Like most people, I’m horrified at Gaddafi’s use of terror and violence in Libya. He has distinguished himself as being uncommonly brutal and disarmingly undisguised in the carrying out of what all governments the world over stand to enforce: their monopoly on the use of aggressive force.
What we see here is the essence of the state in action, and this is particularly embarrassing to all other states in the world, since Gaddafi has taken the mask off and told it like it is: he must continue to rule because, well, he rules and therefore he decides what is and is not permitted. Forcing him out is one of those things he does not permit, and so therefore the more you try, the more you risk death. There was peace in Libya so long as everyone obeyed, but bloodshed when they stopped. Here we see the essence of statecraft carried out by pre-modern means.
Now the U.S. and the U.N. are talking about sanctions against Libya and these reportedly would include an “arms embargo, travel restrictions and an asset freeze against Libya.” Now, here we have to stop and think. Sanctions huh? Like those against Iraq that kept Saddam in power for a decade and ending up starving and killing multitudes of children? Like those against Cuba that have been central to Castro’s capacity to rally the public against the United States? The history of sanctions doesn’t exactly testify to their capacity to bring down dictators. It does demonstrate that they backfire, helping the state and hurting the people.
What the Libyan people need right now is not less contact with the world but more: more freedom to travel in and out, more imports of food and medicine, and perhaps even more arms. How would it be possible to structure sanctions in a way that would hurt the regime but not the people? I can’t think of any examples of how that has worked in the past.