Muammar GaddafiGaddafi’s airplanes and security services are killing unarmed civilians protesting his regime and demanding the brutal dictator to step down. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have expressed outrage and declared that all options are on the table. Many pundits and neoconservatives are demanding the use of force in Libya to save innocent lives. Neoconservative guru William Kristol recently advised President Obama to seize this moment in history and intervene militarily if “force is used to kill innocent civilians” in Libya. “Hundreds of millions of lovers of freedom,” Kristol claims, “would salute” Obama.

This escalating rhetoric from pundits and the administration toward Libya is not surprising. Libya has oil, and the West needs it.

But we should not repeat the mistake of Iraq. The United States – or Europe – should not send troops to Libya except as part of a UN peacekeeping mission.

Courting Gaddafi

Gaddafi was a pariah in the West for over 30 years. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gaddafi gave up development of weapons of mass destruction. The West, under the leadership of Tony Blair, then prime minister of Britain, visited Gaddafi with a warm hug and declared bygones are bygones. Western economic interests, especially those of Britain, France, and Italy, were rewarded with large oil contracts. This was the high moral standard displayed by the West toward the suffering Libyan people.

The neocons never miss an opportunity to peddle the hegemonic goals enunciated in the Project for The New American Century’s 1997 manifesto: “We need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.” The neocons have been waiting for an opportune time to advocate for a military intervention. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial advocated bombing Libyan airfields. And Paul Wolfowitz opined in the Journal that we should come down on the side of Libyans quickly before there is more bloodshed.

The neocons are back to their old assumptions that a military intervention is for freedom rather than for oil and installing a compliant regime to facilitate access to this resource. In addition, the neocons assume wrongly, as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) did recently, that the invasion of Iraq was a success. In fact, the Iraq invasion resulted in only a semi-compliant regime despite tens of millions of dollars and U.S. campaign consultants helping out U.S.-backed candidates in the last election. Most importantly, the neocons do not count the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and over 500,000 wounded. Finally, they skirt the discussion of over 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead and nearly 40,000 seriously wounded.

History of Intervention

The Arabs have been occupied for over 900 years since the 12th century. They have been occupied by the Mongols, Persians, Ottomans, British, and Americans. In the past 100 years, that occupation became even more onerous because the Arab population became more educated and aware of their predicament. Moreover, the occupiers installed governments that were corrupt and dictatorial, and that used torture to instill fear and subjugate the populace. Robbed of their dignity, the Arab people finally exploded, shedding their fears and protesting peacefully in the face of great danger.

In Libya, these events are unfolding even more starkly than in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and elsewhere in the Arab world. It has been reported that Gaddafi’s agents and mercenaries are conducting random killings in Tripoli. Moreover, airplanes have bombed anti-Gaddafi forces controlling several cities outside Tripoli.

But the neocons want to steal the fruits of Arabs’ peaceful revolt by using the despot Gaddafi as a pretext to invade Libya – much as they used the tyrant Saddam Hussein as an excuse to invade Iraq. In both cases, oil is the prize and a compliant government is the means to that end.

The Folly of Intervention

The Arabs, however, are no longer so easily deceived by foreign promises. Any foreign occupier, whether American or European, will eventually fail. A military intervention will refresh the Arabs recent memory of our support of corrupt regimes and the brutal and catastrophic invasion of Iraq. It will trigger anti-American and anti-European sentiment and provide the nearly moribund al-Qaeda with a shot in the arm.

Millions of Arabs who have enjoyed Western freedom while studying in America and Europe have brought these ideals back to their countries. Let us not embark on a military intervention that would undermine this legacy. The West can and should use the United Nations to lessen Gaddafi’s impact. The UN should hold the Libyan government and its agents accountable for any human rights violations. Finally, the UN can escalate its military involvement in Libya for the sole purpose of protecting innocent civilians and not installing a specific government.

But we must say no to a unilateral military intervention by the French, NATO, or the United States.

Adil E. Shamoo, is a senior analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, and writes on ethics and public policy. He is a professor at University of Maryland School of Medicine. He can be reached at

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