Shadow Government

In post-Qaddafi Libya, there’s still a lot of work to be done

Muammar al-Qaddafi may be gone, but nothing else has changed in Libya. The late dictator’s tribal allies are certainly aware of the reprisal killings that have already taken place; they will continue to fight until they believe their future is protected. The interim government has not changed since I last wrote, about a week ago, ...

Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Muammar al-Qaddafi may be gone, but nothing else has changed in Libya. The late dictator’s tribal allies are certainly aware of the reprisal killings that have already taken place; they will continue to fight until they believe their future is protected. The interim government has not changed since I last wrote, about a week ago, that it is not exactly on afterburner when it comes to transitioning to a true democracy. Nor has the death of Qaddafi clarified in any way who exactly his successors in government are, and with whom they are associated.

It is noteworthy, and not a little bit ironic, that Ambassador Paul Bremer, he of the late and unlamented Coalition Provisional Authority, identified several criteria for ensuring that the departure of the dictator does indeed lead to a fundamental change in the governance of Libya. He argues, in bold typeface, that "the population must believe that the political change is real and lasting;" that "someone has to provide security;" that "a new political order must be established quickly." 

It is difficult to argue with Bremer’s main points. The problems arise, for Libya as they did for Iraq, in the subtext that is not in bold type. Leave aside Bremer’s controversial decisions to disband the Iraqi Army and to maximize the extent of de-Ba’athification, neither of which he mentions, and both of which many analysts (myself included) consider to have been major blunders that led to the sectarian violence that plagued the country for the ensuing four years. Bremer asserts that it was only with the trial and death of Saddam that Iraqis stopped fearing a return of the old regime. But he does not mention that it was not until the surge of forces into Iraq, which was not completed until the middle of the following year, that Iraq began to return to a semblance of stability. Evidently even with Saddam gone, the population did not believe that political change was "lasting." The violence continued until the influx of American troops, coupled with the Sunni Awakening, seemed to promise that political change was not a pipe dream. And, for all we know, the violence may return once American troops depart in a few months’ time.

Bremer is also correct when he posits that "someone" must provide security. He adds that "unless some system is put in to demobilize the fighters, there is sure to be trouble." But who exactly should be the "someone" who provides security? What plans have been drawn up for a "system" to demobilize the fighters? And who will implement the plan for such a system. Surely not the United States, I hope. We have enough on our plate, both domestically and internationally. The military and financially exhausted Europeans? The Arabs? The United Nations?

Finally, Bremer is right that a "new political order" must be set up quickly. But, as I argued last week in my Shadow Government post, who will constitute that political order and what sort of political order will it be? There is no evidence that the current Interim Government has in mind the kind of democratic, pro-Western political order that Bremer seems to be calling for. Nor is it clear that, democratic elections notwithstanding, Iraq is pursuing policies that align with America’s interests — and that is before all American troops have left his country.

At the end of the day, while no one should shed tears over Qaddafi’s departure from this world, neither should anyone expect that it marks a turning point in Libya’s political development. There is much work to be done in that regard, and it is not at all clear who exactly will be doing it.

Dov Zakheim is the former Under Secretary of Defense.
Tag: Libya

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