Not much, no. In fact, what’s remarkable about the Western intervention is the complete lack of understanding who is fighting for what and why. Calling for democracy is essential, of course, but what else? Barack Obama’s recent speech backing the war was all about protecting civilians and America not willing to watch massacres take place. Tell that to the people of Pakistan, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo and the list goes on. Who takes this man really seriously?
The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson has spent the last weeks in Libya and files this revealing report:
Three of the world’s great armies have suddenly conspired to support a group of people in the coastal cities and towns of Libya, known, vaguely, as “the rebels.” Last month, Muammar Qaddafi, who combines a phantasmagorical sense of reality with an unbounded capacity for terror, appeared on television to say that the rebels were nothing more than Al Qaeda extremists, addled by hallucinogens slipped into their milk and Nescafé. President Obama, who is torn between the imperatives of rescuing Libyan innocents from slaughter and not falling into yet another prolonged war, described the same rebels rather differently: “people who are seeking a better way of life.”
During weeks of reporting in Benghazi and along the chaotic, shifting front line, I’ve spent a great deal of time with these volunteers. The hard core of the fighters has been the shabab—the young people whose protests in mid-February sparked the uprising. They range from street toughs to university students (many in computer science, engineering, or medicine), and have been joined by unemployed hipsters and middle-aged mechanics, merchants, and storekeepers. There is a contingent of workers for foreign companies: oil and maritime engineers, construction supervisors, translators. There are former soldiers, their gunstocks painted red, green, and black—the suddenly ubiquitous colors of the pre-Qaddafi Libyan flag.
And there are a few bearded religious men, more disciplined than the others, who appear intent on fighting at the dangerous tip of the advancing lines. It seems unlikely, however, that they represent Al Qaeda. I saw prayers being held on the front line at Ras Lanuf, but most of the fighters did not attend. One zealous-looking fighter at Brega acknowledged that he was a jihadi—a veteran of the Iraq war—but said that he welcomed U.S. involvement in Libya, because Qaddafi was a kafir, an unbeliever.
Some things are clear, though. In Benghazi, an influential businessman named Sami Bubtaina expressed a common sentiment: “We want democracy. We want good schools, we want a free media, an end to corruption, a private sector that can help build this nation, and a parliament to get rid of whoever, whenever, we want.” These are honorable aims. But to expect that they will be achieved easily is to deny the cost of decades of insanity, terror, and the deliberate eradication of civil society.