Moammar Gadhafi (you just have to go with one spelling of his name and stick with it) made a bizarre appearance last night for 15 seconds on state-run Libyan TV, telling the public that he hadn’t fled to Venezeula and not to “trust those stray dog channels.” But the damage to his regime in Libya has been done. The UN Security Council will meet in closed session today to look at the Libyan crisis, amidst calls from Gadhafi’s own diplomats for him to stop down, and from Libya’s deputy UN ambassador to impose a no-fly zone and stop a genocide. Human rights groups had been calling for Security Council action as reports of massacres streamed in:
Runways at Benghazi airport are reported by Egyptian authorities to have been destroyed in the violence. The country’s second city has been the scene of alleged massacres in recent days. The death toll in Libya passed 250 on Monday after six days of unrest, but this is a conservative estimate. The International Federation of Human Rights estimated the death toll at 300 to 400.
Parts of Tripoli were attacked by fighter jets and helicopter gunships overnight. Twenty-six people also died in the eastern city of Al Bayda as it came under fire from forces using aircraft and tanks, according to one eyewitness report [...]
The Arab League is also to hold an emergency meeting in Cairo. At least seven Libyan ambassadors have resigned in protest at the killing, although other senior diplomats remained in post while appealing for Gaddafi to step down.
In New York, Dabashi said there must be a no-fly zone “on the cities of Libya so no mercenaries, no supplies of arms will arrive to the regime”. He told a press conference he and other UN diplomats were not resigning because they served the people of Libya, not the regime.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally spoke on the Libyan crisis last night, saying that “now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed.” But this time, when the claims are made that the US has pretty much no leverage with an Arab dictator, I believe it:
…current and former officials said that American appeals are likely to have little effect on Gaddafi, a mercurial autocrat who for decades was regarded as a nemesis of U.S. presidents.
Although the United States has been able to leverage its deep ties with Egypt’s armed forces, it has no significant military-to-military relationship with Libya. It also has little economic leverage: For the past fiscal year, U.S. aid to Libya has been less than $1 million, and most of that has gone toward helping the country’s (nuclear) disarmament program.
There is not even a U.S. ambassador at the moment. Gene Cretz, the ambassador to Tripoli, was called back to Washington recently for extended “consultations” after WikiLeaks released cables in which he described Gaddafi’s eccentricities.
“We don’t have personal relations at a high level. As far as I know, President Obama has never even talked to Colonel Gaddafi,” said David Mack, a former senior U.S. diplomat who dealt with Libya.
Gadhafi was seen as an enemy until George W. Bush traded diplomatic relations for getting oil companies into Libya. Bush boasted in the 2004 State of the Union address of Libya’s renunciation of nuclear weapons, took the country off the list of state sponsors of terror and made it easier for oil companies to operate there. Freedom for the Libyan people was not on that agenda. And now they are subject to terror from their government.
(More on the realpolitik angle of this here)
Perhaps Gadhafi’s rule by fear will end. Perhaps the international community will impose a no-fly zone. But it’s just as likely that his vicious assault on his own people will eventually win out. That’s the alternative scenario for the rest of the region as well. The lesson for other regimes would be that only brutal repression of dissidents can stop the protests. That makes the Libyan people’s struggle against Gadhafi, and international aid in that struggle, take on new significance.