This New York Times piece notes several parallels between Muammar Gadhafi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq vis-à-vis US foreign policy. Somewhat trivial comparisons like vying to be the “West’s principle nemesis in the Arab world,” “vow[ing] to defeat the enemy at the gates of his capital, only to find his outer defenses…crumbled,” retreating “into a vast underground complex — a last-ditch refuge similar to those that Saddam constructed underneath several of his Baghdad palaces,” among others.
One rather more substantive point of comparison with the fall of Gadhafi and the fall of Saddam was speculative, and a concern I happen to share.
That possibility merged into the larger nightmare, one that appeared to be obsessing Western leaders like Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and President Obama: that having committed themselves to the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi and providing the crucial margin of military power to do so, they might only have opened a Pandora’s box of menacing possibilities.
Could Libya, like Iraq with its dictator removed, descend into bloody fratricide and civil war? And would the West, careful thus far to limit its military involvement mostly to aerial strikes, get drawn into the chaos?
Indeed, that is a serious concern. But there is another more fundamental parallel regarding US policy and action towards the two countries. First of all, both leaders became the great nemesis and primary target for America’s wrath only after having been supported by the US. Saddam of course was funded and weaponized by the US during the Iran-Iraq war, only subsequently to be condemned for the crimes he committed with our support. Then Gulf War I, harsh sanctions, and regime change in Gulf War II. Gadhafi actually started out the subject of US ire, then under Bush became a friend and ally with economic and military support. Then again, quickly resumed his role as Mad Dog of the Middle East.
The even more fundamental parallel, only implicitly included in the Times piece, is of course that they both were on the receiving end of a US-led campaign for regime change. Both were Middle Eastern regimes that the US and its allies intervened to depose in the name of democracy. That hasn’t quite happened in Iraq. And signs are that it won’t happen in Libya for quite a while, given the current leadership, and especially if US intervention there persists.
What is unnerving is that these parallels exist because US policy has remained fundamentally the same for so long. There are plenty of other parallels too. Orchestrating coups, implementing regime change, and carrying out either direct or indirect occupations is a process America has refined to a high art. What should concern us really is, who’s next?
There is renewed support in Washington for crippling new sanctions against Iran, which some say parallel those that led up to the regime change in Iraq and which are really meant to undermine the regime as opposed to deviate them from the path to nuclear weapons (a path they are evidently not on). Covertly, the US and Israel are already at war with Iran, as a concerted covert campaign of cyber-terrorism, commercial sabotage, targeted assassinations, and proxy wars have been underway for years. If at some point in the future this evolves far enough that we might be reading New York Times articles about the parallels between the regime changes in Libya, Iraq, and Iran, we can expect a similar lie to engulf that particular set of US actions. Namely, that it was done in the name of democracy.
Of course, the real parallel throughout the history of US foreign policy is that it is carried out overwhelmingly against democracy.