In the past five years Western politicians have said “If I knew then what I know now, I would have acted differently,” in an attempt to justify or deflect blame for the outcome of policies which were shown later to have done harm, such as the debate that took place over the Iraq war in 2003.
The expression occurred to me while watching the debate over the expected strike on Damascus. I found myself applying the expression to the situation in Libya following almost two years of the arrest and death of Muammar Gaddafi on October 20, 2011. I wonder if we will get to hear some Western politicians reiterating the same expression showing regret over a strike, which although they intended to be limited, turned into a war, expanding in an unexpected way. Is it possible for some Westerners—as they see the security situation in Benghazi—to express their regret over rushing to back the NATO campaign without which the Gaddafi regime would not have collapsed so quickly?
The situation in Syria is still unknown. Before any strike takes place it is not easy to predict what will happen or the extent and nature of responses it generates. We do not know if the rulers in Damascus, as well as their allies in Lebanon and Iran, will prove to be able to turn the table on those who launched the strike, or whether they will only defend themselves and agree to an immediate ceasefire considering it as only one more round in the conflict. As for what is going to happen next, I will leave it for future generations to consider.
The mystery surrounding the outcome of a potential US strike should not make us forget the tragic situation of Syrians inside and outside the country. The UN announced this week that the Syrian refugee crisis is the worst in modern history.
It has always been said that the price of change is high. This is true, but it should have been possible to prevent things from becoming this bad. Many parties share the responsibility for what is happening in Syria, with the massacres committed by Assad clan at the forefront, besides the atrocities committed by organizations that claim to belong to Islam. However, peoples who suffer injustice for years are fated to pay a high price when they rise from the rubble to retain their rights. Therefore, they should not be consumed by despair. Despite all tragedies, the known and unknown ones, peace will come and Syria will quickly recover once again, however long its suffering lasts.
Regarding the Libyan affair, that the country is in a sad situation is obvious to see. The series of assassinations and kidnappings continue to fan the embers of tribal conflict. What makes things worse is the state of chaos caused by the proliferation of military weapons. In addition, enacting the law of political isolation in the country produced results similar to what happened in Iraq after disbanding the army and banning the Ba’ath Party, preventing capable figures from contributing to the reconstruction of the country.
Does this justify the application of the above expression to the Libyan situation? Definitely not! However, the Libyans need to show the highest degrees of tolerance, transcending all desires for revenge even when it comes to figures who were close to the tyrant, as long as they were not involved in bloodshed. As for their families, it is just and humane for them to live safely in their country. This requires them to use the approach of Nelson Mandela who laid the foundations of South Africa after the collapse of the apartheid regime.
I mentioned Mandela because he stands as a contemporary example. This is not to mention that we should not forget that Libya prior to Muammar Gaddafi had a rich heritage of tolerance. This should keep alive the hope that the national dialogue initiative which the Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan proposed on August 25 will lay the foundation for the future of Libya as well as its tolerant people.
On a personal level, It is not strange to recall the above expression. In fact, had I known from the very first day of Gaddafi’s coup what I knew during the first five years, I would have had a different stance, and the course would have changed, which did happen as soon as I could by moving to the UK. Yet, that did not abolish my feeling of baring a share of responsibility as a journalist. Therefore, after forty four years, I do not hesitate to apologize to the good people of Libya for participating, even if only on a journalistic coverage level, in covering Gaddafi’s dictatorship for a few years