The World from Berlin: Rebels' Success 'Makes Mockery' of German Foreign Policy
The likely success of the rebels in Libya is proving an embarrassment for Germany, which abstained from the UN vote authorizing military action, and Berlin's credibility will probably suffer lasting damage. The country now needs to make amends by getting heavily involved in rebuilding Libya, say German commentators.
The fighting isn't over in Tripoli. The situation is confusing and more fluid than was thought, especially after one of autocrat Moammar Gadhafi's sons, Saif al-Islam, who had been reported captured on Monday, made a surprise appearance in a hotel on Monday night to declare that the government was winning the battle.
Saif, who has been seen as his father's heir apparent, visited the Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists are staying and took journalists to his father's Bab al-Aziziya stronghold.
Television footage showed Saif smiling, waving and shaking hands with supporters, as well as holding his arms aloft and making the V-for-victory sign. "We broke the back of the rebels. It was a trap. We gave them a hard time, so we are winning," Saif said.
"Take up arms today, take up arms today," Saif told loyalists waiting to be given weapons. "Inshallah (God willing) we will attack the rats today," he said to cheers.
Saif's arrest had been reported both by rebels and the International Criminal Court in The Hague and his appearance has cast doubt on the rebels' credibility. The rebels said on Monday they were in control of most of the Libyan capital after having swept into the city at the weekend, aided by NATO war planes.
On Tuesday, they appeared to have launched an assault on Gadhafi's residence, with Reuters reporting gunfire and explosions near Bab al-Aziziya, in the south of Tripoli. Gadhafi's whereabouts remain unknown.
'The Dictator Must Go Now'
While reports of Gadhafi's downfall started to look a tad premature on Tuesday, the assumption that his regime is in its death throes still seems credible. German media commentators said on Tuesday that the rebels' likely victory had exposed the failure of Germany to stand by its Western allies in March, when Berlin abstained, together with China and Russia, in the UN Security Council vote authorizing military intervention in Libya.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle defended Berlin's position on Tuesday, claiming that Germany's policy of calling for sanctions against Gadhafi's regime had helped bring about his downfall.
Asked if the NATO mission was right after all, Westerwelle told Bild newspaper: "Above all it is right that the people took to the streets for freedom and democracy -- Germany was on their side from the start. And evidently the targeted policy of sanctions supported by us had the effect that the dictator ran out of funds to be able to continue his war against his own people. The dictator must go now."
Asked if Germany's abstention in the UN vote had, with hindsight, been wise, Westerwelle said: "Germany decided not to take part with combat troops in the intervention in Libya. This decision was right. We supported the changeover with other, political, means." He said Germany would take part in the reconstruction of Libya and in the establishment of "democratic structures."
In separate comments to Deutschlandfunk radio, Westerwelle called for Gadhafi and his sons to be given a fair trial and said that such a trial should take place at the ICC in The Hague. He added that fair legal proceedings were important for a new political beginning in Libya.
On Tuesday, media commentators questioned whether the Libyan rebels will remain united once Gadhafi is gone, and whether they will be able to bring together the divided nation and establish a working democracy.
But some editorialists say Libya's complete lack of democratic institutions might actually work to the country's advantage -- unlike in Tunisia or Egypt, there will be no working parliament or court system from which members of the old regime will be able to obstruct reforms. Everything must be started from scratch.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"What will happen when victory has finally been won? Will the motley group of nationalists, democrats, Islamists and tribal leaders stay together? Are their leaders far-sighted enough to unite the divided society and offer the regime supporters a future? Do they have a concrete vision of the state they want? Neither the Libyans themselves nor the international community know what to expect from the rebels."
"The Arab revolutions are an international phenomenon, because the injustice was the same in all the countries. But that's where the similarities end. Unlike the people in Yemen and Syria, the Libyan rebels took up arms early on. And NATO as a foreign power got involved in Libya, bombing the path to Tripoli free for the rebels. That's not going to happen in Syria."
"It remains to be seen whether NATO's military help will be repaid through the establishment of democracy in Libya. On the path to a Gadhafi-free Libya, the rebels accepted foreign assistance. But once they have reached their goal, they themselves will decide on their future."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"In this uplifting moment, when Libya, for the first time in its history, is throwing off the yoke of foreign rule and dictatorship, the German know-it-alls are standing by, warning that one repressive regime could be replaced by another. Politicians like CDU foreign policy expert Ruprecht Polenz are lecturing the Libyans about the only true path to democracy. And Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle even ventured to claim credit himself for part of the Libyan success. Berlin, after all, bravely put itself at the forefront of diplomatic calls for sanctions against Gadhafi. In truth, the triumph of the Libyan revolution has made a mockery of German foreign policy. Without the air war waged by NATO -- which Germany boycotted in a fit of national-pacifist arrogance -- the victory of the rebels would have been impossible."
"The massive involvement especially by France, Britain and the US creates a big responsibility for the future of the country. The pro-Western stance of important factions within the revels, strengthened by the comradeship with NATO, opens up the possibility and the obligation for the West to help and promote the construction of a new, freer society. The open outcome of the situation and the lack of a clear picture, which is making so many commentators so afraid, harbors unusual opportunities."
"Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Libya won't have to contend with an intact old power apparatus capable of pulling the strings once the dictator has disappeared. And Libya has no firmly established authoritarian opposition forces like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Dangers to the new freedom are posed by the factional and tribal rivalries which could lead to chaos and disintegration of the country."
"Not even the blackest future that can be predicted for Libya now would warrant a single further day of Gadhafi's rule of terror."
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"It is certain that without the intervention of NATO one month after the unrest began in Benghazi, Gadhafi would have bloodily crushed the uprising against his more than 40-year rule. This intervention was only possible because the UN Security Council showed the ability to act on a sensitive global international issue -- a rare exception. The fact that German diplomacy failed at this moment -- that it abandoned the West's common front and left its European partners Britain and France in the lurch with its abstention -- will have repercussions."
"Germany, which always professed to be a supporter of common European defense, withheld its solidarity from countries that are essential for this goal, using spurious arguments, and mainly motivated by domestic political considerations. This will do lasting damage to Berlin's credibility on security policy. The foreign minister's argument that Germany didn't want to deploy ground troops was an excuse from the start -- the British and French didn't want to either, let alone the Americans; the pleasure being expressed now at the victory of the rebels seems all the more embarrassing."
The business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"The rebels' victory has many fathers, but none of them is German. When it comes to discussing who had a hand in the success in Libya, the German government should do precisely what it did in the Security Council: stand back. It can still prove itself in the reconstruction that must now begin."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"The rebels face a Herculean task. Unlike in the neighboring countries, they must build a state administration from scratch, and unite a historically divided country. Tribalism is alien to democracy, but one won't simply be able to ignore the tribes. They will have to be taken into account without being given formal rights. A lot of imagination and courage to take pragmatic decisions will be needed during the transition.
"NATO, which reinterpreted a UN mandate to protect the civilian population into a mission to get rid of a dictator, will withdraw once its job is done. Now UN soldiers will be needed to keep the peace so that Libya can seize the chance that NATO has given it."
-- David Crossland
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