Allied Intervention in Libya: the Best ZP

José Ignacio Torreblanca. Professor. IE School of Arts & Humanities

12 May 2011

José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero’s decision to support the intervention in Libya has showed that he is capable of assuming responsibilities, even if it means losing votes.

All presidents have something of a Churchill in them, someone who is not at all worried about losing elections, as long as it is for a good cause, of course. But all politicians also have something of a Merkel in them, someone who only takes a decision after they have had a good look at the election calendar. Just when Merkel was telling off all the big spenders, pointing the finger at those who weren´t doing their bit and asking for sacrifices left, right and centre, the Libyan crisis appeared. Faced with a UN resolution as clear and specific as that of 1973, the protestant minister´s daughter, who grew up in the GDR with the fear of the Stasi hanging over the silence of her relatives, friends and colleagues, mumbled a few clumsy excuses and, forced by regional elections, abstained from supporting the intervention in Libya. Merkel has split NATO and the EU in two, beyond and with more devastating consequences than the European divide on the war in Iraq. By abstaining with China, Russia, Brazil and India, Germany has joined the group of emerging powers that only believe in the right to export and refuse to assume responsibilities.

With regional and municipal elections just around the corner, succession on the table, Portugal, Greece and Ireland walking the tightrope, and a crucial pact for the euro on the horizon, the repertoire given by Gaspar Llamazares in the Spanish parliament offered Zapatero a menu with dozens of excuses for not getting involved and not dirtying his hands or conscience by supporting the resolution on Libya. When taking the decision not to intervene, all the precedents, double standards and incoherence of the international community, of which there are hundreds, which are both very precise and very shocking, would have made it possible for him to stay on the byline. And now that the intervention is underway, all the ifs and buts, unknown quantities and uncertainties that have been part of life since then will enable those who always wanted to stay on the byline to say "I told you so".

All those uncertainties stem from the huge row affecting Obama because he involved the USA in a third war which is now costing around 100 million dollars a day. After seven years of the war in Iraq and 10 years in Afghanistan, with the cost of one and a half billion dollars (yes, 1.5 trillion), believing that the United States has some kind of hidden agenda in Libya shows the need for persecution complex therapy. Indeed, if the interest in Libya were the oil, all they would have had to do was potter along for another 72 hours until the fall of Benghazi and then start up relations with Gaddafi again.

The truth is that we do not know how the military operation will end: Gaddafi could fall in days or survive for months amidst the chaos he has generated; the rebels could win but be incapable of setting up anything remotely similar to a stable democracy and they could even end up killing each other in a new civil war. And the coalition could be dissolved and become the victim of its own divisions, uncertainty with regard to the objectives and the failure of its operations. All those consequences and their costs will have to be assumed by those who started the intervention because they will have no choice, but they will not be responsible for them.

The only party responsible for all that will be Gaddafi. The only thing ZP will be responsible for will be having prevented Gaddafi from attacking Benghazi and massacring the population, as promised by Gaddafi on many occasions. It is easy to see that Zapatero understood perfectly well that, although he was not responsible for the war in Iraq or the United States´ double standards on Israel, or the inoperative state of the United Nations in dozens of conflicts, he would indeed be responsible for not having done anything to prevent Benghazi from falling into Gaddafi´s hands.

Because although the world would have preferred sanctions and blockades instead of intervention, it was impossible to ignore the fact that the sanctions, put in place in the resolution of 1970, had already failed to stop Gaddafi. To paraphrase Cercas, the only thing that matters, therefore, is the anatomy of that instant when the debate ends and you have to decide how you want to use the authority you have been given, in other words, exactly what you want to assume responsibility for and what you want to ignore. I state my case: ZP at his best.


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