Exactly eight years after international coalition forces attacked Iraq in order to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, "Western forces" are now engaged in a similar confrontation: air and missile strikes, this time against Libya. The official aim is to keep Muammar Gadhafi's forces from harming rebellious civilians, but the actual objective is to overturn his regime.
At first glance, it is easy to extrapolate from the Iraq experience and hazard forecasts regarding this Libya offensive. Yet the truth is that there are some important differences between the two situations, differences that reflect a change of perception.
If, in the Iraqi case, the war's pretext was to remove putative weapons of mass destruction and protect strategic interests such as oil, this time the so-called Western forces - with the collaboration and backing of many Arab states - have decided to act in order to prevent the killing of citizens and to help the civil rebellion against the regime.
While the joint Western and Arab action against Libya's dictatorial regime has widespread support, it raises a complicated dilemma. Up to now, the populations of Arab states such as Tunisia and Egypt managed on their own to topple their regimes, and set the stage for democratic reform. Furthermore, the revolutionary developments in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and (two years ago in ) Iran won public legitimacy because they were viewed as authentic civil uprisings which were not assisted by foreign elements.
In Libya, however, the Facebook revolution is liable to turn into the Tomahawk revolution: The intervention of forces from Western states is liable to undermine the legitimacy of civilian movements there and perhaps in other states.
On the other hand, the international community cannot simply stand on the sidelines and watch the massacre of civilians passively. The responsibility to act is the essence of such international initiative. Indeed, peacekeeping forces deployed around the world bear an obligation to prevent the killing of innocents.
But this peacekeeping responsibility will win enhanced legitimacy if it is applied not just by military means against dictatorial regimes - and not just against states that have made illicit conquests. In addition to the threat and actual use of force, the wealthy states should assist in the development and rebuilding of states in which the democratic revolutions are taking place.
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