The situation in Bahrain has taken a turn for the better. The army has been called off the streets. In an apparent victory over the king’s uncle, Prince Khalifa—the long-serving hard-line prime minister—Crown Prince Salman has been asked by King Hamad to start a national dialogue “with all parties.”
The Obama administration may have helped to tip the balance in Bahrain by putting its weight on the side of restraint. But it should not equate the situations in Bahrain and Libya as the president seemed to do today in a statement urging the governments of Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen to “show restraint and respect the rights of their people.” Instead, the United States should be calling for an end to the Qaddafi regime.
The communications blackout imposed by the regime makes it difficult to know what is going on in Libya, but the 84 confirmed dead reported by Human Rights Watch is probably a conservative estimate. In a powerful conversation with Al Jazeera, an unidentified resident of Benghazi pleads desperately for help: “It’s not a war, it’s a big, big massacre . . . They don’t care about us. They can destroy us completely.” Professor Abdel Rahman Al-Swaihlee, an incredibly brave university professor from Misurata, said there is no turning back and called for an end to the regime.
This could be a turning point in the tyrannical rule of Muammar Qaddafi. Either this crack in the wall of fear that has imprisoned Libyans for four decades will open wide, or Qaddafi will succeed with his goons and mercenaries in crushing the rebellion and condemning the Libyan people to more decades of subjugation.
The administration should speak with a strong voice about the need for an end to the regime of terror in Libya. And it should back that up with actions, including suspending ambassadorial-level relations; pursuing all possible means to break through the information blockade that prevents Libyans from communicating with one another or with the outside world; and mobilizing international support for the tormented Libyan people.
Qaddafi will not change—he will do whatever he can to stay in power—but international support can embolden the brave people who are resisting him and give pause to those doing his dirty work. There are risks in acting boldly, but there are risks in continuing to temporize. By next week—or even tomorrow—it may be too late to make a difference.