From the 1911 until 1947 when Harry Truman promulgated the Truman Doctrine that defined the Cold War, Libya was an Italian colony. In 1969, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi overthrew the Libyan monarchy that served as a puppet of the West, and established a strong national sovereignty with a non-aligned orientation. Over the course of four decades, Colonel Gadhafi's regime had aspects to its domestic and foreign policy that were progressive and benevolent, but the fact that he stayed in power for life, did not permit active political opposition, became increasingly tyrannical and used the national wealth for private gain is indicative of the Libyan people's right to force him from power.
The history of Libya with the West is a tragic one for the people of the small North African nation, complicated by the current social uprising in which tribal loyalties are divided between pro-Gadhafi forces and the disparate opposition seeking societal change under a new regime, presumably more benevolent, humane and socially just. Although the US was rhetorically 'on the side of the people' in all North African and Middle East countries, in essence it was rather circumspect on the uprisings in every country except Libya and Iran during that nation's sporadic anti-government protests.
In fact, the US and EU were rather tentative in their approach to the upheaval in the Arab countries. According to some analysts, EU was more of a distant observer. This is partly because instability in the energy-rich Arab countries has negative global economic consequences and there is no guarantee that the regimes to follow will be friendly toward the West. In the case of Libya, however, the West has been decisive and forceful, something that Gadhafi is exploiting to his advantage in the current revolt turned civil war as each side controls roughly half of the country (east for rebels v. west for Gadhafi) and the battle if for control of the oil fields and air strips along the Mediterranean coast.
On 2 March 2011, Gadhafi, who has invested billions of dollars in the West, threatened to replace all western companies with Chinese, Russian, and Brazilian. He warned that there will be a bloodbath if US and/or NATO forces intervene in the manner Italians colonized Libya. I suspect that the old colonel wants US intervention so that he can portray the uprising as a civil war with pro-US forces on one sides and Libyan patriots on the other.
It is virtually impossible for any country today to reduce Libya into a colony,and I seriously doubt even the most fanatic Tea Party Republican militarist would want to, but the aggressive rhetoric from US and EU regarding Libya in comparison with the diplomatic language the West used to deal with Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, etc., is not only indicative of a deep-seated desire to rid Libya of Gadhafi, partly owing to Israeli pressure, but also of an assumed neo-colonial agenda under which Western companies, especially US, would do much better with a post-Gadhafi regime.
The danger in the appearance of foreign intervention is that it can only help Gadhafi's followers, even if the regime goes as it will eventually one way or the other. A post-Gadhafi regime coming to power with Western assistance will be so tainted that it will not survive a Libyan culture swimming in deep-seated mistrust of US and Europe as neo-colonial masters serving an Israeli geopolitical agenda. Moving its naval and air forces near Libyan shores, the US is sending the signal that Washington and not the people of Libya are overthrowing Gadhafi.
Russia is already suspicious of the US trying to determine the North African balance of power through force and after the UN sanctions vote it has tried to distance itself from US policy. China is deeply apprehensive about the Arab uprisings having a spill-over impact on Chinese dissidents, so its approach to Libya is very different than that of the US that has a forty-year-old antagonistic relationship with Gadhafi. China has more than 32,000 of its nationals working in Libya and wants a quick end to the uprising, while first securing the safety of its people.
China has engineering, railway, oil and other multi-billion dollar investments in Libya now in jeopardy owing to the uprising. Moreover, China has been one of the largest foreign investors in Africa in the recent years, thus it fears the recent Arab uprisings may change investment opportunities. Therefore, China is just as suspicious of US naval and air operations near Libyan waters as Russia.
Aware that China and Russia oppose foreign intervention, Gadhafi is using the threat of US military intervention and China's and Russia's reservations as leverage to rally support around his regime as defender of national interest versus the rebels now backed by Western imperialists. The worse case scenario in the case of US/NATO intervention is indeed the fatalities of many thousands, with a regime to follow lacking legitimacy because it would be perceived as a US/Western puppet.
The best case scenario for the Libyan people and for the rest of the world is to allow the grass roots movement take its course. The rebels have pleaded for foreign intervention, given that food and medical supplies are running short, but rebels have also called for military intervention because they see a long struggle ahead. Republicans in congress and right-winger lobbyists and activists are urging the Obama administration to adopt an aggressive and interventionist policy toward Libya, while they do not adopt the same policy toward Bahrain, Yemen or any other conservative Arab state.
The EU's immediate concern is the flood of refugees from North Africa pouring into Europe. Longer term, the EU has the same economic and geopolitical concerns as the other great powers that just a few weeks ago were making all kinds of multi-billion dollar deals in everything from weapons sales to consumer products with the same tyrants they are now denouncing. While many have rushed to judgment that the US and EU are the clear losers from the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, that field is not at all clear and how the EU and US behave during the uprisings and in the transition process toward new regime consolidation will determine Arab-Western relations.