Political strategy in Libya: US and others must recognize a rebel government
The US, Western, and Arab allies must recognize and support Libya's newly formed provisional, rebel government: the National Council. Doing so is key to a plan that will help avoid the most-feared scenarios, remove Qaddafi, and enable a more stable transition to democracy in Libya.
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Whether or not the United States and its Western and Arab allies recognize the National Council, they should either publicly or privately encourage it to take the following steps:
• Assure pro-Qaddafi Libyans in the military, tribes, and citizenry that they will be reintegrated fairly into a new Libya. If they know this, they will be more likely to support Qaddafi’s ouster and to enable a more stable post-Qaddafi Libya. If they think they will be attacked and alienated, they will be more likely to fight along side Qaddafi and, if he falls, to undermine a post-Qaddafi government.
In Iraq, Washington made the mistake of alienating Saddam Hussein’s military rank and file, after it overthrew the dictator. These leaders then became the vanguard of the insurgency in Iraq. Libya is not Iraq, but such dynamics could still occur there.
• Identify strong military leaders who can provide order in Libya – as the military in Egypt is doing today – while democratic institutions are slowly built. Some liberal-minded, defecting generals could fit this bill. Without order, democracy will face difficulties.
• Delegitimize Libyan radical jihadists or autocratic elements. The council must do this by re-stating in the global media its commitment to a secular, democratic Libya. This will help it earn global support.
• Try to bridge the divide among the tribes in western Libya that have supported Qaddafi and those of the east. Historically, they have been at odds, and if they are not bridged, Libya could end up in civil war or as a country with two capitals: Tripoli and Benghazi.
• Tap Iraq’s expertise. The Iraqis have gone through the process of setting up democracy in the heart of the Arab world, despite competing ethnic and religious factions.
From experience, Iraqis know the grueling nature of a new democracy and the persistence required to make it work: After a nearly 8-month post-election stalemate, Iraqi leaders finally hashed out a coalition agreement. The Iraqis, working with the western allies, can provide Arab legitimacy in the effort to bolster the National Council.
Groundwork for stable Libya, Middle East
All these steps may also put some additional pressure on Qaddafi to quit Libya even before he is hopefully deposed. Supporting the Libyan National Council will also help the US set up positive relations with what may well be Libya’s next government.
Historically, military measures don’t often produce good outcomes without a political plan. Such a plan can help remove Qaddafi and lay the groundwork for a more stable Libya, North Africa, and Middle East.
Steve Yetiv is a professor of political science at Old Dominion University and is the author of “Crude Awakenings,” “The Absence of Grand Strategy,” and the recently released “Explaining Foreign Policy.”