Crossing the Crescent

Islam in America and America in the Islamic World

M. Junaid Levesque-Alam

M. Junaid Levesque-Alam
Astoria, New York, USA
February 09
I am an American Muslim who writes about Islam in America at my website, My pieces have been published in,, The, and elsewhere. I live in NYC.

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MARCH 18, 2011 3:01PM

Will Libya Become a Second Iraq?

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Since the United States performed an abrupt about-face on Libya, backing a U.N. resolution that authorizes “all necessary measures” to counter Qaddafi, military intervention on the rebels' behalf appears likely. Opponents of intervention urge their audiences to recall the Iraq invasion—also launched, in part, on humanitarian grounds—and keenly insist on drawing parallels with that disaster.

 But are comparisons with Bush’s attack on Iraq accurate—or superficial?

The argument for invading Iraq was couched in the context of fighting terrorism and made by those keen to capitalize on that context. Neoconservatives, who gleaned an  opportunity to advance Israeli interests by subsuming them under the “war on terror”, avidly pressed for war. Republicans, eager to exact revenge for September 11th and aggrandize power, cared little whether the Arabs selected for destruction were perpetrators of the offending crime.

As for Iraqis, while many hoped for Saddam’s demise, few supported American invasion. The most zealous Iraqi advocates of war were opportunists who lived abroad in posh self-imposed exile. Moreover, while hawks sounded noises about “liberation” now and again, that rhetoric saturated the discourse only after—and only because—the earlier pretexts of WMDs and al-Qaeda “links” vanished.

Today, the political mood could scarcely be more different. The revolt that now sweeps the Arab world stands as a devastating rejoinder to neoconservatives, who painted Arabs and Muslims as innately fond of terror and despotism. Authors of yesteryear’s events, neoconservatives are now desperate just to appear in the footnotes. They have vacillated wildly, with some decrying the Egyptian revolution and others urging help for Libya’s rebels.

Regardless of their maneuvering, it is the Libyans and the Arabs themselves who have most loudly demanded intervention. Libya’s rebel commanders and the transitional government in Benghazi have for weeks sought a no-fly zone and air support. The Arab League, an ossified organization nervous over the prospect of further roiling the Arab masses, reflected popular  opinion by stamping its seal of approval on the rebels’ pleas.

When the UN finally passed the resolution inviting air strikes, Benghazi erupted in euphoria.

The differences in both the political climate and the balance of forces on the ground clearly differentiate Iraq from Libya. But they do not “disappear” the possibility that Libya may end up like “post-war” Iraq: a nation  divided, if not by sect and language, then by geography and tribe.

For Western warplanes may shield rebel enclaves and cities, but what role will the French, British, and Americans play when the rebels try to advance westward and capture or recapture areas run by Qaddafi? Though the choreographed displays of “support” suggests Qaddafi’s base may be broad rather than deep, he still retains the support of his tribe and other allied tribes.

As one civilian in Tripoli opined after learning of the U.N. resolution’s passage, “Civilians holding guns, and you want to protect them? It's a joke. We are the civilians. What about us?”

This complicated reality blunts the persuasive force of the interventionist position, but also dampens the appeal of the non-interventionist one. Action today may pose risks for tomorrow, but inaction today poses risks for today as well as tomorrow: who will tell Libyan rebels, “I don't support intervention because I know better than you, and believe me, it's better if you are crushed by Qaddhaffi than rescued by air strikes that may pose risks down the line"?

That is one of many questions that must be posed, and answered, in the coming days and weeks.

(Please visit and bookmark my blog on Islam and America, Crossing the Crescent.)  


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Somebody else made the comparison to Bosnia in a comment on another post, and that might be more apt here. The NATO (American) involvement in that conflict started on a "humanitarian" basis, too. The term is slippery, and I have a deep distrust of the way it gets used often in Washington to mean "our interests are at stake, so let's stick our foot in the door." Or rather, our army boot. No troops on the ground? It's hard to see, as you suggest, how the goal of forcing Qaddafi to withdraw westward will be accomplished without ground troops. But again, the focus was on airstrikes in the Baltics, too, at the beginning. Here Washington may have waited just long enough to make sure the revolution will fail--and they never really wanted it to succeed, I think that's fairly obvious--but not so long that their inaction would be seen as a total betrayal of the Libyan people (like their foot-dragging in Egypt demonstrated there). A shifty business, and a shifty lot.

Usually, if left to themselves people find a way out. The intervention might serve to reinstate the pro west monarchy instead of the pro non aligned block in the long run. Following Libyan History from 1951, it seems unlikely Libyan people would want that, don't you think?
Guess what? I'm not a total pacifist. When it comes to defending human rights legitimately, sometimes military force is justifiable. And Libya is to me, one of those few cases where I wouldn't hesitate to send the cruise missles or Marines if that's what was needed.
funny thing is bef America came into being, lots of wars of Independence have been fought and won, and even after America became a Super Power, countries like India did manage to withstand the aggression of other countries successfully without needing American intervention (though Indira had visited the US when Pakistan was shelling our borders but the US chose to stay neutral at that time) - but we did manage - didnt we? So will Libya. If America wants to keep its benign (which everyone knows it is not) big brotherly image to the world, and keep goodwill (after all it is a trading nation, it sells stuff to make money) in the market, it should help from outside and not get into direct intervention which the whole world , that knows Libyan history would interpret as "motivated by US's own interest in getting a stronghold in Africa" - (after all Libya is the third riches nation there and founder of OAU) and it would cause the world to disrespect America even more. And as for the UN, everybody knows what the riches nation say there usually passes. France and Britain had had to remove their installations earlier and have reason to move in again and maybe this is their chance to do so - also they get oil from Libya. Everyone knows US isn't interested either in Libyan people or in Libyan oil. So there.
a long history of exploitation, subversion, and simple invasion by the west, chiefly britain and the usa, makes every action suspect. when there is oil involved, national 'interests' are certainly part of the motivation.

nonetheless, although the likely result is partition and/or civil war, there is a reasonable case for intervention. there is a reasonable case for intervention in bahrain, too, so let us continue to despise the motivation for these 'humanitarian' interventions, while hoping for at least 'collateral benefit' to the libyan people.
This may sound strange, but, I hope so. No, I'm not a bigot who hates Muslims, no, I'm not a republican with an axe to grind, no, I'm not even some kind of violent idiot who leaps to the killing zone when frightened. It is because I have typed and called and spoken to people about the stupidity of war to no avail I am stumped as to an answer to how to make them get it. While we're at it, let's not lay all of this at America's feet either. The people of Libya are on one side or the other but both took up arms so no innocence there. The Arab states endorsed the idea of a no fly zone so no innocence for them either. The rest of them in the U.N. either endorsed the idea or hid until the decision was made so they could throw stones at the ones who voted for it or will be forced to enforce it so Mr. Putin, while you are talking about crusades release the figures on how much hard currency Qaddafi is paying you for their weapons and how much of a break on prices on Libyan oil you are getting. No innocence anywhere to be found