By Jay Holmes
As the Coalition of the Hesitant continues to exercise a “we fly, you no fly” zone over Libya today, several ironies and opportunities seem apparent to me.
Before the ink was dry on the German surrender document that ended the European phase of WWII in 1945, Western European nations started realizing that they wanted less American leadership in European affairs. The US-financed Marshall Plan that brought economic salvation to Western Europe was welcomed, but being in the position of the recipient clarified for many Europeans the need for strong leadership in Western Europe.
France and De Gaulle tried to fill that need by distancing themselves from the NATO command structure, and by developing nuclear weapons independently of the US. England, having enjoyed a closer relationship with the US, pursued a stronger and more inclusive NATO, and most NATO member states followed that example. For one thing, the cost benefits of unified defense were undeniable, and as the Soviets grew a massive military presence in Eastern Europe, no single Western European nation was in a position to defend itself from a Soviet invasion.
In the decades since, the European desire to exercise its own foreign policy has grown increasingly strong. The lack of a massive Soviet military presence in Eastern Germany since the collapse of the Soviet Union has left Europeans understandably more willing to voice their desire for equality (or, in their view, “inherent superiority”) in world statesmanship. European governments are vigorously resisting a major opportunity for European states to exercise their leadership this week. Apparently, no Western European state is yet willing to take over political or military leadership for the coalition of forces currently arrayed against Uncle Momo Gadhafi.
Many American taxpayers are rooting for some “European Superior Statesmanship” this week. Count me in that group. From my viewpoint, it would be a triumph for world peace if Europe steps up and takes charge of the coalition that exercises the “we fly, you no fly” zone. My desire to see this happen is without my usual sarcasm and free of any negative feelings for European governments. My personal estimate is that between Sarkozy and Cameron, Europe has what it needs to lead events successfully. Though an ideal outcome may not occur in Libya, Europe has much to gain by taking control of the situation. If Europe fails to exercise leadership in the current crisis on its southern doorstep, Mideastern and African nations will be unable to ignore the message and to interpret that “message” to their own liking. Leaving someone else to blame also leaves someone else in charge.
Another opportunity that seems obvious is the opportunity for direct diplomacy with Gadhafi today. One crucial difference between Mubarak and Gadhafi is that Uncle Momo lacks an easy way out. I suggest we offer him one. Gadhafi’s absence from power in Libya would be a possible benefit to Libyans, but his carcass, itself, has no inherent value to anyone. He likely would not easily accept an extended vacation to Venezuela, or perhaps a villa in South Africa, but at some point, he might accept it as a better alternative to incineration. We have nothing to lose by making an offer. If Western European leaders wish, they could simultaneously begin to shape some simple rules for the rebels in exchange for their continued survival at the grace of Western powers. A two-page guide to the future formation of a Libyan constitution could greatly decrease Al Qaeda’s opportunity to take control in Libya.
The current “non war” in Libya need not end in chaos for Libya. A modest investment of political courage by European governments will not likely lead us all to the Garden of Eden, but it could easily avoid a decline into hell for Libya and its neighbors.
Ignore the pundits of doom. Failure is NOT preordained. As that crazy English army officer T.E. Lawrence said to his Bedouin friends, “Nothing is written.” The price has, by and large, already been paid. Let the benefits be harvested for the betterment of Libyans and Westerners. Success is available and can be purchased with bold statesmanship.