By Gaither Stewart
(Rome) Last Saturday night I saw the Supermoon. The same March 19 night that Operation “Odyssey Dawn” was launched against the Libya of Muammar Gadaffi, the earth’s star in all its glory passed its nearest point to planet Earth as it does every 19 years. This time it was a full moon. It hovered over my house. At midnight the yellow Supermoon illuminated my front yard almost as a winter sun does at midday. That same night the same moon shone also over Tripoli, 600 miles the south, illuminating all of Libya as it did my front yard.
Many (with ample reason) doubt claims of a spontaneous uprising of Libyan people, poorly armed and disorganized. Many suspect the usual hidden roles of foreign powers and that the Libyan crisis was created artificially, something like Iraq and Kosovo.
Under that moon, French Rafale jets attacked Libya. The impatient, arrogant and presumptuous French President Sarkozy showed off his new Rafale aircraft to the Arab world where France apparently hopes to sell loads of the new fighter plane. Tactically, Sarkozy simply jumped the gun in order to get there first. To put the French stamp on the operation and to claim a slice of the post-Gadaffi Libyan pie. The Rafales attacked before Italy had time to accomplish its role of knocking out Libyan radar guiding Gadaffi’s anti-aircraft. To astonished Libyan gunners, the Rafales must have looked like a sitting duck up there against that moon.
If you are in Europe today, you would not suspect that the US Africa Command under General Carter Ham might be in charge of Operation Odyssey Dawn. Except for the rain of 158 US missiles over Libya, in Europe the US is barely mentioned as a participant. Here, it is depicted as a European operation, with US backup. In fact on March 21, three days after the start of the air strikes, European media spoke of US withdrawal from the operation. But history shows that is pure fantasy. American withdrawal from a war seems highly unlikely. And to boot a war against that good old enemy Muammar Gadaffi is highly doubtful.
However America’s position may be, it was the military anomaly of the French jumping the gun that set the stage for the dissension already dividing the ranks of the European nations supposedly adhering to the UN Resolution to establish a no fly zone over Libya and to protect Libyan civilians. Three days into the operation against Gadaffi and the Coalition of Volunteer Nations is already split. No one seems to be in command. Italy and France are at each other’s throats. Italy threatens to withdraw its airbases and go it alone if overall command is not put in the hands of NATO, preferably operating in the Naples headquarters with Italian support. NATO has said it is willing to assume command. But France wants the leadership for itself.
Not only the Italo-French controversy over who is in command, but also the question of what to do with Gadaffi, when and if he is deposed, perplexes Europe: exile abroad, or exile somewhere in Libya, or trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity, or (unspoken but intimated: his assassination). Hard to forget is that only several months ago Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi received his friend Muammar in Rome with full honors and kissed the dictator’s hand in public. Accompanied by his female bodyguard, his Amazonian Guard, Gadaffi set up his tents in a Rome park, where his horses and camels grazed while he was feted left and right. Also, though less ostentatious, Sarkozy recently received Gadaffi as a chief of state in the Elysée Palace in Paris.
Major European concerns are Libyan oil, trade and other economic considerations after the eventual deposition of Muammar Gadaffi. Meanwhile, Gadaffi’s threats to flood Europe with one million immigrants worry especially Italy and France. And Gadaffi’s “long war” threat hangs heavy over Europe and the North African Renaissance. Those who at first spoke of a Blitzkrieg, a lightning war, over in a few hours or days, are today scratching their heads in consternation. The question is, how to attack Gadaffi’s tanks and troops hidden in villages and small towns, waiting, waiting, waiting. The long war indeed seems more likely.
The ugly reality that dictators no less ferocious and corrupt than Gadaffi reign over other Middle East countries is a distasteful subject largely shrugged off: ‘After all we can’t discipline the whole world.’ Or, as someone asked, who can imagine bombing Saudi Arabia? Especially Italy is cautious in Libya both because of its own atrocious colonial record of cruelty there last century and because Libya is a major trading partner. Also, Prime Minister Berlusconi now feels sorry for his friend Muammar, who however accuses Italy of betrayal.
As well, France has a shameful colonial record in North Africa as a whole. Ironically, French-speaking Tunisian immigrants are pouring into the reception center on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa with a population of 5000 and only 165 miles east of Tunisia. Today there also 5000 immigrants, a majority of whom want to move on to France. Xenophobic voices in Italy and France call for a naval blockade around Tunisia and Libya to halt the flow: another act of war despite the UN definition of “humanitarian intervention” for the operation in Libya that every European knows is already war.
Europe is divided. Germany refused to participate in Odyssey Dawn from the start. Other nations followed the German lead. Turkey opposes the intervention, tout court. Russia likewise condemns it. Norway first sent its aircraft then withdrew them to wait and see who will be in command. Other participating nations demand NATO overall command. No country except France likes the so-called Coalition of Volunteer Nations because France wants to go it alone in order to reap the greatest benefits.
Italian leftwing media are perplexed. All agree Gadaffi should go. Most agree that Libya is a different story from Egypt and Tunisia. Many also doubt claims of a spontaneous uprising of Libyan people, poorly armed and disorganized. Many suspect the usual hidden roles of foreign powers and that the Libyan crisis was created artificially, something like Iraq and Kosovo. Yet, on the evening of March 21, at the end of the third day of the “conflict” (use of the word “war” is largely frowned on in Italy since Italian President Napolitano declared this was NOT a war but a humanitarian intervention, a view which many consider naïve) a major leftwing TV talk show introduced a big group of North Africans and Arab-speaking journalists to depict the Libyan insurrection as a truly popular uprising against a dictator. An Italian Arab-speaking female journalist with long experience in the Arab world and who resides in Egypt declared with great passion: “After decades and decades of cruel oppression, people everywhere inevitably reach the point where they rise up and say “No! No more. We will take no more. The dictator must go.”
Based in Rome, Senior Editor GAITHER STEWART is also TGP’s European Correspondent. His latest novel is The Trojan Spy (Callio).