Daniel W. Drezner

How can the Ivory Coast inform us on Libya?

With all the press leaks about covert operatives, high-level defections, and behind-the-scenes negotiations with top Khaddafi aides, I think it’s safe to say that the United States is running quite the little psy-ops campaign on the Libyan dictator [Are you trying to spell his name a different way in each frakkin’ post?!–ed.  Er, yes.  Oh.  Ok, then–ed.]  ...

With all the press leaks about covert operatives, high-level defections, and behind-the-scenes negotiations with top Khaddafi aides, I think it’s safe to say that the United States is running quite the little psy-ops campaign on the Libyan dictator [Are you trying to spell his name a different way in each frakkin’ post?!–ed.  Er, yes.  Oh.  Ok, then–ed.]  That’s not to say that these things are only being done to psych out Khaddafi, but I’m assuming that’s a large component of what’s going on. 

In many ways, however, I think the news coming out of the Ivory Coast might be the most effective psychological pressure on the Libyan strongman.  The Financial Times’ William Wallis reports on the current state of play:

The battle for Ivory Coast’s presidency has reached a critical phase as forces allied to Alassane Ouattara, president-elect, have advanced into the commercial capital Abidjan after a lightning offensive from the north designed to oust incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.

Mr Gbagbo, who refuses to concede defeat in last November’s polls despite near universal recognition of his rival’s victory, looks increasingly isolated as the noose tightens around the city of 4m people.

Reuters quoted a military source in Mr Gbagbo’s camp on Friday confirming an attack overnight on Mr Gbagbo’s residence in Abidjan but said that pro-Gbagbo forces were still putting up resistance at state broadcaster, RTI….

South Africa’s foreign ministry reported that Mr Gbagbo’s army commander and personal friend, General Phillippe Mangou, had fled with his family to the residence of the South African ambassador. In another blow, the head of the gendarmerie reportedly defected to the president’s rival.

Choi Young-jin, the UN envoy to the country, said the police had defected as well. Reuters reported early on Friday that Mr Ouattara’s forces had taken control of the state television station, which then ceased broadcasting, and were attacking Mr Gbagbo’s residence.

There are many ways in which the Ivory Coast is not like Libya, but there are some striking similarities.  Like Libya, the Ivory Coast is a single-commodity export economy, making sanctions relatively easy to implement.  Like Khaddafi, Gbagbo became an international pariah after rejecting the November election results (well, a pariah to everyone but Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma).  The UN and the relevant regional bodies acted swiftly to put Gbagbo under mulilateral economic sanctions.  Gbagbo, like Khaddafi, refused to see the handwriting on the wall and took every coercive action possible to maintain his hold on power. 

If these reports are accurate, then Gbagbo is on his way out, and the end will not be pretty.  That will likely spook those loyal to Khaddafi.  True, the Libyan leader controls greater resources, but then again, the Ivory Coast doesn’t have NATO getting up in its grill. 

This is not the best outcome for the Ivory Coast — obviously, it would have been better if Gbagbo had acknowledged the election results and set an example for the rest of Africa.  Given how things played out, however, Gbagbo’s departure from power will be an affirmation of the ways in which multilateral pressure can affect change.  

The Ivory Coast is also a reminder that multilateral efforts at coercion — whether military or economic — often look ineffective or flawed right up until the moment that they actually work.  Which is to say, for all the carping, whinging, bitching and moaning going on about how the Obama administration is handling Libya, none of it will matter if Khaddafi eventually leaves.  And the fall of Gbagbo will be one more data point to freak him and his supporters out. 

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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