Gaddafi Wants to Talk. What’s Obama’s Problem?

by Rich Rubenstein on May 31, 2011 · 6 comments

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Do you want to read something that will make you ashamed of your government?  Here it is, from the Washington Post’s front page of May 27:

“Libya’s prime minister called for a cease-fire Thursday, saying for the first time that the government would be willing to talk to the rebels, but the White House immediately rejected the offer as not credible.”

What?? The Gaddafi regime is willing to talk to the rebels without conditions other than a cease-fire?  Yes!  Has it agreed to talk about radical political reform in Libya?  Yes!  Might the subject of Gaddafi’s own continuation in office be made part of that discussion?  Even that topic has not been taken off the table.  But the Obama White House and its European counterparts dismiss the offer as “not credible”!

Translation: the US and NATO do not want negotiations between Libyans to take place because that would throw a monkey wrench into their plans to re-colonize Libya, solidarize with Saudi Arabia, and show the restive Arab World who’s boss.  They think that they can force Gaddafi to leave the country by escalating their campaign of bombing and intimidation.  And since the rebels naturally accept this analysis, they have zero incentive to engage in conflict resolution.

What a farce!  The problem is that this is a civil war, not just a simple revolution against a dictator.  For all sorts of reasons, large numbers of Libyans support the Gaddafi regime, just as large numbers oppose it.  If Gaddafi left town tomorrow, the country would still be at war with itself.  The situation cries out for nonviolent conflict resolution facilitated by an independent, skilled, and trusted “third party,” not irresponsible outsiders inflaming the conflict.

Obama and his Euro-buddies understand, of course, that they are not fighting to protect Libyan civilians — the only war aim authorized ten weeks ago by the UN Security Council.  Civilians fight on both sides in a civil war.  At this very moment, the French are bringing in helicopter gunships to attack Libyan troops and their supporters in the cities of western Libya, where masses of civilians remain loyal to the regime.  Believing — irrationally — that a prolonged civil war favors their long-term interests, the US and NATO have refused to permit the warring parties to talk unless Gaddafi first admits defeat, withdraws his troops to bases, and resigns his office.

This is hardly the first time that American governments have refused to negotiate with alleged enemies on the ground that “you can’t negotiate with those people.”  In my recent book, REASONS TO KILL: WHY AMERICANS CHOOSE WAR, I describe case after case in which trigger-happy US presidents, heedless of the unforeseen consequences of war, preferred to fight rather than to talk. Almost always, they and their clients have lived to regret that decision.

A particularly grotesque example is George Bush I’s decision to invade Kuwait, allegedly to expel Saddam Hussein’s occupying troops, but really to destroy Iraq’s armed forces and eliminate it as a major player in the oil-rich Persian Gulf (as well as writing finis to the antiwar ‘Vietnam Syndrome.”)  When informed that Saddam was offering to withdraw from Kuwait immediately, provided only that the US refrained from attacking his retreating troops, Mr. Bush’s response was, “Tell him we’ll see him in Baghdad.”

The result of that decision (as a number of us predicted at the time) was to wreck Iraq’s infrastructure, impoverish the country, tear apart existing social relationships, and make a second and even more destructive war all but inevitable.

Assuming that the Libyan war drags on thanks to US/NATO intransigence, what results can we expect?  The evidence stares one in the face.  Look at Iraq!  Look at Afghanistan!  Look at Sri Lanka, Somalia, or any other nation in which civil wars, expanded and intensified by foreign meddling, have continued for years, and the answer will be apparent.  As Naomi Klein points out in THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, continued mass violence destroys already weakened central authorities, generates internal conflicts, degrades infrastructure, brutalizes people, inclining them to revenge, and creates a wilderness suitable for exploitation and “development” by predatory outsiders.

Enough!  Enough of this “invisible” war — invisible because most journalists assigned to Libya have embedded themselves unthinkingly with the rebels in Benghazi, and because Americans are both disgusted and bored silly by endless wars in desert places.

Gaddafi’s people are offering to talk.  Take them up on their offer, for heaven’s sake!  Let the United Nations function as a conflict resolver, for once, instead of a conflict instigator.  And let the conflicting parties in Libya work out their own differences, instead of imposing some made-in-America or made-in-the EU “solution” on them.  It’s time to learn something from history, instead of endlessly repeating it.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

dahmane dehici July 14, 2011 at 5:11 pm

it’s was a speedy intervention to protect the civilians in Libya, while the UN and EU look the other way when thousands of civilians are killed all over the world even blocking aids coming to rescue some innocents children , these two international organisation are loosing credibility , and the rebels in Libya aren’t a system changing good guys but a rebirth of al- Qaeda .


Rich Rubenstein July 15, 2011 at 2:41 am

Thanks for the comment. The Libyan rebels are a mixed bag, perhaps with some al Qaeda supporters, as you say. But even if they were all upstanding democrats, they would still represent only some elements in a nation suffering civil war. I hope that the government in Tripoli can hang on long enough to compel some sort of negotiations.


dahmane dehici July 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm

thank you professor, are they going to put the arms down and talk it over peacefully ? don’t think so , Arabs people are known to be hard , stubborn and a little story about where two tribes fought for over 40 years just because of a horse race ( tribe of dahus and ghabra ) and it is getting out of control from a war against the regime to a tribal conflict so I don’t see no ending to this savagery. thanks again.


Rich Rubenstein July 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Thanks for your comment. I’m afraid I can’t agree with you, however. Every people can be “hard” and “stubborn”
when they want to. Arab history is full of examples of peaceful conflict resolution, as well as tribal warfare.
Take a look at the work of Mohammed Abu-Nimer [Peacebuilding in Islam, and Contemporary Islam]
and you’ll see what I mean. There’s nothing to stop the Libyans from making peace, if outsiders will stop
making things over there worse for everyone.


dahmane dehici July 20, 2011 at 12:05 am

thanks for the insight , i have no doubt in the peaceful nature of Islam , my big concern is NATO won’t let go of libya no matter and all eyes now on the oil rich country of algeria which made the French’s’ mouth watery forever, that’s why I’m hoping that the Libyans people cease the violence and put an end to killing one an other while the UN watching on the sideline .


Rich Rubenstein August 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Thanks for your comment. But, this is the sort of thing that one can say about people of
almost any culture. The Europeans fought each other almost continuously for several
centuries, killing a lot more people than the Arabs have ever done, so they could also be
called “hard,” “stubborn,” and “tribal.” Culture is always a factor but seldom offers a
satisfactory explanation of mass violence.


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