Col. Muammar Qaddafi's grip on Libya remains firm, say some experts. The hope of American officials that the April 15 bombing raid by United States warplanes would help topple the Libyan leader seems unlikely to be fulfilled. There are factions in Libya itching for a coup. But the opposition to Qaddafi's 16-year rule is weak and fragmented. Besides, any successor to Qaddafi might be more pro-Soviet than the US would like.
If Qaddafi were to go, ``you could have a more independent leader ousted in favor of a more compliant leader,'' says Clement Miller, an analyst at Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates.
Reagan administration officials were buoyed last week by reports of sporadic fighting between rival Libyan factions, indicating what Secretary of State George Shultz described on Thursday as ``considerable dissidence'' within the Libyan armed forces. US officials say one purpose of last Tuesday's raid was to help topple Qaddafi by strengthening the hand of opposition forces inside the country.
The US has tried for years to abet the process of political change in Libya, working to undermine Qaddafi's power through measures ranging from economic sanctions to clandestine contacts with members of the Qaddafi opposition. While US officials insist that Qaddafi was not a ``direct'' target of last week's raid over Libya, the Libyan leader's residence and headquarters were targets of the bomb attack.
``I think the world would be a great deal better off if Libya were in different hands,'' said Defense Secretary Casper W. Weinberger in a recent Monitor interview.
Experts outside the government say the US raid may have hurt Qaddafi somewhat, giving disaffected elements within the military a chance to feed on any popular discontent with the Libyan leader. But so far an effective surveillance system, which relies on the penetration of army units by members of Qaddafi's elite revolutionary guard, has been sufficient to quell discontent, they say.
One reason for Qaddafi's ability to maintain control has been the decentralization of political power and patronage through numerous ``people's committees,'' councils in various towns and regions, loyal to Qaddafi, that monopolize local judicial, legislative, and executive authority. There is thus no obvious alternative locus of national power in Libya outside the army and the elite, 2,000-man revolutionary guard.
``Qaddafi has deinstitutionalized government in Libya. If he disappears, what do you rely on next?'' asks William Louis, professor of political science at George Washington University. Leaders of various exile groups, such as the London-based National Front for the Salvation of Libya, appear to have little appreciable political support inside Libya. As a result, says Professor Louis, Qaddafi's departure could lead to low-level chaos as in Lebanon or outright civil war, as in Chad, between various tribal and regional groups. In either case, the presence of 6,000 Eastern Bloc advisors in Libya could provide opportunities the Soviets could exploit.
In the case of a military coup agaist Qaddafi, the alternative for the US could be little better. The most likely successors -- including Qaddafi's heir-apparent and head of the revolutionary guard, Maj. Abdul Sallam Jalloud -- may prove more pro-Soviet than Qaddafi.
Despite the sizeable East bloc commitment to Libya, Qaddafi has refused to grant base rights to the Soviet Union in Libya. Major Jalloud, who warned Friday that the matter of the bases was being reopened following last week's raid, is believed to favor extending such rights, highly prized by the Soviets because of Libya's strategic location.
While Qaddafi still appears in firm control in Libya, analysts describe factors that could weaken the Libyan leader's 16-year regime. One is the impact of collapsing world oil prices. Libyan oil revenues have dropped from $22 billion to less than $9 billion in just six years with no bottom in sight. Experts say that's likely to tear at domestic unity by sharpening competition for scarce budgetary resources among consumers, the army, and local government councils.
More serious is resentment within the army over privileges extended by Qaddafi to the revolutionary guard. He has drawn many of the guards from his own tribe in Libya's Serte region, in the process exacerbating old tribal animosities.