More on intervention in Libya

Helena Cobban responds to my post on choices for intervention in Libya, advocating "incapacitation" rather than my "decapitation." But then again she is a Quaker and therefore a pacifist, I am an Arab and therefore prone to irrational bouts of violence and strong-horse worship (if I understand my Lee Smith correctly). To tell the truth, I am not bothered by the idea of killing Qadhafi, I just prefer that Libyans do it.

I guess I would just tweak his proposal by changing "decapitation mission" to "incapacitation mission." I think it's both wrong and unwise to plan outright to kill anyone, even someone who's done such heinous things as Muammar Qadhafi. But incapacitating him-- and also, crucially, the command-and-control networks through which he exercises his power-- is another matter completely.

It is of course possible that he would resist an incapacitation attempt with a bloody use of force, in which context he and others may end up getting killed. I just don't think that should be the goal.

Another consideration: If Qadhafi himself is the victim of yet another assassination attempt launched by outside powers but his network of repression and brutality still survives, his death could end up simply hardening the resolve of the its members, led perhaps after his demise by his dreadful son Saif. Thus, the goal should be a lasting incapacitation of the network, not just the killing of the man who currently heads it.

Incapacitation could consist of a range of different actions. Qadhafi's communications networks are an evident part of this. I imagine there are more than a few outside powers who know how these work, including maybe the Chinese and Russians.

The problem with this is that we don't know what we need to know about Qadhafi: the situation on the ground is extremely fluid, existing intelligence gathering operations (such as embassies) are not exactly functional right now, and the fog of war hides much of what's happening. This crisis in Libya has not lasted very long thus far, and it may very well be over soon, in which case we hopefully won't have to talk about intervention of any kind.

Update: Also, this great long post on Jadalliya has some very insightful analysis.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.