By Yael Lavie
Nearly a decade ago, a few months before the US led operation (heck let’s call it an invasion, shall we) commenced into Iraq in order to depose Saddam Hussein, I worked on a story about the US history of regime change as a modus operandi of foreign policy.
At the time, working in NYC with Jim Wooten a former ABC NEWS correspondent and great journalist who had the “privilege” of covering the Vietnam War first hand, we set out to speak with historians and former US government officials during the Vietnam days. Our goal as journalists, before the 2003 Iraq war began while the world as well as the press were rearing to go in to Bagdad to “do the right thing,” was to look back at regime change led wars of the past and see how those fared in history.
It was historian David Halberstam’s line to us at the time that resonates so loudly with me today. Back in 2003 Halberstam recalled the outcome of the Vietnam US intervention with a warning:
“Within a year of the regime change, U.S. forces in Vietnam had tripled. Over the next 12 years, the level reached approximately 500,000 U.S. troops. Overall, 50,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives were lost. North Vietnam ultimately won the war and the American psyche emerged bruised and battered.
“[In] the underdeveloped world … these things are often outside your control,” Halberstam said, “and your acts often trigger things in that part of the world that are the exact opposite of what you wanted them to have triggered.”
If History has taught us anything time and time again it is that regime change looks good going in – but it rarely- if ever, does, looking back. And by Historical standards we don’t even need to look back 50 years, not even a full decade. Our memories should be intact with the ongoing eight year of the mess that is Iraq since the US invaded it in March 2003.
As for the war “du jour”, freshly waged and embarked on by the west against Muammar Kaddafi, let us ask a few questions before we admire the “humane” act of the allied forces against a crazy Middle Eastern dictator. Firstly; make no mistake – I think Kaddafi is a crazy psychopath; he is abusing and killing his people. That said – he has been doing so for the last 41 years with the knowledge and compliance of most of the western world. He has always been ruthless, vicious and unpredictable. Yet up until a month ago, he was not called on by the west to answer his maniacal tactics nor threatened or bombarded with tomahawk missiles. So we must ask ourselves now – what has changed? Did the West all of a sudden develop a conscience? Well, sorry but I am slightly doubtful of that.
The civil uprising which began in Eastern Libya a month ago was watched closely by the west, hoping it will turn out favorably as the momentous Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions did, culminating in a “Hollywood style fairy tale ending” – One that the west could laud and applaud. In Egypt and Tunisia for now it looks good on the surface. Time will tell of course – depending on other regional changes (about to be halted by a western intervention) but for now in Egypt and Tunisia it was regime change by the people and for the people – as it should be. Alas, it has not fared so well in Libya. A month into the uprising, which some may argue has turned more into a tribal conflict in some parts of the country; it did not go the way the west hoped it would. Now, four weeks into the internal conflict, after western leaders commended the rebels and managed to upset Kaddafi – their once “welcomed” guest in civil rights councils, world events and let us not forget a man with much of the world’s oil supply under his hands – it is all of sudden time for a western intervention to stop the monster from killing his people. Well, the monster has been killing his people for years. Had the uprising succeeded to over throw him from within, would the west be so concerned about the well being of the Libyan people?
As it stands now, the western allies are worried but not about the people of Libya. Kaddafi pushing the rebels all the way back to Benghazi last week and God forbid taking it back, the next to suffer will be the oil pumps of the west. If there is one thing Kaddafi has proven over his internal-undisputed-iron-fist-41-year regime, it is that he is a man who remembers and resents for a long time. That is something the West cannot afford – literally –cannot afford in oil currency.
British Prime Minister David Cameron waxed poetic yesterday about the just agenda behind the western military action that has just commenced against Kaddafi. Call me a cynic, call me a product of the Middle East or better yet a citizen of this region who witnessed the outcome of western intervention over the course of the last 20 years – but the war that has just begun is not just. It is not being waged to stop the Libyan people from being killed. If that were the case we can name many ongoing genocides around the world, such as the decade long holocaust in the Sudan, where no western UN resolution motivated military action has ever been taken and ask why now? Why here? And why again.
As it stands right now we may be facing another attempt by the west for enforcing regime change in the Middle East with the usual western personal agenda – the agenda of oil. There is one thing recent history has proven to us time and time again – Where there is no oil, there is no intervention. Where there is intervention for the sake of oil, those who stand to suffer, yet again, are the locals.
Yael Lavie is a journalist, writer and television producer living in Tel Aviv