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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gaddafi Runs and Iran Watches

Even as it appears that Moammar Gaddafi is on the run, there are still numerous potential setbacks in the future of Libya.

Who will comprise the leadership of the new government? Will the different tribes that were unified in rebellion continue to work together or will a new civil war erupt over control of the county? Will there be a strong central government that will have to be propped up by the West? Will Libya partition itself into its traditional provinces based on tribal loyalty?

The end of Gaddafi’s reign in Libya marks both the end and the beginning. It’s the end for the former “Mad Dog of the Middle East,” the beginning of what will inevitably become another nation-building effort, and the fate of Libya portends a perilous future for the United States.

When American intervention began in March, I wrote:

“[t]he UN Security Council resolution only authorizes that there may be ‘all necessary measures’ to ‘protect Libyan citizens.’ If the Authorization for Use of Military Force legislation of 2001 was a blank check for President Bush, then what is this? Just what does ‘all necessary measures’ to ‘protect Libyan citizens’ mean? . . .

“By intervening in the first place, Obama has assured that the only possible outcome of this conflict means Gaddafi is dethroned. . . .

“Why intervene on the side of the rebels unless it is to see them to victory? And if we take them across the finish line, how then does the new government in a fragile, fractious country operate unless it is propped up? What of Gaddafi's fighters? As students of history should know, the losers in a civil war do not often lay down all their weapons and celebrate the peace when the war is declared ‘over.’"

The variables in a post-revolutionary country like Libya are daunting to consider. Tribal rivalries and vengeance against Gaddafi’s loyalists virtually guarantee gruesome bloodletting. But there is also a wider consequence of the Libyan adventure.

May we safely assume the regime in Tehran is paying attention to what’s happening in Libya? What would they have to learn from this?

Moammar Gaddafi, a long-time pariah of the United States, abandons terrorism and relinquishes his weapons of mass destruction in late 2003. President Bush removed Libya from the list of state sponsors of terror and President Obama shook hands with the dictator in 2009. For his latter day cooperation with the United States, Gaddafi was rewarded by being run out of Libya thanks to American air power.

What Iran will learn from this is that the Americans cannot be trusted when it comes to nuclear arms deals. In March, when Western intervention began, terrorism analyst Paul Pillar wrote:

“The lesson that the mullahs in Tehran and others will draw is that it would be useless to reach any agreement with the West about terrorism or nuclear weapons because the West is really interested above all in regime change and, regardless of any agreements that may have been reached, will seize the first opportunity that comes along to try to realize that goal.”

At the recent presidential debate in Ames, Congressman Ron Paul and former senator Rick Santorum waged a verbal war about what to do with Iran and their intent to acquire a nuclear weapon. Citing the fact that nearly all of Iran’s neighbors have nuclear weapons, Paul simply explained that Iran has strategic and practical interests in obtaining a weapon of their own.

Seeing what Gaddafi got for relinquishing his weapons gives Iran all the reason it needs to either re-start its nuclear program or push harder for an arsenal. If this happens, we can certainly expect the drumbeats for war to bang louder.

The mullahs see that regimes like Gaddafi’s gave Washington everything it wanted and still got taken out. If this is how Washington treats its newfound friends, how will they treat a regime with whom they are still openly antagonistic?

The road to hell may be paved with good intentions but the road to war with Iran may have begun in Libya.

Carl Wicklander,
Regular Columnist, THL
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