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Liberating Libya: Questions surround the end of Gaddafi

August 29, 2011

In Libya, the rebels celebrate the taking of Tripoli, and the search for Gaddafi intensifies.  As it becomes more certain that Gaddafi’s more than forty year reign is coming to an end, more uncertainty over the future of Libya and the role for the U.S. and the West swirls in to take its place.While virtually everyone besides Gaddafi’s remaining cronies on the African Union and Hugo Chavez agrees that the end of his reign is a good outcome, and Libya will be better off rid of him, there is no such consensus over the proper role of the West, both in what they have already done and what they should do.

Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center believes that the atrocities that Gaddafi was committing against his own people necessitated intervention by the West and the US.


“When you have the ability to act, doing nothing is no longer a neutral position.
To be sure, this is not a time for settling scores. But it is a time for arguing for the utility, necessity, and morality of a doctrine — the Responsibility to Protect — that seemed, to its opponents, increasingly discredited. Another reality — again, for both better and worse — is that the United States remains something of an “indispensable nation,” a notion increasingly in disrepute. Without American support, however belated, the responsibility to protect would have remained mere rhetoric and posturing. The NATO intervention would not have happened. “

I would not argue that it is likely that there would have been more fighting, and more deaths in the struggle in Libya if the West had decided not to intervene. And I think again, excluding Hugo Chavez and the most heartless of skeptics, whole hearted condemnation of Gaddafi and his actions was called for. The question becomes what degree of intervention by the West would be best for all parties. Shadi and others believe that the role NATO played in this conflict, which I admit is a vast improvement logistically over a heavy-handed operation requiring battalions of ground troops, was a good balance for the West to strike where they could still play a decisive factor in facilitating the ouster of Gaddafi while keeping their footprint minimal.  The support provided by NATO hastened the  end of the most intense phase conflict and made it clear that Gaddafi’s time was drawing to a close. This view does not look far enough into the horizon, it praises the lives saved in the short term while ignoring the pervasive uncertainty that still surrounds Libya. It is much too soon to say whether the intervention by the West was ultimately a good thing, or if it would have been better in some ways to condemn Gaddafi but allow the Libyan rebels to achieve their own victory against their long time oppresor.

The Economist gives a glimpse to the already quite varied takes the different parts of the Muslim world have on Libya, and some of the views could portend a turbulent road ahead to peace and stability for Libya.
In an independent Egyptian daily, Salamh Ahmad Salamah criticises the gleeful anticipation abroad of the Second Republic:

Within days, major countries will start deliberating the fate of Libya and its vast wealth and resources. Egypt and the Arab League are clueless. They are dealing with what is happening with their eyes half-shut, while America, France and Britain are racing to get into the good graces of the new regime and provide it with aid, all the while claiming that they are preparing the new Libya for democracy.

Ibrahim al-Ameen ruminates on the potential problems with Libyan interactions with the rest of the Arab world following the West’s intervention in the Lebanese independent, al-Akhbar

Colonel Qaddafi’s people do not love him; they do not want him. No-one can now question these things. But his people certainly needed help. And this time it was the West (the colonialists themselves!) that was chosen to bring about the story’s end: a new imperialism, a new colonialism with a new face.

So while some in the Middle East welcomed Western intervention in the name of toppling Gaddafi, some remain suspicious of an all to familiar scene with the West expressing the best of intentions but having ulterior motives. This leads to a fractious and divided environment that would make it difficult for any country to walk the tightrope of peace and stability, but this is especially the case for a country like Libya which, as Mr. Hamid notes, ‘doesn’t have the benefit of established political parties, a largely independent judiciary, and a whole host of other weak but intermittently vibrant institutions’. He concludes that this will make the transition cleaner, as these vestiges of the past will not prevent real change from taking place. While in this aspect, a break from a tumultuous past, this may be true, this does not mean that the lack of democratic institutions will make a good outcome for Libya more likely. This is especially true as Libya now finds itself having to balance the concerns of NATO and the West with its neighbors who are already viewing the Second Republic with eyes suspicious of Western involvement.

While US involvement made the ousting of Gaddafi come less painfully and more quickly, both the Libyans and the West find themselves in a worse position post-Gaddafi than they would have been otherwise. The West and the US have to grapple with how involved to remain and for how long. They have to begin to think about what their aims even are in Libya now that Gaddafi has been deposed. The Libyans meanwhile are left with suspicious neighbors, an uncertain domestic situation with a real fear that the gains they have fought so hard for will be lost if they make a misstep, and the balancing of the desires of their new Western allies. The situation for all parties in this new post Gaddafi world is much worse for the Western entanglement.

John Stuart Mill foresaw the potential pitfalls of too many international entanglements, even in the cases like Libya where the goal, the ousting of an oppressive despot who harmed his own people, is unarguably noble. In talking about just these such situations where a nation must grapple with the question of whether to assist a people seeking to ovethrow their government Mill responds:

The answer I should give to the question of the legitimacy of intervention is, as a general rule, No.

The reason is, that there can seldom be anything approaching to assurance that intervention, even if successful, would be for the good of the people themselves. The only test possessing any real value, of a people’s having become fit for popular institutions, is that they, or a sufficient portion of them to prevail in the contest, are willing to brave labour and danger for their liberation… I know it may be urged that the virtues of freemen cannot be learned in the school of slavery, and that if a people are not fit for freedom, to have any chance of becoming so they must first be free. ..But the evil is, that if they have not sufficient love of liberty to be able to wrest it from merely domestic oppressors, the liberty which is bestowed on them by other hands than their own, will have nothing real, nothing permanent. No people ever was and remained free, but because it was determined to be so; because neither its rulers nor any other party in the nation could compel it to be otherwise. If a people – especially one who freedom has not yet become prescriptive – does not value it sufficiently to fight for it, and maintain it… it is only a question of how few years or months until that people will be enslaved.

There was not much to argue with the stated goals of the West and NATO for getting involved in Libya, protecting Libyan innocents from their oppresive leader who was wreaking havoc throughout large parts of the country. In these situations it is important to remember that an eye must be kept on the ultimate outcomes, and these things must be taken into account before judgement can really be made on the wisdom of this course of action. I think all can agree that congratulations are in place to the Libyan rebels, there is no doubt that they fought very hard for what they have achieved so far. We should all also collectively wish them luck in the coming challenges to rebuild their country and set it on the path towards peace and prosperity, they are likely going to need it.

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From → Politics

2 Comments
  1. David permalink

    It was really good and right for Americans to help the people and rebels of Libya to be free from the iron hand of Gadaffi,however, America as imperialist interested in natural resources like oil and other resources , the current goverment of Libya needs to have a strategic thinking of how are they going to deal with that interest and it is up to people of Libya guided by their constitution how do they protect the interest of their country as to maintain the statusquo.

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