Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Libya

The recent rebel occupation of Tripoli, including Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound, signals that the fighting portion of the Libyan civil war is nearing its completion. However, the question of what comes next remains uncertain at best. As an intervention as well as a civil war, the Libya conflict automatically draws comparisons with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when thinking about Libya’s future.

Courtesy the Guardian

A Full-blown Insurgency is Unlikely
Both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars featured insurgencies with continued fierce fighting long after conventional military victory was declared. While the lesson never to declare mission accomplished prematurely always holds, the situation in Libya does not lend itself to a military insurgency. Aside from loyalist forces holding out in Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte, pockets of resistance are largely nonexistent. Libya’s terrain likewise does not permit a prolonged struggle such as the continuing one in eastern Afghanistan (and neighboring Pakistan). Libya’s neighbors Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt do not have a strong track record of supporting terrorist actors, as was the case with Syria and Iran in Iraq. Finally, the rebels, whose makeup remains largely unknown, seem to encompass all anti-Gaddafi groups in Libya—“a disparate group of former government insiders, Western-leaning intellectuals, businessmen, and even a smattering of ex-Islamist militants.” As these groups are currently still coalesced as one group, it is unlikely that all-out military engagement will occur between them; infighting is more likely to take place in the political arena.

Political Chaos is Almost Guaranteed
Much as in Iraq, the aftermath of the Libyan conflict will provide the first opportunity for electoral democratic participation in the country’s history. As seen in Iraq, this opportunity does not always translate into peaceful elections and a future without violence. However, Libya’s rebels have had a large hand in their own victory, meaning that whatever government ends up in charge eventually will not automatically seem a Western puppet in the eyes of the Libyan people. The reconciling of groups as varied as ex-Islamists, Western-educated intellectuals, and businessmen into a functioning democracy will not be an easy process and will take a long time. Corruption on some scale is a virtual guarantee, especially with the amount of unfrozen Gaddafi-family assets that will soon be made available to the rebels. Political violence is not out of the question as well, especially as elections approach. The road to democracy is inevitably bumpy, slow, and completely unpredictable.

Libya is a True Multilateral Cause
Turkey has been covertly supplying the Libyan rebels with much-needed oil, joining Qatar in supporting the insurgency with supplies. Unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan, both United States-led interventions, the intervention in Libya has been truly multinational. While NATO has taken the lead in military operations, the primary drivers of those operations have been the French and the British. Turkey has played a much more substantial role in Libya than it has done in Afghanistan, and Qatar and other Persian Gulf-states have also provided support to the rebels. No matter what transpires in Libya’s future, it can be assured that many different nations will play an active role in the country’s institutional development. The European Union has a great opportunity to really step up in Libya and provide assistance, as does Turkey—a country seeking to become a dominant player in the Middle East. The high levels of multinational support indicate an Afghanistan-like outcome will not happen: too many nations have a strong interest in Libya’s future.

Concluding Thoughts
It is far too early to count winners and losers in a conflict where the resident dictator has not yet been caught in either a foxhole or a gated apartment. Looking forward, while sustained violence is unlikely, the political process of creating democratic institutions will be slow and painful. However, the international community’s high level of support should help ease the country’s eventual transition toward representative government.

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