It’s not that there are no real humanitarian concerns; Libyan civilians are paying a huge price in challenging their dictator. But powerful U.S. interests are at stake, and few of them have anything to do with protecting Libyan civilians. Certainly oil is key; not so much about access to Libyan oil (the international oil market is pretty fungible), but about which oil companies will gain privileged positions? Will it be BP and Chevron who win the lucrative contracts to develop Libya’s enormous oil fields, or will Chinese and Russian oil companies take their place? What pipelines will a new government in Libya choose, and which countries and corporations will benefit?
And it’s not only about oil. The Libyan uprising is one of many potentially revolutionary transformations across the Arab world and in parts of Africa, where long-standing U.S.-backed dictatorships are collapsing — what kind of credibility can the U.S. expect in post-Qaddafi Libya? Washington may be betting that it can win credibility with the opposition by jumping out in front with an aggressive anti-Qaddafi “military assistance” campaign, perhaps starting with a no-fly zone. But in fact Washington risks antagonizing those opposition supporters, apparently the vast majority, determined to protect the independence of their democratic revolution.
The future of Libya and much of the success of the democratic revolutions now underway across the region, stand in the balance. If the Obama administration, the Pentagon, war profiteers and the rest of the U.S. policymaking establishment continue to define U.S. “national interests” as continuing U.S. domination of oil-rich and strategically-located countries and regions, Washington faces a likely future of isolation, antagonism, rising terrorism and hatred.
The democratic revolutionary processes sweeping North Africa and the Middle East have already transformed that long-stalemated region. The peoples of the region are looking for less, not greater militarization of their countries. It is time for U.S. policy to recognize that reality. Saying no to a no-fly zone in Libya will be the best thing the Obama administration can do to begin the process of crafting a new, demilitarized 21st century policy for the U.S. in the newly democratizing Middle East.