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…