Libya: The longer view

The NATO-assisted uprising in Libya is now in the last phases of taking the whole country. These phases may well be marked by some major rights abuses– conducted in the name of “mopping up” operations and motivated by some combination of vengeance and triumphalism.
I hope that such excesses are kept to a minimum and that reporters on the ground are careful both to pay attention and to report accurately what they see.
Meanwhile, I see that Ben Rhodes, a former speechwriter who somehow got elevated to “deputy national security adviser for communications” has been doing a bit of a victory lap with Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin.
This part of Rogin’s report struck me as particularly worrying:

    President Barack Obama’s strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also will form the basis of Obama’s preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said.
    “There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it’s far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers,” said Rhodes. “Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn’t bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions.”

Why would we imagine that the U.S. president should even be in need of any form of a “model” for “future military interventions”?
But more to the point, the real “victory” for Libya’s people, if there is to be one, is still very far indeed from having been won.
Do we have any assurance at all at this point that the situation in Libya, in 2020, will be any better than the still-tragic situation in Iraq today, eight years after the U.S. “victory” on the battlefield there in 2003… Or, than the still-horrendous situation in Afghanistan today, nearly ten years after the U.S. “victory” on that battlefield, in 2001?
Libya, after 36 years of brutal Italian colonial rule, 40 years of Qadhafi’s rule, and the most recent five months of armed conflict, has very few institutions of good governance and almost no culture or tradition of good governance. We have also seen very disturbing social fissures opening up during these most recent months of war– between easterners and westerners, and between Arabs and Imazaghen. I am trying hard to muster some hope that the country’s “transition” to a decent level and quality of self-governance can be well achieved within the next 2-3 years, but it is really hard to see any indications of how this might be achieved.
What is true is that, given its geography, Libya is a real and present challenge primarily for Italy and the other countries of Europe— and also for its two in-transition Arab neighbors Egypt and Tunisia. But Egypt and Tunisia are both extremely (and rightly) busy with their own concerns; and Egypt is anyway somewhat buffered from events in Libya by large expanses of desert.
As for Italy and the other European countries– well, they all also have huge concerns of their own right now, and probably not a lot of attention or resources to devote to providing useful help to the Libyans.
It is thus almost impossible to identify any non-Libyan power who can provide solid, disinterested, useful help to Libya’s people as they face the present challenges of post-war social reconstruction. Possibly Turkey? Who knows?
What is clear now, though, is that this task will be huge, and it has barely even begun…

11 thoughts on “Libya: The longer view

  1. Alice

    But, Helena, earlier this week Juan Cole reported on fears from the Mideast that America would put boots on the ground and “Iraqize” Libya. We are suspect in the Mideast–a reputation we have earned.

  2. bevin

    “…sadly ignored by the media.”
    Not ignored, these incidents were well known. And none knew them better than the reporters in Libya.
    But they were not published because they contradicted the official propaganda narrative, and the media now regards itself as an organ of State power. It dare not do otherwise.
    What we are seeing in Libya is a series of massacres carried out under the guns of NATO, under the eyes of NATO agents, to liquidate all traces of the support for Ghadaffi’s regime.
    The latest act in a holocaust of nationalists, socialists, awkward dissenters that has been rolling through Latin America, Asia and Africa since 1945. This one carried out under the Presidency of a man who, as a child in Indonesia was brought up by, and among those responsible for, the brutal killing of about a million supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party.
    How many between Greece in 1944 and Libya in 2011, have fallen to the death squads and imperialist armies as the anthems of “democracy” were blaring out to distract us from the butchery?
    And will this killing ever stop? Or must it go on as long as men presume to differ from the opinions of the powerful?

  3. Henry James

    Probably the worst outcome of the Libyan war is the position taken by pro-war dems. To support the Obama administration, they had to had to engage in crude pro-Rebel propaganda, deny the obvious things like the very fact that there is a civil war in Libya.
    Unfortunately, Dr.Cole made posts like this one in his blog, IMHO, completely beyond any reasonable discussion: http://www.juancole.com/2011/08/top-ten-myths-about-the-libya-war.html

  4. Carl Coon

    A realistic assessment by someone who knows the area. I would have preferred a somewhat more positive slant on Obama’s “preferred model”. It is a welcome shift from the global cop model preferred by the neocons and the last administration. And he did work fairly hard to establish at least a figleaf of UN cover. Small steps but at least they are in the right direction.
    CSC

  5. paul

    It is a measure of how very far down the orwellian rabbit hole we have fallen that a supposed ‘alternative’ writer such as Cobban is so totally coopted and corrupted that she would write a mass of flaming drivel and lies such as this. Like all the other warmongers, Cobban knows perfectly well that there was no authentic “uprising” in Libya. As she knows, there is a factional struggle over oil, heavily tainted with Al Quaeda, deeply suborned at the same time by Nato, which would not have been able to triumph even in Bengazi without massive Nato airpower, and other kinds of massive support on all fronts (diplomatic, financial, insertion of special ops forces, transportation, weapons, etc,). Cobban sweetly hopes that ‘excesses’ can be kept to a minimum, though she knows full well that the rebels are a vicious bunch of ethnic cleansers who have wreaked havoc throughout the county already to a far greater extent than Gaddafi. Cobban sweetly hopes that the western corporate media on the ground will report ‘accurately’, even though she knows that they have long since proven themselves to be nothing but mouthpieces for Nato propaganda. She expresses “worry” about talk of intervention, even though she knows very well that intervention, ie., blatant aggression based on pretexts, has been US policy for a long time, intensified if anything under Obama. and so on.
    Think about it. If this kind of lying propaganda represents the ‘alternative’, are we not living in a surreal world of lies? Should we not at least call out the liars, including the ‘alternative’ liars?

  6. Don Bacon

    Obama’s preferred model for any future military interventions? How low can we go.
    The United Nations was established to promote and maintain peaceful relations between nations. It has international responsibilities not infra-national ones. It was not established to provide military assistance to people who want a different government.
    The UN Charter is clear on this point:
    # All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
    # All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
    The UNSC resolution (supported by only three major powers, US, UK and France) is nowhere authorized in any international law nor by the UN Charter in any way. It merely served as a convenient (but illegal) crutch for another country subjected to a U.S. military attack. In fact the ‘no-fly zone’ operation morphed into an intensive bombing campaign to promote a change in Libya’s government, as we knew it would.
    UN Security Council resolutions are binding only when they are invoked under Chapter VII of the Charter.
    CHAPTER VII: PACIFIC SETTLEMENT OF DISPUTES.
    The chapter includes nineteen articles, starting with Article 33. The first nine articles detail peaceful procedures to be taken to settle disputes between states, and then:
    Article 42
    “Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.”
    So we have nine articles on: bringing and investigating any dispute, considering procedures of settlement, making recommendations, determining threats to international peace and security, corrective measures, interruptions or severance of relations, etc. and then an article for military action to settle an international dispute and restore international peace and security. ** INTERNATIONAL ** (between nations).
    There was no such attempt to settle the Libya revolution problem IAW the UN Charter, which decent people toiled to construct some seventy years ago in the fervent hope that ‘preferred models for any future military interventions’ might be obsoleted.
    They failed, apparently.

  7. Salah

    News came last week when rabbles went into Tripoli about Libya’s oil, said it is the biggest reserved in Africa…The best quality and very close to EU markets…
    Libya ….looks for “the invisible woman”?

    Lady Ashton, 55, a Labour peer appointed by Gordon Brown, is the world’s highest paid female politician on a salary of £270,000. A former treasurer of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament who has never been elected to any public position, she had no foreign policy experience when she was appointed to her post promising to speak for 27 EU foreign ministers.

    But to the private delight of her opponents, and the dismay of the federalist supporters who created her job, the lacklustre performance of Baroness Ashton of Upholland after more than a year in office has earned her the nickname “the invisible woman”.

  8. Ken Ward

    One of the interesting aspects of the Libyan story is that so many Western governments recognised the TNC as the legitimate government of Libya long before it gained control of the country, and probably even longer before they gained an understanding of what actually constitutes the TNC. If Pepe Escobar on the Asia Times website is correct, they are in for a big surprise. This premature recognition is surely as important an innovation in international relations as President Obama’s new definition of war, namely armed conflict in which one’s own side suffers casualties, and not armed conflict in which one’s own side participates without suffering casualties.

  9. Don Bacon

    Iraq was the model for using the US military to convert a secular Arab state to an Islamic one.
    Libya Draft Constitutional Charter:
    Libya is an independent Democratic State wherein the people are the source of authorities. The city of Tripoli shall be the capital of the State. Islam is the Religion of the State and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia). . .
    Abdelhakim Belhaj, the Libyan rebel military commander who recently took Tripoli (with US military assistance) heads the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) which has been on the State Department List of Specially Designated Global Terrorists since September 23, 2001.
    Way to go, Barry, supporting terrorists and all.

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