Six Months That Shook the World

FP's coverage of the Libyan revolution, from the earliest rumblings to Qaddafi's downfall.

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.

What if Libya Staged a Revolution and Nobody Came?
Why is the world ignoring the anti-Qaddafi protests?
By Najla Abdurrahman, Feb. 17

“Ironically, as hundreds of Libyans inside the country protested against the Qaddafi regime, Libyans outside the country were protesting the media’s coverage of events…the reporting on Tuesday’s [Feb. 15] impromptu protests in Benghazi and the lack of information available to international media outlets are indicative of a much larger problem that Libyans have struggled with for decades: the creation of a virtual vacuum of information by the Qaddafi regime’s strict censorship policies, highly restrictive press laws, and uncompromising repression of even the slightest expression of dissent. This has created considerable obstacles for Libyans both inside and outside the country attempting to communicate their struggles to the world.”

A Regime We Can Trust
How did the West get Qaddafi so wrong?
By Cameron Abadi, Feb. 22

Too Little, Not Yet Too Late
Western governments have options for helping the anti-Qaddafi protesters.
By Tom Malinowski, Feb. 22

Qaddafi’s Last Stand?
The colonel’s 40-year rule in photos.
Feb. 23

Madman. Bizarro. Tyrant. Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi exemplifies them all. Foreign Policy tells the story of the Middle East’s most eccentric strongman in photographs.

Explainer: How Do You Hire Mercenaries?
How did Qaddafi get his private African army?
By Joshua E. Keating, Feb. 23

Act. Now.
A call for international intervention in Libya.
By Hussein Ibish, Feb. 24

This Week at War: Qaddafi’s Collapsible Military
The regular Libyan army was built to fail.
By Robert Haddick, Feb. 25

The End of the Arab Dream
Qaddafi’s downfall will mark the end of the Arab world’s disastrous half-century-long affair with utopian governing fantasies.
By James Traub, Feb. 25

“If Muammar al-Qaddafi falls, as seems increasingly likely, he will land with the rending crash of an immense, rigid object, like the statue of Saddam Hussein pulled down in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. This is not because, despite his own delusions, Qaddafi mattered to the world remotely as much as Saddam did. Rather, it’s because the Jamahiriya, or stateless society, he fostered in Libya constitutes the last of the revolutionary fantasies with which Arab leaders have mesmerized their citizens and justified their ruthless acts of repression since the establishment of the modern Arab world in the years after World War II.”

The Whack-a-Mole Strategy
The U.S. administration is being forced to play catch-up.
By Aaron David Miller, Feb. 28

Explainer: Do No-Fly Zones Work?
The success rate of the West’s favorite intervention tactic.
By Joshua E. Keating, Feb. 28

Roman Ruins
How Qaddafi hoodwinked Italy for decades.
By Maurizio Molinari, March 3

“At the beginning of his rule in 1969, Qaddafi’s beef with Italy may have been justified. Like Britain and France elsewhere in Africa, Italy had occupied the country, sometimes brutally, beginning in 1911. … Now, with his regime on edge, he is again blaming outsiders for Libya’s ills. The protests, he said in a Feb. 22 address, were sparked by malevolent foreigners who were giving the demonstrators drugs. He accused the Italians — along with the Americans — of having delivered shoulder-launched rocket-propelled grenades to the rebel forces.”

Pax Romana
Italy’s disastrous colonial legacy in North Africa.
By Cameron Abadi, March 4

The case against a no-fly zone.
By Micah Zenko, March 4

Harvard for Tyrants
How Qaddafi taught a generation of bad guys.
By Douglas Farah, March 4

“Flush with oil money, Qaddafi orchestrated a training campaign for those who became the most brutal warlords in much of Africa, a legacy that has left the region crippled and unstable today. Qaddafi’s World Revolutionary Center (WRC) near Benghazi became, as scholar Stephen Ellis noted in his classic 2001 book The Mask of Anarchy, the “Harvard and Yale of a whole generation of African revolutionaries,” many of them the continent’s most notorious tyrants.”

AFP/Getty Images

Hugo Stay Home
Chávez’s ill-advised attempt to intervene in Libya.
By Michael Shifter, March 4

Understanding Libya’s Michael Corleone
An interview with Benjamin Barber on the downfall of the West’s favorite Qaddafi.
Interview by Benjamin Pauker, March 7

“As a longtime advisor to Saif al-Qaddafi, Benjamin Barber knows him just about as well as any Western intellectual. Barber — president of the CivWorld think tank, distinguished senior fellow at the Demos think tank, and author of Strong Democracy and Jihad vs. McWorld — was among a small group of democracy advocates and public intellectuals, including Joseph Nye, Anthony Giddens, Francis Fukuyama, and Robert Putnam, working under contract with the Monitor Group consulting firm to interact with Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi on issues of democracy and civil society and to help his son Saif implement democratic reforms and author a more representative constitution for Libya. It’s all gone horribly wrong. But in this interview, Barber argues that his intentions were responsible, tries to understand Saif’s remarkable about-face, and worries for the future of Libya and the young man he knew well.”

How Not to Intervene in Libya
Five things Obama should consider before committing to the Libya mission.
By Dirk Vandewalle, March 10

What can the United States do to help ensure that the rebels prevail? How can it do so without jeopardizing America’s standing among the different family, tribal, and provincial factions that will inevitably emerge in a post-Qaddafi Libya where all rivalries and divisions have been violently suppressed for more than four decades? Vandewalle offers some guidelines for thinking about these questions.

Stepping In
Libya doesn’t meet any of the criteria for humanitarian intervention. We should do it anyway.
By James Traub, March 11

America Has Beaten Qaddafi Before
Learning from the Libya wars of the 70s and 80s.
By Charles Duelfer, March 11

This Week at War: Libya’s Endgame
In praise of the rebels’ machine mechanics.
By Robert Haddick, March 11

Qaddafi Under Siege
A political psychologist assesses the Libyan leader.
By Jerrold M. Post, March 15

Libya Is a Problem from Hell
Why isn’t Obama listening to Samantha Power on Libya intervention?
By Jamie M. Fly, March 16

Keeping Up with the Qaddafis
Was Libya’s ruling family always this crazy?
By Suzanne Merkelson, March 17

“As the world watches the first days of military intervention in Libya, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi now has few allies on the international stage. But sometimes, it’s family that counts — and Qaddafi’s close-knit family has stood him in good stead during these days of civil war and aerial assault. In fact, in a bizarre twist on normal family dynamics, the Qaddafi clan’s hard times over the last month seem to have only pulled them closer around their erratic patriarch.”

Libya Is Too Big to Fail
The strategic case for intervention.
By Jason Pack, March 18

“Despite what you may be hearing from critics of March 17’s U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a no-fly zone and ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians from harm, Libya is not peripheral to the world system. It is at its very core. Libya possesses 1,800 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline. The country produces 2 percent of the world’s oil, with 85 percent of exports going to Europe. Libyan nationals have been prominent jihadists in Iraq. Since the beginning of the Great Recession and the slump in global demand in 2008, Libya has allocated $200 billion toward new infrastructure spending … Today, it is a paramount American interest that Libya not return to being a rogue state or descend into civil war.”

Does the World Belong in Libya’s War?
An FP roundtable debate.
March 18

Inside Free Benghazi
Photos of the rebel capital.
March 18

Explainer: Can Any Old Country Now Bomb Libya?
Just how far does the U.N. resolution’s mandate extend?
By Joshua E. Keating, March 23

The Qaddafi I Know
Uganda’s president on the Libyan leader’s mistakes.
By Yoweri Museveni, March 24

AFP/Getty Images


Obama’s Unconstitutional War
The president is breaking new ground in creating an imperial presidency.
By Bruce Ackerman, March 24

The Eye of the Storm
A dispatch from Benghazi.
By Patrick Graham, March 25

This Week at War: The Latest Temptation of Air Power
What aerial bombardment can and can’t do in Libya.
By Robert Haddick, March 25

The Hard Part
What happens if Libya’s rebels actually win?
By James Traub, March 25

“[O]ne of the fundamental lessons of Iraq is that things will be worse than you think. Not only does war unleash all manner of latent enmity and violence, but decades of abusive treatment by a ruthless dictators fuels pathologies that only fully manifest themselves when the lid of control pops off. Pro- and anti-Qaddafi tribes could square off against one another; Qaddafi could unleash the jihadists he once trained to wreak violence both at home and abroad. So you wouldn’t want to bet on a happy outcome in Libya — you’d want to do whatever you could to help deliver one. And it behooves those of us who have argued for the intervention now under way to give serious thought to what form that help should take.”

All the Colonel’s Kings
How Qaddafi bought friends and influence in Africa.
By Elizabeth Dickinson, March 25

“Qaddafi certainly is an African problem. During the four decades that he has governed Libya, Qaddafi has entrenched himself as a dominant political force across the continent. Many an aspiring politician has sought his support; many a rebel movement has turned to him for weapons and training. African heads of state have gone to great pains to maintain good relations with the colonel knowing that to do otherwise might mean Qaddafi’s next protégé rebel movement could crop up in their country. Which is why, even as the rest of the world has written off Qaddafi as a maniacal loon, the Libyan leader still has friends in Africa.”

Benghazi Diary
A daily account of life in the rebel capital.
By Ryan Calder, March 27-April 6 

“In my three weeks in the city, I’ve found that anyone in a position of formal authority in the interim government — from national-level leaders to staff at the rebel-run media center in Benghazi to town-level representatives of the interim government — is aware that “democracy” and “freedom” are bywords that will portray the “new Libya” in the right international light. (They’re also careful to argue that there will be no partisanship (hizbiyyah) and no tribalism (qaba’iliyah) in the new Libya.) This is one of many ways in which the eyes of the outside world are shaping this uprising, and all of the 2011 Arab uprisings: Liberal-democratic discourse has gone utterly and completely global and is now reflecting back upon itself.”

Not All Interventions Are the Same
Why it’s a mistake to compare Libya to Iraq.
By Jim Arkedis, March 28

The Colonel and Friends
Can the African leaders Qaddafi has propped up help convince him to leave?
By Eve Fairbanks, March 28

Libya’s Pickup-Truck Army
On the road with the rebels.
March 28

Did Obama Make His Case?
FP bloggers weigh in on the president’s March 28 Libya speech.
March 29

Mission Not Accomplished
Obama’s war in Libya is already a failure.
By John Yoo and Robert Delahunty, March 29

“The war in Libya is a good war — or at least, it should and could be. But it is certainly not a smart war and may well turn into a debacle. Bringing down Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s tyranny would be a major strategic and humanitarian victory in the Middle East. That achievement would be even more stunning if a democratic government, brought to power by Libyans themselves, replaced Qaddafi…Yet the chances of such favorable outcomes have been diminished by America’s own president.”

Plus: A rebuttal from Scott Horton, March 31

The Enemies of Our Enemy
Should the West be worried about supporting Libya’s rebels?
By Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, March 30

A Moral Adventure
Does the Libya intervention mean Obama isn’t actually a realist?
By James Traub, March 31

AFP/Getty Images


Getting Libya’s Rebels Wrong
Why fears of al Qaeda links are overblown.
By Najla Abdurrahman, March 31

The Two Faces of Libya’s Rebels
Anti-Qaddafi leaders need moral support more than guns.
By Jason Pack, April 5

Obama’s 21st Century War
It will be hard to leave Libya if we don’t know why we’re there in the first place.
By Aaron David Miller, April 5

Boots on the Ground
Air power won’t be enough to topple Qaddafi.
By James M. Dubik, April 5

“Suppose the coalition does succeed. What happens once Qaddafi is gone, his regime collapses, and the rebels win? When such vacuums emerge, the results are unpredictable, at best. The world needs no further example of the costs of not preparing for the post-combat phase of an intervention than what it has seen in Iraq. A satisfactory endgame depends on the choices that Washington and its allies make right now.”

The Mind of Muammar
What can we learn from reading the Green Book?
By Christina Larson, April 5

The Constitutional Clock Is Ticking on Obama’s War
Why the president shouldn’t ignore the War Powers Resolution.
By Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway, April 6

Making Fun of Qaddafi
The best of Libyan rebel graffiti.
April 7

Qaddafi’s Great Arms Bazaar
The weapons that are now in rebels’ hands.
By Peter Bouckaert, April 8

Plus: A look at Qaddafi’s arsenal 

How Not to Declare War
Obama’s flawed legal rationale for Libya.
Scott Horton, April 11

NATO at War
The alliance’s arsenal in photos.
April 14

All Quiet on the Western Front
NATO is at war, but you wouldn’t know it in Brussels.
By Stephen Castle, April 14

“During the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s, NATO’s Brussels headquarters had something of the feeling of a battlefield encampment… The contrast with today could hardly be greater. NATO is at war again, this time in Libya, but you wouldn’t know it from roaming its sleepy halls.”

Back in the Saddle
How Libya helped NATO get its groove back.
By James Joyner, April 15

Breaking the Siege
The rebels arm their compatriots in Misrata.
By David Kenner, April 18

Think Again: Libya
The war won’t be as quick or easy as Western leaders hope.
By Micah Zenko, April 28

Military force was necessary to send a message to Arab dictators. This war starts and ends with a no-fly zone. We can get rid of Qaddafi without a full-blown invasion. Allies will pick up the slack. Zenko explains why none of the above should be taken for granted.  

Saif House
Paying a visit to the squatters in the Libyan heir apparent’s London pad.
By Roland Elliott Brown, April 28

“Libyans are still struggling for their freedom, but a democratic enclave has already sprung up in London’s wealthy Hampstead Garden Suburb in a mansion once owned by Saif al-Islam Qaddafi…There are roughly 10 full-time Libyan activists now staying there, and friends of the Libyan opposition come and go regularly.”

Mad Dog in The Hague?
Why it may still be possible to try Qaddafi for his crimes.
By James A. Goldston, May 16

AFP/Getty Images

Discord in the Rebel Capital
Strains start to show in Benghazi.
By Portia Walker, May 18

A Day Under Fire with Anton
A South African photographer’s final days.
By Xavier Mas de Xaxàs, May 20

The Smallest Victims
The children of the revolution.
By Ruth Sherlock, May 27

Libyan Limbo
Six reasons it’s been so tough to get Qaddafi to quit.
By Daniel Byman and Matthew Waxman, June 2

“As the war in Libya drags on, the United States faces a familiar predicament: Why, despite possessing overwhelming military superiority over any foe, does it have such a hard time using the threat of force to push much weaker dictators around?..Six factors drawn from recent decades’ experience explain NATO’s difficulties — and why the Libya war could drag on for a long while longer.”

The Siege of Misrata
A rebel stronghold grits its teeth and hopes for the best.
By Portia Walker, June 9

This Week at War: The Bremer Test
Learning the right lessons from post-Saddam Iraq.
By Robert Haddick, July 1

A Just War, and an Unfinished One
Why recognizing Libya’s rebels was the right move.
By James Traub, July 15

“The critics of humanitarian intervention who say that the outcome is likely to be messier and more protracted than its proponents imagine are right. You have to be prepared to live with the unforeseen consequences of your acts. NATO and the United States thus have to stay the course not only to deliver the Libyan people from Qaddafi but also to demonstrate that such interventions are not exercises in imperial hubris — or “wars of whim,” as my Foreign Policy colleague Stephen Walt mockingly puts it. The imperative of preventing mass slaughter in Benghazi was reason enough to act — though Walt writes breezily of “the fear of a possible ‘bloodbath,'” as if this were a flimsy pretext seized upon by reckless adventurers. But with hundreds now dying on both sides, it would be grotesque to declare the effort a success if
Qaddafi holds onto power.” 

Benghazi Blues
Rebel forces start to show the strain of a long battle.
By Ethan Chorin, Aug. 5

Planning for Libya 2.0
The hard work of rebuilding Libya must begin now.
By Daniel Serwer, Aug. 17

“The stakes couldn’t be higher. A botched transition to a new regime could imperil the security and welfare in a post-Qaddafi Libya, discredit the NATO intervention, provide hfaven to international terrorists, lead to a new dictatorship, and even break up the country. We know from the experience in Iraq how costly a poorly planned transition can be.”

Libyans Celebrate Triumph in Tripoli
Rebels take the capital city.
Aug. 22

AFP/Getty Images

Joshua Keating is a former associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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