• President Obama stated that what it took the coalition 31 days to achieve regarding Libya had taken a year in BiH . Actually it took 3 ½ years for decisive action to truly confront Milosevic’s/Mladic’s military and prompt the conflict toward conclusion, as well as genuinely safeguard civilians from ethnic cleansing/genocide.
• The mandate to protect civilians in UN/NATO- “safe areas” & “protection zones” was repeatedly let down in the designated cities of Sarajevo, Tuzla, Bihac and Gorazde and was in the end betrayed in Srebrenica and Zepa for the sake of expediency.
• When the ultranationalist Serbian forces were on the verge of defeat (in Banja Luka) it was actually US and European officials who prompted and then threatened the BiH Army and Croatian allies into ceasing their advance.
• What remains is a badly divided BiH, still effectively moving under the momentum set into force of those who pursued ethnic cleansing and their successors who have not rolled back but rather have continued to consolidate the consequences of genocide – result that nationalist politics has become more contagious and ever the delineating factor.
Mistakes of Fatal Attraction: Gaddafi v Milosevic
The Washington and Richard Holbrooke’s personal spin machine had been so effective in painting Bosnia a success that perhaps necessary lessons may be missed now for Libya. The one lesson that all would agree upon is that it is not only about how and by what means but also when – a timely intervention is of the essence.
First mistake not to repeat - The mission/mandate to protect civilians in Libya is not likely to face the betrayal as it did in Srebrenica. Simply stated, the yellow light given by US/European officials to Milosevic-Mladic-Karadzic forces to create a new reality on the ground facilitating a more neat and contiguous ethnic map at war’s end is not likely to become an issue in Libya. Further, the leadership of the US and Europe while never acknowledging fully their mistake and affair with the seductive Slobodan Milosevic are not likely to engage in the same “Fatal Attraction” with Gaddafi, at least not with the Colonel well beyond his prime.
President Obama is also correct in speaking of the potential of a Libyan revolution more as one perhaps that could evolve values similar to the American Revolution rather than merely a rebellion. Again, in order for this positive potential to have an opportunity to be realized, the probability of a political system with democratic proclivity should not be sacrificed just to achieve any settlement.
Untenable Concessions at Expense of Real Peace and Substantive Change:
Second mistake not to repeat – Do not allow Gaddafi to become a pillar of a settlement as Slobodan Milosevic was bestowed in Dayton, and in my first hand perspective unnecessarily. As seductive as Milosevic was, America always understood him to be a political prostitute rather than an ideological nationalist puritan. I’m not certain if some confused lust and a meaningful relationship, but in the end Milosevic disappointed all of them who had hoped that he had reformed. He quickly went astray again, first in undermining Bosnia and then trying to pillage Kosovo.
The “Coalition” on Libya again is not likely to make the same mistake with Gaddafi, but how about Gaddafi “wanna-bes.” There may be a slight difference regarding “regime change” between President Obama and Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. My perspective is that the difference is more of nuance rather than substance. Perhaps because of the relationships with UN Security Council and the faux pas of Iraqi intervention, the term “regime change” has a negative connotation for some. Nonetheless, Obama, McCain and Graham understand that regime change is now a result without which victory –“Mission Accomplished” - cannot be claimed. Regardless of how much of driving out of Gaddafi is accomplished by direct US/Coalition military action, it is best that the coup-de-grace be executed by Libyan opposition, or, even preferable, by Gaddafi’s own allies turning on him a-la Mussolini style. The anticipated indictment of Gaddafi by the International Criminal Court – whose significance has become almost lost in the haste to military intervention - could prove to be the legitimizing factor facilitating Gaddafi’s removal from power.
Do not Prevent the Victory of the Revolution:
And this brings us to the third mistake not to repeat – Do not stop the Libyan opposition from a decisive victory. Absolutely it would be preferable if a negotiated end could be achieved early on; however the concession cannot be made to a Gaddafi style regime to cling to power, in part of Libya or as part of the whole government. That will gradually poison the well of all of Libya – as is proving the case in BiH. Fascism nurtured along side open society values is capable of corroding tolerance and democracy. Fighting ended today at any cost certainly does not mean peace or even the end of conflict.
Recognize mistakes this time - Official Washington can get boxed in between pride, inertia, arrogance and projections of its own infallibility. Put aside the obfuscation when an error in judgment as well as of action is made. In the case of BiH, many US officials have hinted at errors in policy but there has been little courage to pursue accountability much less remedy. Thus error upon error can become a foundation for poor or false policy options.
Oil or Universal Principle
President Obama did not mention oil in his address. He did speak of US “strategic interests.” Undoubtedly, petroleum is a factor in the US and European decision to intervene, although I’m not certain that any such officials could clearly tell you how much. However, beyond petroleum in Libya, the US is trying to influence the course of change in the Arab World as a whole. President Obama is applying his own notion of shock and awe that he calibrates will rehabilitate US credibility and re-establish Washington as a factor to shape the future. Libya, as President Obama noted, geographically is between two states - Tunisia and Egypt - that have already undergone regime change, but the perspective to influence is much broader.
Again, BiH or more accurately the region of the former Yugoslavia, is a lesson. Ultra-nationalism still prevails in many states and quarters of the former Yugoslavia at the expense of pluralism and open society values.
“Civil War”: Most Half –True Description Used to Make an Absolute Case for Inaction:
“Civil war” is also another term that is widely applied and was misused in Bosnia & Herzegovina to stall intervention. Almost any conflict today has an element of internal configuration. Imperial powers and despots have used pretext of civil war over the last century. Libya’s war certainly has more of an internal conflict character, and the term “civil war” appears more applicable than in BiH. Civil war does not mean though that there is not a substantive ideological distinction between the “warring sides” to prefer. Most Americans today don’t know it, but during the American Revolution around 1/3 of the population of the American colonies remained loyal to British Crown, (many fighting as “Red Coats,”) rather than supporting the Continental Congress and George Washington’s Continental Army.
The “Muslim” Factor:
I have also no doubt that it is easier for some US and European allies to turn force against a “Muslim tyrant” like Gaddafi as opposed to a self proclaimed defender of Christianity like Karadzic or Mladic. However, this does not make action against Gaddafi any less valid (while we still should continue to ask why Karadzic’s, Mladic’s and Milosevic’s conquest through the ethnic cleansing of Muslims continues to be legitimized).
Having looked into Karadzic’s face, I recognize the same manipulative character in Gaddafi. The brutality of Mladic and Gaddafi can only be differentiated by opportunity and scope. Milosevic’s eyes betray the same lack of integrity evident in Gaddafi.
During my term as Ambassador and Foreign Minister on behalf of BiH, I observed that it was much easier for some western leaders to advance the cause of war against a Muslim labeled villain versus a Christian one. I said that publicly then (as I witnessed apology for and acquiescence to Milosevic-Mladic-Karadzic), and that is probably as much or more today. Again though, that does not make the case against Gaddafi any less compelling especially if the choice for intervention is more likely to save innocent Libyan lives even while invariably causing the death of others.
By Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey
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More Reports – including: Declaration of War on Gaddafi - “No-Fly Zone” Resolution on Libya, by Ambassador mo