U.S., British and French forces began their military strikes against Libya on Saturday (March 19) in an operation the United States has codenamed Operation Odyssey Dawn.
The military action followed a West-engineered United Nations Security Council resolution on the establishment of a “no-fly” zone in Libya and started with an hours-long bombardment of the North African country.
Western countries have long harbored the intention of dethroning Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi regime. The recent military strife in the country between government troops and rebels offered an immediate and a rare excuse for Western military intervention.
In the wake of political, economic and social crises in neighboring Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle East countries, Libya was soon hit by a similar social unrest, with opposition forces calling for Gadhafi to relinquish his decades-long hold on power. But the crisis in Libya was partly a result of political incitement from Western countries, which seem to have seen a glimmer of hope that Gadhafi might be driven from power by unrest such as that in Egypt.
The Gadhafi regime, however, chose to take a tough stance and mobilize the military. In the face of the more powerful government troops, Libya’s opposition forces were soon on the brink of collapse, a result beyond the expectations of the U.S.-led Western nations. Against this backdrop, the Western countries plotted a “no-fly” zone resolution within the U.N. Security Council and then launched military assaults in the name of guaranteeing the implementation of the U.N. mandate.
But no matter what the well-decorated excuses, the latest military action in Libya is part of Western political and strategic intentions.
The U.S. and other Western countries have long regarded the Libyan ruler as a thorn in their flesh that, they believe, should be uprooted. However, any means adopted by the West over the past years failed to produce a power change in the oil-rich African country. Under these circumstances, the ongoing Middle East unrest was seen as a rare opportunity for the West to oust Gadhafi and realize a power change in Libya.
Some politicians in the West are also using the military action in Libya as a means to extricate themselves from their current political predicaments.
In the U.S., the ongoing social crises as well as public demonstrations in Wisconsin and other states have plunged many state organs into functional paralysis. The government has also suffered a setback on the issue of the federal budget because of opposition from Congress. As a result, U.S. President Barack Obama’s approval rating has declined to a record low since he took office. His declining popularity, if not curbed, will pose a severe challenge to Obama’s bid for reelection. In this context, a limited military action in Libya is possibly seen as an effective way to help Obama to break away from the current unfavorable political situation.
France, the spearhead of the latest Western action in Libya, is also suffering from widespread social problems. With strikes spreading, President Nicolas Sarkozy still trailed his political rival Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, in a latest opinion poll, despite several cabinet reshuffles. His party hopes that France’s military action in Libya will help boost Sarkozy’s popularity ahead of next year’s elections.
Given their unparaleled military preeminence, the military action by the multinational coalition in Libya is capable of producing a power change in the North African nation. But in view of Gadhafi’s clout within Libya and his announced determination to unite all the people in the fight against Western aggression, the coalition forces will in all likelihood refrain from launching a large-scale and highly intensive ground offensive.
In the face of the much more powerful Western military forces, the possibility cannot be ruled out that Gadhafi will adopt a flexible stance by choosing to hold talks with the opposition parties and asking for mediation from other major powers and even from the U.N.
By Li Qinggong
Li Qinggong is deputy secretary-general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies. ― Ed.