Editorial: World must unite to rescue Libyans

  • Updated: February 24, 2011 - 10:09 PM

International community should act now to oust Gadhafi.

Illustration of Moammar Gadhafi

Illustration of Moammar Gadhafi

Photo: Tim Brinton, NewsArt

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Star Tribune Editorial

The underlying causes of the upheavals in North African countries have some commonalities.

Most notably, each country has had a repressive regime that's been unresponsive to the frustrations of a disproportionately young population.

But each country has unique dynamics as well. A strong sense of nationhood, and a professionalized military, meant that the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were relatively peaceful.

Libya, unfortunately, is a different story, which helps explain why its revolution has become so violent.

Libya is defined less by a sense of nationhood and more by tribal divisions.

Its military reflects the split and is far less disciplined. And mercenaries with no national ties are playing a critical role.

Even worse, the country is run by an irrational international terrorist, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, who has turned his murderous methods against his own people.

Unlike the initial attempts at regime reformation in Tunisia and Egypt, Gadhafi will not be deterred by reason. His violent response to what started as a peaceful protest should lead the international community to consider every available diplomatic and military option to end his reign.

The situation demands a global response because after years of diplomatic estrangement, America has little leverage in Libya.

In Egypt, close military contacts and billions in U.S. aid may have been the difference in keeping the military in its barracks. Libya must be a priority for the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, the Arab League and every other internationally invested organization.

Gadhafi himself is a lost cause.

But an international effort could convince key tribal, military and political leaders who have supported him to join many members of the military and diplomatic corps who have chosen to defect.

These leaders are the ones who will be the difference in determining how long the Gadhafi regime can hold on to Tripoli, and ultimately how many lives are lost.

The U.N. Security Council should immediately impose the most severe economic sanctions against Libya and as many of its key leaders as possible. This should include freezing assets of any identifiable Libyan loyal to Gadhafi.

And any pending military aid or weapons sales to the country should be halted immediately.

Further, Libyan leaders and loyalists should be put on notice that it's not only the Gadhafi family that will face charges from the International Criminal Court.

Militarily, the U.N. should impose a no-fly zone in Libya.

This would stop Gadhafi from bombing or strafing citizens, or from mounting an aerial counteroffensive to retake regions he no longer controls.

It would not prevent him from ordering his forces to indiscriminately kill on the ground, but every bit of pressure may save lives and help convince Libyans that the regime's days are numbered.

Because Gadhafi has styled himself as a pan-African leader as much as a pan-Arab one, it's especially important that he is isolated by his neighbors as well.

To that end, newly liberated Tunisia and Egypt can help by opening borders and providing safe havens for defectors, as well as for refugees fleeing the carnage.

If the international community doesn't quickly coalesce, the result could be catastrophic. Gadhafi's son warned of a civil war, which is an increasing possibility.

And if Gadhafi regains control, he's promised to go "house to house" to murder his opposition. The world acted too slowly in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and too many other killing fields.

A strong and immediate international response is needed to ensure that Libya doesn't suffer the same fate.

Readers, what do you think the world's response should be? What can America do? To be considered for publication as a letter to the editor, write no more than 250 words to opinion@startribune.com. Include your name and the city where you live.

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    "Take all the steps to move Libya back into international pariah status. ... Sanctions won't really have an effect on Gadhafi -- from his point of view, he's fighting for his life -- but it's a question of having an effect on others around him to create the clear impression that Gadhafi's days are numbered, and that other military and security officials would do well to leave Gadhafi now."

    MICHELE DUNNE, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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Illustration of Moammar Gadhafi