Arab Spring and the Fall of Qaddafi

October 20, 2011

Information is still emerging about the apparent death this morning of Muammar Qaddafi and the last of his inner circle in Sirte.  What is clear is that Libyans are celebrating the departure of a tyrant who caused terror at home and abroad for decades.  Americans will also welcome the defeat of a man who killed and terrorized our citizens – a defeat which came without U.S. troops on the ground and by sharing the burden with our allies and partners who are more directly affected by the events on the ground.

With the ultimate goal of the Arab Spring on display this weekend in Tunisia with the elections scheduled this weekend, we are reminded that there is no single path to freedom for the people of the Middle East nor one single “cookie cutter” approach for U.S policy. Going forward, as people celebrate their freedom in Libya, it is also important to take a look at the road ahead and the difficult road from tyranny to democracy.

Ousting a dictator is a victory for the people of Libya. While the U.S. and NATO forces helped, the removal of Qaddafi – who Ronald Reagan called the “Mad Dog of the Middle East” – from power is a victory for the people of Libya. The New York Times reports that, “Libyans rejoiced as news of his death spread. Car horns blared in Tripoli as residents poured into the streets to celebrate. Mahmoud Shammam, the chief spokesman of the Transitional National Council, the interim government that replaced Colonel Qaddafi’s regime after he fled Tripoli in late August, confirmed that Colonel Qaddafi was killed, though he did not provide other details. ‘A new Libya is born today,’ he said.  ‘This is the day of real liberation. We were serious about giving him a fair trial.  It seems God has some other wish.’”

Qaddafi was a source of terror at home and abroad for decades. Under Qaddafi, Libya was connected to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people; the 1989 bombing of a French passenger jet over Niger in which 171 people died; and the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco popular among U.S. servicemen, killing two U.S. soldiers. In addition, a 2007 Council on Foreign Relations paper explains: “In the early 1970s, Qaddafi established terrorist training camps on Libyan soil, provided terrorist groups with arms, and offered safe haven to terrorists, say U.S. officials… Libya was also suspected of attempting to assassinate the leaders of Chad, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, and Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). Also of concern was Libya’s pursuit of WMD. As early as the mid-1970s Qaddafi expressed interest in gaining nuclear-weapons capability to match that of Israel. Libya has been accused of using chemical weapons against Chadian forces during clashes in 1986 and 1987.”

Qaddafi was even worse at home. In an article for BBC Tarik Kafala explains that, “The worst period for Libyans was probably the 1980s, when Col Gaddafi experimented on his people with his social theories. As part of his ‘cultural revolution’ he banned all private enterprise and unsound books were burned. He also had dissidents based abroad murdered. Freedom of speech and association were absolutely squashed and acts of violent repression were numerous.

For Libyans critical of Col Gaddafi his greatest crime may have been the squandering of wealth on foreign adventures and corruption.  With a population of only six million and annual oil revenues of US $32bn in 2010, Libya’s potential is huge. Most Libyans do not feel this wealth and living conditions can be reminiscent of far poorer countries.” [NY Times, 10/20/11. Council on Foreign Relations, 10/17/07. Tarik Kafala, 10/20/11]

Libya mission is an example of successful burden sharing with allies. For decades American leaders have paid empty rhetoric to the idea of allies taking on a greater role in foreign affairs. However, with Libya, the Obama administration was able to successfully “rebalance burden-sharing.” As David Ignatius explained in September: “Obama decided that military action was necessary to prevent a slaughter in Benghazi – but he opposed unilateral action by the United States. So the White House seized an opportunity to ‘rebalance burden-sharing,’ which meant that the Europeans and Arabs, who were closer to the problem, should do most of the work. The danger of taking a back seat on Libya was that without decisive American leadership, the Libya campaign nearly rattled apart in late June: The fighting was at a stalemate, NATO military resources were depleted and public opinion was skittish. But Obama and his NATO allies proved steadier and more patient than many commentators – and the August offensive finally led to the rebels’ capture of Tripoli. For an administration that came into office believing that allies needed to do more of the fighting and pay more of the costs, Libya has been a validation. Officials say that one unsung hero is Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish politician who is currently NATO secretary general.” [David Ignatius, 9/3/11]

Even with positive initial signs, much hard work remains to be done. Daniel Serwer of the Middle East Institute reports that, early on, the situation in Libya is progressing quickly, “This is the fastest post-war recovery I have witnessed: faster than Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan. Certainly faster than Somalia, Sierra Leone or Rwanda… The national government is making the usual social welfare payments. Flour and oil subsidies have been maintained, so bread is cheap and available. Only partial withdrawal of salaries from banks is permitted, but Libyans are confident about the country’s economic future, based on its oil and gas resources. Libyans know what to expect next. The NTC has promised elections for an interim assembly by April 2012 and presidential elections by April 2013. It has published a constitutional framework that establishes Libya as both Islamic and democratic.”

Still, the situation remains fragile, and there’s much hard work to be done. Serwer explains, “Things could go wrong in Libya. We are still in the early days. Qaddafi’s forces could go underground and conduct the kind of insurgency that Saddam Hussein’s secret services ignited in Iraq. Fighting could erupt among the many militias that constitute the NTC’s military forces.  Many of them came from outside Tripoli. They may refuse to go home or to disarm.” As Sarah Margon, associate director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress writes,  “Looking ahead, the lack of coherence within the opposition is an increasing concern. Existing fissures could worsen and deepen the expected post-Qaddafi fragility, especially given the disastrous state of the country’s economy and the absence of any knowledgeable civil society.” In addition, ensuring the safety of black Libyans from reprisals aimed at the Sub-Saharan Africans Qaddafi employed as mercenaries against rebel forces remains a pressing concern. [Daniel Sewer, 9/27/11. Sarah Margon, 8/22/11. Reuters, 10/17/11]

What We’re Reading

Secretary of State Clinton admonished Pakistan to do more to eradicate safe havens for terrorists attacking Afghanistan and called on both countries to adopt a common strategy of “fighting, talking and building” to bring security to the region.

Obama administration officials denied Iranian news reports that a man charged in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States is actually an agent of an exiled Iranian opposition group.

Kurdish militants killed at least 24 Turkish soldiers in an attack near the Iraq border and Turkey’s military responded by sending hundreds of troops into northern Iraq in a counterattack on Kurdish insurgent hide-outs.

Tens of thousands of Syrians are rallying in support of the government in the northern city of Aleppo, while Syrian activists say at least 20 people have been killed during unrest in other parts of the country.

A disabled Frenchwoman kidnapped by Somali gunmen in Kenya this month has died in captivity, the French government announced.

The Palestinian quest for UN membership is likely to be decided on or around November 11, when Security Council ambassadors plan a final meeting to set a response, diplomats said.

Demonstrators and riot police clash in Athens during a protest against additional austerity measures. At least 28 protesters are held and more than 40 people are injured.

Several dramatic recent incidents including one involving a 2-year-old girl run over in the road while more than a dozen bystanders ignored her plight have opened a searing debate in China over whether the country might have lost its moral bearings.

Homemade bomb attacks are growing worldwide and pose an increasing threat to the United States, said the head of the Pentagon agency charged with combating makeshift bombs.

A top Russian diplomat said that talks with the United States on missile defense had hit a “dead end,” and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded coolly to a gesture designed to allay the Kremlin’s concerns about U.S. plans.

Commentary of the Day

Fred Kaplan argues that U.S. actions in Yemen, Uganda and elsewhere point towards a significant change in the way the U.S. intervenes and wages war.

Luke Mogelson writes about the Afghan Local Police Force, suggesting that the conflict in Afghanistan is becoming the bad guys versus the worse guys.

Pankaj Ghemawat states that if the world is flat, then it is going to take a long time to smooth itself out.

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