Monday, March 28, 2011

Libya: Be Careful What You Wish For

. . . or, as the expression goes, surely you will get it.  And as Jon Lee Anderson's from-the-front-lines in Libya report makes plain, if Qaddafi is brought down, no one can possibly know what's going to come afterward.  He closes with the following:

Gheriani [one of the rebels] tried to assure me that the new state the rebels envision would be led not by confused mobs or religious extremists but by “Western-educated intellectuals,” like him. Whether this was wishful thinking, of which there has been a great deal here in recent weeks, was uncertain. After forty-two years of Muammar Qaddafi—his cruelty, his megalomaniacal presumptions of leadership in Africa and the Arab world, his oracular ramblings—Libyans don’t know what their country is, much less what it will be.

Some things are clear, though. In Benghazi, an influential businessman named Sami Bubtaina expressed a common sentiment: “We want democracy. We want good schools, we want a free media, an end to corruption, a private sector that can help build this nation, and a parliament to get rid of whoever, whenever, we want.” These are honorable aims. But to expect that they will be achieved easily is to deny the cost of decades of insanity, terror, and the deliberate eradication of civil society

As many experts have made abundantly clear, in constructing his "visionary" Libyan non-state state after 1969, Muammar Qaddafi made sure to concentrate all real power in his own hands by eliminating the possibility that any civil institutions might emerge to threaten him, and by setting up state-security organizations that he could count on to enforce his dictates.  They did not, by the way, include the national army, which Qaddafi intentionally left under-equipped, as opposed to arming groups more loyal to him personally, upon which he was able to lavish revenues from Libya's lucrative oil industry.

If this sounds like Saddam's techniques to you - state-security organizations outside the main army, and use of oil revenues as patronage to ensure support of groups close to him -- I think so too.  But in Iraq, after the US "intervened" in 2003, there were already long-established and organized local, regional, and/or sectarian organizations on the ground (among them, the Kurdish Regional Government and its two main political parties, and the Shii religious parties like al-Da'wa and the Sadrists), ready to try to fill the vacuum left by the Anglo-American decapitation of the Baath and subsequent and ineptitude in trying to reorganize Iraq.  From all accounts, there is essentially nothing of that sort waiting in the wings in Libya.  To build a new Libya, the rebels will be starting from scratch. In fact, they'll have to do so while likely being dragged down by several factors: the continuing strength of the old tribes, the earlier long history of "Libya" actually comprising two distinct regions (Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east) as well as the vast desert to the south), and the fact that (as Dirk Vandewalle has made so plain in his books) "Libyans" historically have been rendered apathetic about the entire concept of "Libya" and the "centralized state."

So, assuming that Qaddafi can be brought down fairly soon, without too much more devastation (and I'm not counting on that), and that Libya's new leaders will inherit all of what's now Libya and not just the eastern region, there's going to be a long, probably turbulent period during which the Euro-American/NATO powers will likely need to provide
  • military "advisers" and perhaps peace-keeping troops (something Max Boot has already plugged, but Mr. Obama would be very wise to avoid, given the US's over-commitment and unpopularity already in the region, not to mention that American boots on the ground in Libya would attract jihadists - especially all-too-plentiful Libyans - like bees to the hive)
  • political "advisers" to "guide" the newly installed rebel government in shaping a new Libyan constitution and political society. (And the US has helped the Iraqis and Afghans wonderfully in that regard, haven't they?  Well, haven't they?)
  • economic assistance, both for rebuilding and to help reorganize Libya's petroleum industry, the revenues from which have been - and will be - the foundation of the economy, the government's budget, and empowering Libya's people.
For the US, some might see an alternative in walking away as soon as possible and then let the chips fall where they may, in the name of American ideals of "self-determination"  (one of those words of Western liberal interventionism that, as Cambridge University's Tarak Barkawi makes clear in al-Jazeera, we have traditionally employed to cloak war-waging in pursuit of our own interests). But that leaves a potential mess in the laps of Messrs. Sarkozy and Cameron, as well as Ms. Merkel and all the other NATO/Euro allies to whose relatively nearby havens will be fleeing even more thousands of Libyans, Tunisians, and Moroccans looking to escape the turmoil and poverty back home.

If the US and the West hope to live up to their supposedly high moral and political standards of helping to foster democracy, human rights, and decent lives, the prescriptions surely lie in the advice proffered by Columbia University's Jeffrey Sachs in today's NY Times, where he reports on his own meetings in Cairo and Tunis with young Arab pro-democracy activists, the Arab world's new and eager "agents of change," who peppered him with tough - and telling - questions:
Where was the world community as corrupt dictators pillaged their countries? Where was the world during the days when thousands of their brethren were beaten or killed? What will the community of nations do now to ensure the success of democracy throughout the region?

Sachs response, and his prescriptions, offer promise not only to the young people of Egypt and Tunisia, but to those in Morocco (where young people are speaking up for democratic empowerment and economic opportunity in the face of repression by yet another of our State Department's "Arab moderate" friendly monarchies) and in Libya as well. 
One could of course explain that the world is cynical; that acts of state too often trump acts of principle; that some of the U.N.’s 192 member governments utterly fail to abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet such answers would miss the mark. The proper way to answer such concerns is to prove that universal values can still move the world community, by mobilizing global support for the democratic revolution that these young people have initiated.

Here are some of the things that the world can and should do. The first is to return the ill-gotten gains that the despots have stolen and placed in foreign accounts. The sums secreted away from Egypt and Tunisia amount to many billions of dollars. The money must be traced, frozen and repatriated.

The second is to stand with the people of these countries by returning quickly to the wondrous tourist sites that not only captivate the imagination but also bring employment and income.

The third is to respond to the economic hardship that has fueled discontent. Youth unemployment is disastrously high, perhaps 40 percent of those under 25 years of age. The systems of vocational education, on-the-job training and skill apprenticeships are in disarray. Both Egypt and Tunisia are natural hubs for youth employment — in information and communications technology, business processing operations, light manufacturing, construction trades, public health, education and many other fields. But the ramp from school to jobs must be made, along the lines perhaps of the successful models of Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Here is a natural area for public-private partnership. Leading businesses in the region, both domestic and foreign, can commit to train hundreds of thousands of young people in the next few years, setting standards and training models that can be followed for millions of other young people. Regional institutions such as the Islamic Development Bank, the European Union and the Mediterranean initiatives pioneered by France, Greece and Turkey can step forward to help set the goals and share the costs. Most importantly, the young people themselves should play a leadership role. They’ve already proved their mastery of holding those in authority to account, and this can apply to economic programs as well as to politics.

I felt a bit curmudgeonly in telling the young people in front of me that their achievement, undoubtedly historic, was only a step. Democracy alone can’t solve their country’s problems. What can solve them, we all agreed, is their energy, idealism and commitment to working across religious and political borders.

The world should rush to offer support to these young people, not only to help Egypt and Tunisia, but also to rescue ourselves from the cynicism and drift that trap too many of our own societies.

I trust that you read carefully.  See any mention of "feel free to call on us for a little old-fashioned "shock and awe" massage"?  Or, "let us build up your militaries with more of our whiz-bang weaponry?"

Neither did I.

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