Libya is not a very solid country: it is basically a green coastal strip a few miles deep fronting the vast desert that was arbitrarily divided by the straight lines of international borders set up by the western powers in the 19th century. Virtually everybody lives in the coastal strip, but the country's income comes entirely from the oil under the desert. Libya is virtually a one-road country, the road that runs along the coast, and along which the rebel army has recently advanced. I went through many of the towns that have become famous since, through the reporting of the civil war: Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Tripoli. It has been very sad therefore to experience the news reports over the last six moths of the war and hear of the suffering of the Libyan people in these places.
|Looking from the hill of Cyrene across the narrow strip of green Libya to the Mediterranean|
|Greek ruins at Cyrene|
|The amazing Roman city of Leptis Magna, near Tripoli|
|Remains of the Roman port at Leptis Magna|
|One of the ubiquitous roadside posters, symbolising Gaddafi breaking the chains of Africa, with the profoundly ironic dove of peace|
In the end, in the Arab Spring, Gaddafi could no longer hold back the new forces unleashed by the outside world of electronic information. His propaganda became impotent. But the rebellion organised using Twitter needed firepower to take on his military machine. I have to praise the decisions of David Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicholas Sarkozy over Libya. I think they got the strategy of intervention right. Intervening militarily in another state is always the hardest of political decisions, but in this case there was a coincidence of what was morally right, what was politically expedient, what was militarily possible, and what was good for the people of Libya, good for the interests of the western powers, and good for the peace and stability of the region. Gaddafi had been a destabilising factor in international relations all through his reign.
The level of intervention chosen, of supporting the uprising militarily, diplomatically and through targeted sanctions, while not putting western troops on the ground, ensured that Gaddafi would not be reinforced by a perception of a new colonialism, and things were left so far as possible in the hands of the National Transitional Council. Italy, as the colonial power with an unsavoury reputation among the Libyans, stayed sensibly on the sidelines.
There will be those who say "It was about oil", but it wasn't. Gaddaffi was on good terms with western leaders before the civil war, particularly with Berlusconi, who signed a co-operation treaty with him in 2008, and Tony Blair had chatted the monster up in his tent as well in 2004. The West could have had all the oil it wanted from Gaddafi's Libya. But, to their credit, Western leaders realised that their interests were wider than this.
It appears that the National Transitional Council have the right instincts and can, with the support of the international community, potentially lead Libya towards an open, democratic, united, prosperous and sustainable future. I hope so. As arabnews.com said today in its editorial headed End of a nightmare:
There is every reason for guarded optimism. The Libyan uprising appears deeply committed to the notion of democracy. The fact, too, that pro-Gaddafi forces, when captured, have largely been well treated is also encouraging. The basis for reconciliation is there. As to who takes over, that will be for the Libyans to decide.
|Dawn over the port of Tripoli|