Lessons for US in Libya's transition: Avoid mistakes of Iraq, Afghanistan
In Libya's transition from dictator to democracy, the international community should learn from its experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia. The West should watch out for picking favorite leaders and should use leverage to push Libya toward inclusive politics and a viable oil industry.
The challenges in Libya are many and complex, from the development of security forces to creating jobs to establishing effective governing bodies. Yet stability and success will depend on one critical issue: whether the self-appointed National Transitional Council (NTC) establishes and sustains a legitimate and inclusive political process.
The last time Libya changed its leader? Through Mr. Qaddafi’s coup in 1969, just after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Just launching the political process in Libya, a country with no democratic tradition and few effective governing institutions, will be an enormous challenge. As the United States and international community consider how to best support Libya, there are some lessons from recent experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia from which they can learn.
The NTC is expanding its representation. But to be effective, it will have to attract support – or at least participation – from across all sections of Libya, including the western and southern regions of the country, some of which still support (and perhaps shelter) Qaddafi. He will remain dangerous until caught.
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Given the historical regional rivalries and complex tribal structure within Libya, the temptation will be to focus on Tripoli and build a government from the top down. This was a mistake the international community made in both Afghanistan and Iraq, where national governments lacked legitimacy due to poor regional representation.
Libya’s new political structure should be built from the bottom up. The political process must both serve and balance competing political interests, giving all key parties a stake and voice.
The NTC has announced plans for an initial election in 2012 en route to a constitutional democracy by 2013. Getting there requires the emergence of local and regional leaders who can deliver meaningful results to the citizenry, particularly job creation, well before 2013.
For example, Libya suffers one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, with half its population under the age of 25. Development efforts, while incorporating outside expertise, must concentrate on employing as many young Libyans as possible.
As national figures emerge, we can hope for, but not expect, a Havel- or Mandela-like figure in Libya – a homegrown leader who might galvanize a nation toward unity and progress. In any case, we should not try to invent one.
Shortly after the American invasion of Afghanistan, the December 2001 Bonn Conference anointed Hamid Karzai as leader of the Afghan Interim Authority before he had demonstrated his viability where it counted most – in Afghanistan. The Bush administration also tried to put a thumb on the political scales when it transported Ahmed Chalabi back to Iraq after the invasion in 2003. He has been complicating political unity there ever since.