In Libya, Benghazi’s freedom fighters face a massacre

By cruelly suppressing its society, the Libyan regime has forfeited its legitimate sovereignty.

By: Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

At the start of the Libyan uprising, demonstrators armed with freedom symbols faced soldiers armed with bullets. By cruelly suppressing its society, the Libyan regime has forfeited its legitimate sovereignty.

As diplomats debate ending Gaddafi’s rule, he is left free to murder the people demanding change.

The reaction of the U.S. administration to events in Libya has been inconsistent. President Obama chose his words carefully when he said that Gaddafi must leave office for the good of his people. But in a matter of days, as the ruthless colonel made territorial gains in fighting back the rebels, Obama sounded hesitant about expediting Gaddafi’s departure. He said the “cost” for the removal of this despot may be too high for the U.S.

Leaving Libya in the background this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Cairo and Tunis to promote “freedom and democracy.” She has softly rebuked Saudi Arabia for sending soldiers to defend the rulers of Bahrain and called for “restraint” from both sides. Libya’s rapid advance in crushing the revolution does not seem to alarm the U.S. Washington coldly figures that as troubles in Bahrain escalate, Libya could wait for a more convenient and risk-free intervention.

America’s fear for the eventual tumbling of the Saudi ally factors highly in every U.S. action in the region. The implication of a rapid fall of Libya terrifies many in Washington. Not as purported, the coolness of Washington to intervention in Libya seems like a matter of conflict of interest rather than a lesson learned from the Iraq war. For many American policy hawks, the Iraq war was worth its heavy cost; but when it comes to a desperate Libyan nation, even authorized international intervention sounds risky for those same hawks.

Libya’s revolution is at risk of failure. The Libyan army is heading east for a decisive battle with the rebels. A bloody battle is expected in Benghazi. The army has the capacity to kill while the rebels have only the will to overcome injustice.

Given the lack of symmetry in power, the Benghazi confrontation may soon turn into a massacre. The crushed rebellion would leave Libya with tens of thousands of innocent victims, a destroyed infrastructure, a demoralized nation, an angry region, and a world community in a state of collective guilt.

A failure in Libya’s bid for freedom would not only be a tragedy for a single nation; it would be a reversal for the cause of freedom in the entire region. Despite their heroism, the rebels’ failure in Libya would send a comforting message to the Arab despots: bloody force works in suppressing opposition. Defeating the freedom fighters reinstates people’s fear of the ruler, the root cause of political stagnation in the Middle East.

Regardless who wins the Benghazi battle, at the end of the day the Libyan regime is fated for self destruction. As Gaddafi’s rule is soaked in crime, deep in theft of national resources, accountable for massacres, and despised at home and abroad, it is doomed.

While it is difficult to imagine the Libyan regime surviving for long, when the eventual change in regime occurs, how the rebels come to power is important. In a state which has subdued its opposition for so long, cosmetic transfer of power should not replace genuine reform achieved by an empowered and proud opposition.

The wavering international community must not wait for a massacre to justify authorized, decisive intervention. Gaddafi must be forced to step down sooner rather than later.

Ghassan Michel Rubeiz is an Arab American commentator. The writer is a former Middle East representative at the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.

The Arab American