Libya: As Jacob Zuma fails, can the West “finish the job”?

Hopes that the Libyan crisis will be resolved through an African initiative bordering on diplomatic and political means are gradually fading—and leaving the clout in NATO’s hands to use its military campaign as the solution for Libya’s internal political problem.

The African Union’s last-ditch efforts to broker peace have hit a snag following the inconclusive talks between South African President Jacob Zuma and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli without any announcement towards an end to the conflict between Gaddafi and his opponents.

The BBC’s Andrew North, in Tripoli, said Mr. Zuma appears to have made little progress in his attempts to find a peaceful resolution to the Libyan crisis. He explained that with the Libyan leader standing firm, it looks like both sides are deadlocked.

Mr. Zuma was reported to have emerged from the talks, saying that Gaddafi is ready to accept an AU initiative for a ceasefire that would stop all hostilities, including NATO airstrikes in support of rebel forces, but he would not step down as demanded by NATO and the rebels.
“He is ready to implement the road map,” said the South African President, quoted by the BBC.

In Benghazi, a spokesman for the rebels (their Foreign Minister, Fathi Baja) dismissed the AU’s call for a ceasefire, and promised that the rebel forces will continue their offensive. He stated the rebels’ stance to the Associated Press news agency, thus: “We refuse completely. We don’t consider it a political initiative; it is only some stuff that Gaddafi wants to announce to stay in power.”

The inconclusiveness of this meeting is disheartening because it suggests that neither party is prepared to make concessions to allow for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The conflicting responses from both Gaddafi and his opponents are a mere repetition of their earlier irreconcilable dispositions, which snuffed out the AU’s peace-brokering effort. Just as he did previously, Gaddafi again readily accepted the AU’s “political road map,” which called for a ceasefire and political reforms as initial steps toward resolving the crisis. We recall that the rebels rejected it—as they’ve done again—on the grounds that it did not call on Gaddafi to step down.

This time, though, the AU’s efforts will not send Mr. Zuma to Benghazi at all because Gaddafi has rejected outright the call for him to step aside, something that irks the rebels and NATO. Clearly, Mr. Zuma has been frustrated and cannot proceed any further to lay the AU’s proposal before the rebels for negotiation. Not doing so means his mission is still born. Not until the two warring factions accept the AU’s proposal, no further progress can be made.

Despite this inconclusive outcome, Mr. Zuma did make some points that are noteworthy. I admire his forthrightness in blaming NATO for impeding the AU’s efforts. As he said, NATO’s raids are undermining African mediation efforts. The point is that no peaceful solution can be found to the problem in the midst of NATO’s military campaign. The AU’s approach and NATO’s military option are incompatible and can’t be used simultaneously to resolve the crisis.

Mr. Zuma also made another important point when he said that he and Gaddafi discussed the “necessity of giving the Libyan people the opportunity to solve their problem on their own.” This bold statement sends a clear message, which the West and its internal collaborators among the Benghazi-based rebels appear not to comprehend.

What do these rebels hope to achieve if they collude with the West to worsen their country’s plight? Even if they must replace Gaddafi, should they destroy their own country’s infrastructure and break everything down by insisting on using only the military option?

The negative outcome of this meeting may be puzzling but not surprising because both Gaddafi and his opponents are intransigent. Neither camp seems prepared to yield or make compromises to pave the way for what Mr. Zuma was in the country to accomplish. Let’s unpack their intransigence.

As is characteristic of all dictators, Gaddafi is still nursing hopes that he can crush the rebellion—as he did previously to remain in power for the past 42 years. He feels that he is still Libya’s leader and must not bow to any “undue” pressure to do the unthinkable. Additionally, he has rejected the rebels’ demand for him to step down because he can’t accept the fact that the very people he had called “cockroaches” and “rats” at the initial stages of the uprising will now be those with the voice to call the shots.

Gaddafi is obsessed with raw power and can’t bring himself to accept the reality that his opponents are gradually gaining an upper-hand in the exchanges. He cannot accept the fact that his rule is suddenly heading to this kind of sordid end. It’s inconceivable to him. That’s the knotty issue for him to grapple with, which he cannot contemplate let alone accept as the culmination of events to determine his fate. Such is the knowledge with which he is portraying his resilience.

On the other hand, the rebels too are not prepared to make any concession that will retain Gaddafi’s grips on power. They will definitely not accept any proposal that doesn’t give them the leverage that they need to nail him down. After all, they know and bask in the realization that their insurgency is being boosted by a superior fire-power and international diplomacy.

They know that NATO’s bombing raids will do much harm to Gaddafi and facilitate their advances in the combat. And the diplomatic recognition that some countries have given their leadership assures them of support in the international community for their cause and a brighter future if they persist in their insurrection.

They will not want to shoot themselves in the foot by accepting any deal that will not give them what they are fighting for. Their distrust for the African Union won’t allow them to scuttle their own opportunities now. They have already accused the AU of being too lenient with Gaddafi or for putting forward a “political road map” whose terms favour him.

They know how much goodwill they have from the international community to press on for the ultimate. Such leverage implies that they are better positioned to continue their offensive against Gaddafi whose back is gradually being broken as he continues to be isolated and pushed to the wall. The rebels won’t allow their efforts to be deflected by any “political road map” from anywhere that doesn’t involve an immediate stepping down of Gaddafi.

For now, they seem to have the bragging rights and won’t lose the momentum now just because the African Union wants a cessation of all hostilities, preparatory to negotiations on governance issues. They think that the future belongs to them, not Gaddafi, and feel justified in spurning the South African President’s efforts. That’s where we are now.

This inconclusive talk with Gaddafi has an immediate implication, which is that the hostilities will continue and NATO will intensify its airstrikes as already planned. And as the BBC has reported, fresh air raids on the Tripoli were reported on Monday night, according to Libyan state television. NATO fighters also targeted sites in the desert city of Al Jufrah, 460km (285 miles) south of Tripoli, it was reported.

“It looks likely that NATO will now intensify its military campaign, with Tripoli already bracing itself for more air strikes,” the BBC’s Andrew North added.
It is certainly incontrovertible that NATO will continue to use the military campaign to destabilize Gaddafi’s government and prop up the Benghazi-based rebel leadership to take the fight to Tripoli and other areas in the West that are still under Gaddafi’s control. The ultimate objective is to attack Gaddafi from all angles. This military campaign is not for peace and will not spare him if he is located. Forget about NATO’s denial that he is not their target.

“We are not trying to physically target individuals in Gaddafi’s inner circle on whom he relies but we are certainly sending them increasingly loud messages,” said the UK Defence Secretary, Liam Fox. What is that message?

We heard similar lies from the International Coalition when the military campaign began. We were told that the mission was not a regime change but a humanitarian one because it was not the responsibility of the International Coalition to impose any system of governance or leadership on the Libyan people. The claim was made that it was up to the Libyan people themselves to decide for themselves how they should be governed. But what have we had ever since?

The persistent air-strikes by NATO has been underlined by the stentorian call by the Obama-Sarkozy-Cameron triumvirate that “Gaddafi must go” (or be got rid of)!

The persistent bombing of Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound is a clear demonstration of the intention to get rid of him. After all, NATO seems to be operating under the impression that since the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizes the use of force to protect civilians, anything considered as Gaddafi’s command and control facility is an automatic target; and if Gaddafi is present in such a target being attacked, his becoming a casualty can be justified. That is why NATO won’t stop attacking such targets.

On the ground, the rebels will extend their insurgency beyond their strongholds in the east and Misrata in the West, hoping that it will spark off pockets of insurgency in areas still under Gaddafi’s control. If that happens, it will give NATO the pretext to move into those areas to demolish the pro-Gaddafi forces and military capabilities. This move will definitely clear the path for the rebels and embolden them to take the fight to Gaddafi in Tripoli and other major cities.
The immediate intentions of the rebels to take the fight to Gaddafi are clear in the revelation by rebel Foreign Minister Fathi Baja that the rebels were preparing to launch an offensive against Gaddafi.

The situation is very dire for Gaddafi and his government. His hold on Libya is now tenuous as the clock gradually ticks for him to fight to death as a martyr or to be weakened and arrested to face a Fate he might not have dreamt of in all the 42 years that he has ruled Libya. By refusing to step down, Gaddafi seems to be preparing for his planned end and giving the West the task it has set itself to “finish.” And, from the flanks, we will monitor how that “finishing” is done.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

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