the case of Afghanistan, these new friends are likely to jettison the West as soon as their objective of establishing an independent enclave get fulfilled. Even more worrisome, eastern Libya is likely to join parts of Algeria in becoming a hub for extremists to shelter and to train.

Colonel Gaddafi has the strong backing of his own Gaddafi as well as the Al-Magarha tribe, while the western air strikes against him have revived the nationalist support for him that had all but disappeared as a result of his coddling of his spoilt sons, who incidentally were the main architects of his ill-fated effort at reaching an accomodation with the West. The pounding of the Libyan regime creates a perception  for other regimes - notably Iran and Syria - that any effort at coming to an accomodation with the West is valueless. As soon as a country becomes disarmed of Weapons of Mass Destruction (as took place in Iraq and Libya), the West will move in for the kill.This is hardly the message that needs to get conveyed

Hillary Clinton - in common with several others in the Eastern Establishment - is more European than North American, and it shows in US foreign policy. The Libyan situation is far more complex than action against a despot, and runs the risk of the US getting embroiled in a war between tribes, and that too, backing the tribe that is the most fanatic in its religious zealotry in Libya.

-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)

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