Thursday, March 17, 2011

Losing Libya

What will it mean to the world, to allow the Libyan revolution to fail, when just two weeks ago it seemed the tide of liberation through North Africa was unstoppable? What will it mean to know that we in the West might have prevented that devastating outcome if we'd acted?

I don't know what it will mean?
I know that the certain dread I now feel, that Gadhafi will prevail, is as removed from fact, from any deep knowledge of the situation and the players as was my recent euphoria that Gadhafi was going down. I know that I don't know, and that there is a vast body of factors - historical, psychological, economic, spiritual, meteorological even..., and human...that I don't even suspect that I don't know.

Are there really so many pro-Gadhafi forces? Or is it that mercenaries have been bought with all those resources the people have been denied? Or is this a victory of fear against hope...fear that kept enough people off the streets and away from the protests, so that the necessary critical mass wasn't reached? Or, is it that the arms imbalance is simply too great?

Is it possible that the world's attention was diverted to Japan and away from Libya just enough that some psychic advantage in the collective unconscious was lost? Or is Gadhafi - ruthlessly moving himself up the list of all-time despotic greats - just that good at being so bad??

But, given that we don't know, that we can't truly know for certain, what has kept the west from acting? There are the geo-political factors, of course: sovereignty, the dangers of picking sides in civil wars, and the problem of the exit plan, and others. But, from a more natural perspective, is this hesitation the same as that which keeps us as individuals from intervening when rowdies are harassing a bus driver? Or when a frazzled mother is screaming at her kid in the check-out line? Is it a problem of empathizing or of failing to empathize? And with whom? Is it fear of picking the wrong side and going down? Or simply fear of taking responsibility? Or something else?

Standards depend so much on perspective. In Toronto, there is continuing fallout over police brutality against peaceful protesters during last summer's G-20 summit. And one of the sub-texts is: why didn't the good cops intervene and stop their overzealous colleagues? And, failing that, why don't some of them step forward now and finger the abusers of power? Mind you, this is the same police force that consistently blames residents of high-crime, low-income communities for not identifying and testifying against the thugs who live among them. Everyone champions loyalty, but loyalties compete on every level and between levels.

What troubles me, in myself as well as in the world at large, be that in community groups, in families, clubs and nations, and tribes of all kinds, is that loyalties and the ideas that fuel and prop them up, can be taken on so lightly, with so little probing or research, with so much taken for granted about who the good guys are, and why. Which brings me to an entirely different point than I expected when I started this essay.

What action would I stand up for regarding Libya? I support a fight for those who want some form of democratic participation for themselves. I'd support a campaign that would suppress Gadhafi's military. But I wouldn't want to "take sides" in the shaping of a government. So I'm already at odds with myself, because how to do one without the other? I can't divorce my decision-making from my values. What happens when the oppressed underdog whose cause you support becomes an even worse master? And how many times has that happened? So I find myself agreeing with a retired general whom I heard being interviewed on the CBC the other day, who said that, when it comes to an internal struggle between two near-equal factions, it's best not to step in before one side or another has demonstrated a clear advantage. What went unsaid, but implied, is that you then choose what relationship you want to have with the victor, you don't try and change the result.

Which makes all the sense in the world. But what I'm feeling is a positive rush that the UN has finally taken moves to establish a no-fly zone, and I hope that there will be even more direct military support for the rebels, and that somehow, it won't all amount to too little, too late.

I don't imagine I'd feel the same, if I was just off a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, or even if I'd ever been a fighting man. But, can action ever wait until all doubt is gone, until every possibility has been considered and all options weighed? Or in the end, do we act as life moves us?

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