Benghazi and Gaza: A Tale of Two Different Cities


by Dr. Alan Sabrosky


I have no brief for Libya’s government, and it doesn’t seem to make much sense at this point to debate whether or not the military action now taking place against it is, or is not, justified.

It is a fact, and like the earlier onslaughts against Yugoslavia (read: Serbia) and Iraq, it’ll simply play itself out, putting a gross imbalance of military power favoring the attackers against whatever intransigence and resistance Libya’s government can muster, accompanied by pious and pompous speeches from Washington, London and other capitals of the attackers.

As for Muammar Gaddafi, he is certainly certifiable, probably somewhere in the middle range of global dictators and close to the mayor-elect of Chicago, so if his psychosis is a basis for external military intervention, we had all better be prepared for a lot of military interventions in different parts of the world, perhaps starting with Chicago….

And the level of Western hypocrisy is enough to make anyone except a lifelong politician or a confirmed television evangelist gag. In the case of Libya, it is irrational and unreasonable to expect any government not to try to suppress insurrection or secession, and doing so is rarely bloodless.

The US, Britain and France, for example, all fought sometimes long and frequently bloody wars to suppress uprisings in the Southern Confederacy, Ireland and Algeria, respectively, with mixed results.

It isn’t at all obvious that what Libya’s government (and it is a government, not simply a regime with the overtone of illegitimacy, longevity alone conveys a measure of legitimacy) did is anything worse than those attacking him have done, both to Libya now and in their own past or present,  to say nothing of what (e.g.) Russia has been doing in Chechnya or the US and others in Iraq and Afghanistan, no matter how much rhetoric is being tossed around.

Nor is it obvious that what his forces did in Benghazi in particular to suppress rebels there even approached the much greater bloodletting in places like Somalia, which has been permitted to languish with little more than a handful of anti-piracy patrols to try to forestall attacks on Western ships, thus allowing the Somalis the freedom to butcher one another to their heart’s content.

But the speed and decisiveness with which the relevant collective security and collective defense organizations — the UN & NATO, respectively — reacted is at least a testimony to how they were intended to function when faced with these sort of challenges — challenges by the US and other key powers exempted, of course.

They convened quickly, voted decisively and clearly, mobilized available forces in short order, and struck, all in a relative handful of days. And I expect they’ll prevail – indeed, they would have to try very hard not to prevail, and even then the sheer imbalance of power favoring them would likely grind its own way to success.

All of which stands in stark and appalling contrast to the collective inaction in the face of the much more destructive and murderous Israeli onslaught against Gaza some two years ago in Operation Cast Lead.

Nothing Gaddafi’s forces did to his rebels holds a candle to what the Israelis did to the Palestinians, and if Gaddafi’s psychosis makes his removal meritorious, the removal of people like Benjamin Netanyahu and especially Avigdor Lieberman is no less so — they might be in a different ward than Gaddafi, but in a ward they would be. Just look at the published reports of what Libya’s forces were doing — can you imagine, they were actually succeeding in their fight against the rebels? — and what the Israeli military did to Gaza and its inhabitants, and you’ll understand what I mean.

So just how did the vaunted collective security and collective defense organizations react to the savaging of Gaza? Why, some huffed, and a few puffed, but the US backed the Israelis and the rest did — nothing.

And when the UN’s Human Rights Commission, and then the Goldstone Report, came out, long after the Israeli attack was over, why then many of the members huffed and puffed again, and others pretended nothing was happening, but the US again backed Israel, and so the organizations again did — nothing. There was in the UN a way around the US veto, of course – the General Assembly’s “Uniting for Peace Resolution,” crafted decades ago by the US to circumvent Soviet vetoes on the Security Council, and perfectly suitable to be used now to circumvent US vetoes, but few were even willing to try. And so nothing was done there, either, and the Israelis continued their illegal blockade of Gaza and their continuing absorption of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, biding their time until they decide to attack again.

Putting the examples of Benghazi and Gaza together, with the added embellishments of what did, or did not, happen in and to Serbia, Chechnya and Somalia, really define the parameters of what collective action can, and can not, do in this world nowadays. The obvious lesson is that the powerful states, like the rich, are if not above the law, at least indifferent to its application; no surprise there.

Another is that US opposition is fatal to any collective action, although US neutrality may open the door for individual states to act, alone or in concert with a handful of others, outside of the auspices of whatever global or regional organization might be involved. And the last, applicable to the Middle East, is that Israeli opposition leads absolutely and inexorably to US opposition, while any Israeli actions — no matter how brutal — take place under the aegis of the US diplomatic and military security umbrella, and are therefor immune to any collective international response. Gaddafi may well wish that he had spent more time and money ingratiating himself with the Israelis, and I expect more than a few other leaders in the Arab world are thinking about that right now — they, too, live now in “interesting times,” in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse.

Author Details
Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D, University of Michigan) is a ten-year US Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the US Army War College.
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