Libya's revolution may still be incomplete, but Western leaders are swooping into Tripoli to celebrate the rebels' victory and offer support for the new Libya, whose success they see model for other Arab revolutions.
With sharpshooters on Tripoli rooftops, a 5-star hotel sealed by tight security, and fighting continuing less than 100 miles away, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron were today the first heads of state to arrive in the capital and embrace Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC).
The backing of Britain and France, which led NATO's military charge, was crucial to turning the tide for Libya's rebels – at first little more than rag-tag militias – and enabling them to oust the Qaddafi regime.
But drawing on the lessons of the Iraq war, the Western leaders took pains today – as they have before – to emphasize Libyans' ownership of the revolution, with France and Britain playing the role of supporting actor.
“What we are building [not only] applies to Libya, but all Arab people throughout the world who want to liberate themselves from their chains,” said Mr. Sarkozy at a press conference in Tripoli. “France and Europe will be at their side, for peace, for democracy, and for economic progress…. This message applies to the 21st century, it is the sense of history that works towards reconciliation and not toward war.”
The French and British leaders were greeted with effusive praise from NTC leaders for intervening on a “purely humanitarian basis” to stop the former regime's “genocide” against the Libyan people.
“Our hero revolutionaries wouldn’t have made these achievements without the support of the allies, chiefly France and the United Kingdom,” said NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
“The Libyan people, a defiant people who are making history liberating their homeland, [give their] gratitude,” said acting premier Mahmoud Jibril. “This will, from now on, be a turning point in the history of the relations of the states … based on mutual freedom, mutual interests, and mutual respect.”
Avoiding the pitfalls of Iraq
Libya’s new leaders have frequently stated their wish to avoid the pitfalls that befell Iraq after the US invasion in 2003 sparked a civil war and insurgency. These leaders were quick to note that Libya’s revolution was homegrown, and not a foreign occupation.
Unlike Iraq – in which looting, burning, and violence shot up after the toppling of Saddam Hussein – Libya appears less vulnerable to chaos and insurgency. Anti-Qaddafi forces have been forming a detailed takeover plan for months. Tripoli is not “broken,” water has been restored, and violence has been relatively light considering the Qaddafi-era arsenals left unguarded, and the number of guns in the streets.
Mr. Cameron said the world had seen an “impressive transformation” in the few weeks since Qaddafi fled the capital, becoming a fugitive as anti-Qaddafi forces took control.
“This was your revolution, not our revolution. It was those brave people in Misurata, in Benghazi, in Brega, in Zlitan, in Tripoli, in the Nafusa mountains, who were incredibly brave in removing the dreadful dictatorship of Qaddafi,” said Mr. Cameron, paying tribute to key towns captured by the rebels, often after weeks of intense stand-offs with Qaddafi loyalists.
“But let us be clear: This is not finished, this is not done, this is not over. There are still parts of Libya that are under Qaddafi’s control. Qaddafi is still at large, and we must make sure that this work is completed.”
Top US diplomat: Libya needs strong partnerships
Sarkozy and Cameron arrived in Tripoli a day after the top US diplomat for the region, Jeffrey Feltman, restated Washington’s “enduring commitment” to Libya. American military assets were crucial in the early stages of the NATO intervention, and have since provided unique capabilities such as managing air campaigns and intelligence.
“We’re going to be guided by what the Libyans themselves think is appropriate for the United States and the international community to do,” Mr. Feltman said on Wednesday.
“It’s not so much that Libya needs a great amount of assistance in terms of financial resources,” Feltman said. “I think Libya needs strong partnerships in the region, and in the international community. It’s going to be the Libya people themselves that are going to define how those partnerships work and what we should concentrate on.”
Turkey’s premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is on a regional tour touting Turkey’s increased regional influence, is expected to arrive in time for Friday prayers in Tripoli. He received a rock-star welcome in Egypt on Tuesday, due to his strong criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations next week.