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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.

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In Libya, the current NTC leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, has gained respect inside and outside Libya for being as measured as Qaddafi was bombastic. While he has publicly pledged not to run for office in 2012, the international community may be tempted to encourage him to stay on. But he can’t be “our guy” unless he becomes “their guy.” The international community should in fact engage all Libyan leaders who are committed to participate constructively in an open and inclusive political process.

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Though forming a new democratic government must be a Libyan-led process, the US and the West must use available leverage to ensure results and accountability from the emerging government.

In Bosnia, influence came through the political, security, and economic promises of European integration. While these exact tools are not available in Libya, political and economic levers do exist to ensure that the transitional government’s commitments are met and that it serves national rather than narrow interests.

For example, it is important for Libya to resume full-scale oil production and use that wealth to rebuild the country. However, natural resources must not become a source of corruption, instability, and conflict – the so-called “resource curse.” The inability of Iraq after years of political haggling to pass an energy bill has hampered both its economic recovery and political development.

The World Bank developed an agreement with neighboring Chad to commit its sovereign wealth for a broad public benefit, in Chad’s case, poverty reduction. While Chad ultimately reneged on the agreement, economic leverage on issues such as trade agreements and return of frozen assets can be a useful model to compel steps that enhance political stability.

What has fueled Libyans up to this point was their hatred of Qaddafi. Now the nation requires a viable political process to retain its momentum. Without it, as the world has seen in other places before, the revolution will stall before it reaches a sustainable orbit.

Nick Dowling is president of IDS International, a national security consulting firm. P.J. Crowley is the Omar Bradley Chair at Dickinson College, Penn State University and the Army War College. Both served on the National Security Council staff under President Clinton.


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