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Spain’s Zapatero embraces short-lived Libya foray

The Spanish prime minister, a staunch opponent of the Iraq invasion, has backed the anti-Gaddafi no-fly zone. But Congress’ approval of the operation does not anticipate a drawn-out conflict.


Spain, like other coalition members, is desperately hoping the Libyan intervention will be short. Photo: Sebastià Giralt.

“Just look at you now,” sneered the United Left’s Gaspar Llamazares during Tuesday’s congressional debate on the military intervention in Libya. He was staring at the man who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, into which then-Prime Minister José María Aznar pitched Spain at the famous Azores summit. But today’s Socialist Spanish premier, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, said this was not Iraq, and when he had proclaimed “No to war!” he was saying not that war.

Exactly what the multi-named Libya operation is remains far from clear, as NATO allies squabble over the organisation’s degree of involvement and even Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin dispute whether the bid to bomb Muammar Gaddafi out of power should be termed “a crusade”. But it is not Iraq. For a start, it is legal. Even if those one-time intrepid members of the Azores regime-change club still bother to argue that they believed the intelligence reports stating Saddam Hussein was secretly hoarding WMDs, the fact remains that the disastrous invasion was not legal.

This time the UN Security Council has backed the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya and “any measures necessary” to safeguard citizens of that country from Gaddafi’s rabid reaction to the rebellion outside Tripoli. Regime change is again clearly the name of the game, but it has to be done by Libyans (once the cruise missiles have levelled the playing field). This is because Iraq and Afghanistan have proved that Western troops on the ground will cause the kind of resentment that feeds the dark forces of Islamic extremism.

And, there is also an attempt to seek retribution for decades of immoral and cynical policies toward the Arab world, during which time helping to maintain despicable despots in power was justified by geopolitical expediency.

This has now been turned on its head by events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco and elsewhere. Arab youth is clamouring for the democratic Western ideal to dictate the rules of their world, too. We backed the wrong horses, partly because we were obsessed by those dark forces which have yet to emerge as the Arab winter turns to spring.

Hence the chaotically sudden decision to save Benghazi and move against Gaddafi, perhaps the most repugnant and certainly the most embarrassing embodiment of the dictatorial appeasement policy in the Middle East. That said, the coalition leaders do not have any reasons to believe in the democratic credentials of whoever may succeed in taking over from the colonel, although Libya’s middle classes and its exiled community want a profound change in the country’s political structure.

After weeks of stupor as a few simple street demonstrations gave the lie to years of realpolitik, there is a new urge to show the Muslim world that the great democracies have their human rights closest to heart, not their oil or the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian equation.

But these good intentions may not translate into a solid military strategy. Gaddafi is now banished from the skies, but from the air there is no way of stopping what reports suggest is a door-to-door civil war situation in several Libyan cities. How long can the allied forces overfly and blockade while waiting for a positive outcome on the ground?

Zapatero asked Congress to permit Spanish fighter jets to operate in Libya for just one month, with the naval participants able to spend three months off the North African coastline. All but three of the 340 deputies who voted on Tuesday agreed to this. It is a just cause. No one wants to think about the possibility that it could go awry.

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Published: Mar 24 2011
Category: Politics, Featured
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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