Shame on us for pulverizing Libya

Two questions troubled me over Memorial Day: Why is the United States destroying Libya, and why do I care?

For nearly three months America and its pony pal Pokeys -- Denmark, France, Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom -- have been busily destroying Libya.

The war started out as at least vaguely comprehensible and well-meaning. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had responded to the Arab Spring stirrings against his government with furious threats against the Libyan population. The U.N. Security Council, at the urging of three permanent members (France, the United Kingdom and the United States) but with significant abstentions by Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia, agreed to military action to protect Libyan civilians from the potential ravages of the government's armed forces. That limited objective made some sense in humanitarian terms.

Libyan rebels launched an effort to oust Mr. Gadhafi from power but quickly ran out of gas. The allies began fighting under the banner of NATO, with the United States in principle having handed over leadership of the effort -- which became, clearly, aimed at regime change, allegedly a "no, no" for the regime of President Barack Obama because it saw this as a major fault of the preceding administration of President George W. Bush. The allies, having eliminated Mr. Gadhafi's air power, began bombing not only government military targets but also making parts of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, look like Joplin, Missouri, after the tornado. This was done in the name of hitting military installations, although it has become evident that Mr. Gadhafi himself was their real target.

The U.S. role moved into semi-clandestine mode. CIA and special operations forces were on the ground, helping with targeting and providing other intelligence support to NATO air forces as they demolished targets in Libya.

In the meantime, the rebels' provisional "government" in eastern Libya -- in Benghazi, formerly known as Cyrenaica -- continued to take an informal approach to military action, in principle taking advantage of the NATO air strikes to move westward toward Tripoli. In fact, it remains divided by tribe, ill-disciplined, indifferently led and, in the end, lightly motivated, in spite of all the bold talk about fighting for freedom. The "government" now has 40 ministers and has eliminated women from all significant positions of leadership.

When preparing to go to Libya in 1963 one of the first books I read was on the tribes of Cyrenaica. The Cyrenaicans still operate on a tribal basis. They oppose the tribes of western and southern Libya.

I haven't figured out yet whether the geniuses who run U.S. foreign policy don't know that, or whether their reasons for proceeding to destroy Libya as a nation were so compelling that they were willing to put their nickels on the eastern Libyans in spite of the legendary divisions among their tribes and the problems these present.

Mr. Obama is moving ahead even though he is in clear violation of the terms of the U.S. War Powers Act. So what is behind his adherence to a policy of pounding Libya?

It is oil, to a degree. Even though Libya produces only 2 percent of the world's oil, the companies that Libya nationalized after Mr. Gadhafi took power in 1969 were owned in part by British and American companies with long memories and a lot of lobbying clout in Washington due to their political contributions to parties and congressmen. France, the United Kingdom and the United States would just love to get their concessions back.

It is also clear that Mr. Gadhafi is not anyone's idea of an enlightened ruler. Even though he handed over his nascent nuclear weapons program during the Bush years, winning big points, he also took down Pan Am 103 in 1988. He paid compensation to victims' families but that tragedy remains an unsettled score between the United States and Libya. But is he worse than some of the Persian Gulf emirs -- not to mention Saudi Arabia's royalty -- that we cuddle up to for oil, arms sales, military bases and whatever else?

Which leaves the fundamental question, what business is it of the United States to decide who should rule Libya or any other country in the world that poses no threat to us? Do we see no conflict of principles between taking the greatest of pride in our own independence, glorifying our founding fathers and praising our troops who fight and die to preserve that independence, while at the same time bombing into rubble some other country's capital to try to change its current leaders?

My own personal question is, why do I care? Or at least, why do I care more than most Americans? There is no noticeable resistance among Americans or in Congress to the destruction we are bringing to Libya.

The answer is, I think, because I have seen and lived in the Libya that U.S. and NATO armaments are now pulverizing. It is hard for Americans to imagine Libya. There are places where robed women and men with donkeys raise water from wells just like the pictures in the books in Sunday school. There are green hills of Cyrenaica where it is possible to wander through Greek and Roman ruins alone.

It is also hard for Americans to imagine the destruction that modern arms can bring to a city. The videos of Joplin and eastern Japan give us some idea. Grainy black-and-white footage of post-war Europe shows us more. But why Libya? In the name of exactly what?

We as a people are acting in Libya like some maddened pit bull that just has to attack something. It is shameful.

[Source: By Dan Simpson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 01Jun11. Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor]

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Libya War
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