Home > The Middle East > Libya: How the West learnt the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan

Libya: How the West learnt the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan

With the news of the capture of Saif al Islam Gaddafi and the death of Muammar Gaddafi it appears that the long Libya conflict is finally at end with a victory for the NATO-backed rebel forces. How did this come about when the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan descended into Vietnam style guerrilla conflicts after the decisive victory? Will this happen in Libya now the stability of Gaddafi has gone?

Not to make too much of a premature prediction and hopefully not to become a Michael Fish type figure, I don’t think the situation in Libya will turn into Afghanistan number 2, like Iraq did. This is because the West learnt from their mistakes in these conflicts. This was not a Western intervention to depose an unpopular leader like in Iraq, but a movement which started in Libya, by Libyans. Moreover instead of rushing in with all guns blazing to support the rebels, the West played a supporting role – giving them all the tools and support needed to defeat the Gaddafi regime without bringing the government down itself. The effect of this was two-fold:

  1. It didn’t undermine the legitimacy of the rebels by accusations of Western imperialism. This was a Libyan movement – by Libyans for Libyans
  2. The West gained credit for its role in supporting the democratic movement. As I argued in my last post the West needed to finally back up its avocation of democracy with support for the democracy movement, and in this instance it has done and done it well. This has helped to gain some credibility in the region which will help with the war on terror and the achievement of liberalisation.

Furthermore as well as learning that not getting directly involved helped increase the legitimacy of the movement, the way in which the West did involve itself helped too. This was that the unpopular US (after their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and their ties to Israel) has taken a back seat. Efforts were made to include other Arab countries as well and were successful in getting them to condemn the Gaddafi regime. Thus all legitimacy and possible allies lost, the war for Libya was only going to end one way, and so it did.


What next for Libya? Who knows, but for the first time in 42 years its people and not one man are master of its destiny and to an extent they have the Western support to thank, which can only help when a new government is eventually formed.

What next for the region? The situation in Syria seems to be taking a similar course with its expulsion from the Arab League. With the West and the Arabs condemning Assad and imposing sanctions on Syria, it must only be a matter of time before either he goes or the West also intervenes there (a UN resolution for armed involvement was vetoed in October by China and Russia but if the current atrocities continue it is only a matter of time that China and Russia can prevent the action which Turkey and the US are vying for.) Once again the West needs to be involved in some level in order to avoid accusations of hypocrisy but needs to be involved in the way it was in Libya and not Iraq.

Categories: The Middle East
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