By John Stang
Libya’s future continues to remain in limbo. There are many questions regarding the cohesiveness of the rebels, NATO’s strategy after the fall of Gadhafi, and, most importantly, when the fighting will cease? Libya will not be built into a constitutional democracy overnight. President Obama’s message was mainly a pat on the back and reminded us to stay alert to the fluid situation. As the Iraq experience teaches us, toppling a regime is the easier part, rebuilding a nation with little democratic civil structure is a whole different mission. Fred Kaplan describes five lessons the U.S. can draw from Operation Iraqi Freedom. Three of these are the most important. Firs, don’t let chaos ensue:
Impose law and order immediately. If the U.S.-led authorities had shot a few looters in the first days after Saddam Hussein fled Baghdad (instead of heralding the chaos as an exuberant expression of freedom, as Donald Rumsfeld did), the occupation of Iraq might have followed a very different course. After Qaddafi is toppled, the new powers, whoever they are, may declare a curfew, perhaps even martial law, at least for a while. This should not necessarily be cause for alarm; probably it’s essential, not only to prevent pro-Qaddafi holdouts from continuing to fight but also to contain factional and tribal tensions among the rebels.
As a precondition to imposing order, the rebel commanders will need to figure out a way to share power, at least in the short term. This may not be easy. The “rebel forces” consist of at least a dozen factions, some of which hate one another. (Just a few weeks ago, the top rebel commander was murdered, almost certainly by a rival officer.) One hopes they’ve already settled on some formula. If they haven’t, this may get very messy.
Second, in regards to dispersing Gadhafi’s unfrozen assets:
Once some mechanism is established, the money should be funneled to local projects, preferably a lot of small ones, after (speedy) consultation with, if not outright control by, people who know what kinds of improvements are needed and feasible. Iraq provides a negative lesson here. When, after some delay, the United States appropriated $18.5 billion for economic reconstruction in Iraq, the money was spent on large projects and contracted to Western corporations whose managers were clueless about the local environment. For instance, a lot of money was spent on a new electrical power plant—but there were no wires to run the electricity to local homes. Much was also allotted to building a new sewage-treatment facility—but the contract contained no provision for laying pipes to drain the sewage.
Third, establish strong grassroots contact:
Perhaps the biggest mistakes the U.S. occupation authorities made in post-Saddam Iraq (besides tolerating looters, disbanding the army, and barring Baathist Party members from holding government jobs) were to install a prime minister and to create a complicated system of caucuses for selecting a nationalparliament. It would have been better to recognize the tribal and regional nature of Iraq as the basis for creating forums to elect local representatives—in short, to allow government to build up more “organically” from the grassroots.
Finally, the U.S. should not take over the operation:
Keep it international. Above all (and I’m sure the White House regards this as a basic premise), whatever kind of government is created in Libya, and whatever kind of reconstruction programs are offered from outside its borders, the United States will not be in the lead. Nor should it be. President Obama signed up for this mission in a decisive but limited manner, and it is as sure a bet as anything in American politics that “decisive but limited” will remain as the scope of his commitment.
What do I think is most important? Keeping operations decentralized. With Gadhafi in power, Libya was a strong, centralized state, just like Iraq. That works if you have an authoritarian leader in power controlling all aspects of the state. In a democracy, various regional and ethnic groups want power. Forming a top down system first can put one group in charge and marginalize others. All of these steps, except for the last one, engage all grassroots groups on the ground by discussing their needs and building a consensus from there. The federal government of a state is only respected if the people show respect for it. Otherwise, it becomes just another rubber stamp and is not much better than an authoritarian leader. Law and order come from leaders of regional groups keeping order. Grassroots organization is only way to keep the state unified. The last thing Libya needs is a second civil war.