Commentators on the left and right are confusingly comparing Libya and Iraq and deducing erroneous conclusions; they are ignoring some very fundamental differences. It is one thing to respond to a cry of help with limited support (no boots on the ground) to a popular uprising; it is quite another to wage an illegal war and subject a country to a brutal occupation based on a pack of lies.
There are some fundamental truths we need to take on board when Libya is compared to Iraq. They are: (a) the Arab Spring has forced a change in the West's attitude towards the rulers and the ruled in the Arab world, (b) no people, black, white, religious, or secularist want to be occupied by a foreign army imperially dictating to the local population what they can and cannot do, and (c) the humiliation an occupation brings robs the occupied of their initiative, and their pride in their country, and renders them incapable of taking responsibility to fix the country.
The West has changed its attitude (up to a point), not because they have suddenly become touchy, feely, or overcome by their love for the Arab people. Western powers can see that change is coming whether they like it or not, and through hard-headed assessment and calculation they concluded their interests would be better served by being on the side of the people in their struggle for democracy and freedom. The left needs to understand that change, and see the western intervention in the light of the new reality.
Those on the right who supported the war on Iraq tell us, if only the Police Force and the Iraqi army were not disbanded, if only the entire civil service were not dismissed in the name of debaathification...etc., Iraq would have turned out alright. Wrong. These actions were undoubtedly grave errors, but Iraq would still have descended into chaos and civil war, maybe not so quickly.
The left sees Libya through the prism of Iraq and argues that it will become another failure just like Iraq. Some even assert that bombing Libyan military assets to help the rebels is akin to the devastating "shock and awe" bombing of Iraq. And their "piece de resistance", a takeover of Libya by an al-Qaida inspired group if Gaddafi is toppled. These commentators are swallowing the propaganda that has been uttered by every dictator in the Arab world to frighten the West into supporting their tyranny. The idea that these young people are fighting dictatorship and despotism, with many making the ultimate sacrifice only to see it replaced by the tyranny of an al-Qaida inspired group, is not remotely credible. The people will not stand for it. Even in Iraq under the occupation, the Iraqis are fighting and defeating those terror groups, once they see the sort of tyranny they aspire to create. The probability of an Al-Qaida inspired group taking over in Libya and for that matter anywhere else in the Arab world post-revolution is zero.
Those on the left need to grasp one simple fact: the causes driving the uprisings in the Arab world are the same regardless of whether the regime is pro-western as it was with Egypt and Tunisia, or Bahrain, or not, such as Syria (at least not in public), and to a lesser extent Libya. The common thread that connects most of the Arab rulers is that they treat the people as sheep and expect them to be grateful for having a shepherd to rule over them, regardless of how cruel and corrupt they are. Their arrogance, delusions, and megalomania know no bounds. People will no longer endure such tyranny and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for dignity, freedom and democracy. This revolution is made by the Libyan people. The demonstrators started peacefully asking for reforms, freedom, democracy and an end to corruption and nepotism. They only took up arms when Gaddafi and his thugs responded with extreme unrestrained force (tanks, planes etc.).
Would it have been better if the Libyan people were able to get rid of Gaddafi without help from the West? Undoubtedly yes. A number of commentators on the left have argued that the rebels would have eventually won if they had kept their nerve and organized a guerrilla campaign against Gaddafi. This argument is all very well if you or members of your family are not living in Libya at the receiving end of the ferocious response unleashed by Gaddafi. And what would have happened to Benghazi following the ominous Gaddafi speech regarding its inhabitants if the West had not intervened? It is a great misfortune of the Arabs to have rulers of the variety "I rule or I kill you".
In my view western governments are playing Libya just about right at the moment and must refrain strongly from putting foreign troops on the ground, no matter how tempted they might be to end the present messy situation. They need to be patient, allow the confusion to take its course; it will clear and Libya will be free and stable with a better life for its people. The left needs to grasp the fact that the Arab spring has forced a new reality on the West which has compelled it to change its view of the rulers and the ruled in the Arab world, and that is a good thing.