Uncertain World: In pursuit of common sense

Global politics seems to have been going slightly mad for quite a while now, but the past few months have seen this outbreak rise to critical levels. This is illustrated vividly by the frenetic public discourse over the ongoing civil unrest in Libya.

Global politics seems to have been going slightly mad for quite a while now, but the past few months have seen this outbreak rise to critical levels. This is illustrated vividly by the frenetic public discourse over the ongoing civil unrest in Libya.

The pan-European television network Euronews recently ran an Italian documentary about a Benghazi rebel who rammed the gates of a government-run military base with his explosives-packed car. The filmmaker delivered a powerful and emotional narrative of the events. Thanks to this act of martyrdom, fellow revolutionaries were able to seize and destroy yet another stronghold of Libyan dictatorship. His family may be grieving, but they are all immensely proud of his sacrifice.

The question then arises: suicide bombers operating in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon or elsewhere are generally seen in the West as extremists and terrorists, why then should the Libyan featured in this documentary be glorified as a hero? Whatever his motive, he shows just as much disregard for the value of human life as your average jihadist. If a people’s battle for freedom must be supported, however that “freedom” is understood, then why make exceptions?

Col. Muammar Gaddafi is certainly not a national leader who deserves our love or sympathy. But common sense suggests that the current standoff in Libya between the government and the opposition is not, in reality, as simple as it may appear. Unfortunately, most of us tend to think in simplistic clichés.

The Russians have a deep-rooted belief in the omnipotence of the United States and the West as a whole, so they often interpret some shadowy trans-Atlantic designs as being behind political upheavals throughout the developing world. But in reality, upheavals come when least expected and no one can predict their outcome. Western elites thought to be pulling the strings are, in fact, too confused to conspire. American policymakers constantly face the dilemma between political expediency, which calls for pragmatism and loyal allies’ support, and the ideological imperative to assist democratic movements rising up against autocratic regimes.

Until recently, Western media have talked extensively about thousands of victims of the Gaddafi regime, referring to reports from some “international organizations.” But not any more. Nor is there any follow-up reporting.

This sudden “change of heart” could be interpreted as a spin doctor’s cunning stunt. A more plausible explanation though would be the degradation of modern journalism, which prioritizes sensationalism over credibility. “Scoops” that fit neatly into ideological stereotypes are the most coveted. Little wonder then that today’s media environment should provide such conducive breeding grounds for indoctrination.

The U.S. State Department’s pronouncements about the Saudi public’s right to peaceful demonstrations, coupled with threats to stop arms supplies to Bahrain, make one question the sanity of American diplomacy.  Washington is aware that current unrest in those two Middle Eastern countries – incidentally, its key allies in the region – could have disastrous consequences for the United States, yet it resolutely continues on its self-declared democratization mission.

The European Union’s stance also looks pathetic. European military and political impotence is aggravated by a feeling of unease over the close ties between Europe’s elites and the Gaddafi regime, as well as by a fear of the possible influx of refugees from North Africa.

Last week, EU leaders officially recognized Libya’s Interim National Council as a negotiating partner. Brussels has so far stopped short of declaring an all-out boycott on Tripoli, but its recognition of the Libyan opposition’s governing council marks a significant step in that direction.

Media coverage of ongoing developments in Libya does not make it clear to the public exactly who the “Libyan opposition” actually comprises.

The EU leaders who attended last weekend’s emergency summit in Brussels must be in the know. But why don’t they release that information into the public domain – if only to show to their voters the real “face” of Libyan democracy?

Reports from Libya indicate that the Gaddafi regime is in no danger of an imminent fall. The opposition looks much more likely to collapse. How would the EU react to such a turn of events? Would it boycott Libyan oil, ceding it all to China? Or would it come to see the leader of the Jamahiriya as someone to do business with?

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy went as far as calling for NATO air strikes against government targets in Libya to support the popular uprising. For the French leader, this is a risk-free appeal: he would not contribute to any such effort. To him, it is merely an ideal pretext to flex his political muscle and demonstrate his commitment to principles at a time when his domestic popularity ratings are rather low. But the sheer fact that modern politicians find it so easy to play with threats of war is simply shocking.

Some in Europe started worrying back in the late 1990s about the dwindling number of WWII survivors on the political scene. Indeed, those who lived through that war had a greater sense of responsibility than younger generations do, and they were much more careful in their statements and actions.

Interestingly, the United States, which in the past decade has suffered as a result of its own complacency on more than one occasion, is now pursuing a more cautious line than Europe vis-à-vis North Africa, and does not seem all that keen to intervene.

In Washington, military and intelligence officials are the most skeptical: they do not want to fall victim yet again to the rash decision-making of their political bosses. So, paradoxically, it is on the military brass that we should now pin our hopes for peace.


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Is Russia unpredictable? Perhaps, but one shouldn’t exaggerate – its randomness often follows a consistent pattern. But is the world at large predictable? The past two decades have seen all forecasts refuted more than once and have taught us only one thing – to be ready for any change. This column is on what the nations and governments are facing in the era of global uncertainty.

Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal – the most authoritative source of expertise on Russian foreign policy and global developments. He is also a frequent commentator on international affairs and contributes to various media in the United States, Europe and China, including academic journals Social Research, Europe-Asia Studies, Columbia Journal of International Affairs. Mr. Lukyanov is a senior member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civic Society Institutions. He holds a degree from Moscow State University.


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