Libya – Now what?
After months, not weeks, of a NATO bombing campaign, it appears that the regime of Libyan strong-man Moammar Gaddafi is about to end. Rebels have advanced into Tripoli, the capital, and Gaddafi is said to be cornered in his compound. When last heard from his advice to his remaining supporters was to take to the streets:
In a brief broadcast on state television, Gaddafi made what came across as a desperate plea for support. “Go out and take your weapons,” the Libyan leader said. “All of you, there should be no fear.”
But the opposite seems to be what his loyalists are doing:
But reporters traveling with rebel forces said Gaddafi’s defenses were melting away faster than had been expected. There were reports of entire units fleeing as rebels entered the capital from the south, east and west, and his supporters inside the city tearing off their uniforms, throwing down their weapons and attempting to blend into the population.
A Tripoli-based activist said the rebels had secured the seaport, where several hundred reinforcements for the opposition had arrived by boat, and were in the process of evicting Gaddafi loyalists from the Mitiga air base on the eastern edge of the city.
There are also reports that a safe haven is or is still being negotiated for Gaddafi. South Africa has been identified as a participant in those negotiations with Zimbabwe and the Congo as two possible destinations.
Obviously Gadaffi’s reign is within hours, if not days of ending.
The question then becomes, “now what”? While this is supposedly a flowering of the Arab spring, there have been disturbing reports of Islamist radicals in leadership positions within the Rebel alliance. Additionally, there have been various councils and groups claiming leadership. Once Gadaffi is ousted and the capitol taken, the hard part begins – governing. Who or what band or group is likely to emerge as the leadership group. While there is a lot of talk about “revolutionary youth”, etc., in cases like this the most ruthless and best organized group usually take charge.
The “Twitter revolution” started by “revolutionary youth” in Egypt has since yielded to the Muslim Brotherhood – a well organized Islamist group which has seemingly reached an accommodation with the army and will apparently take power there after the next election. The secular and democratic activists have been pushed to the side.
There’s also the question of “now what” for the West. Does NATO tip its hat to the rebels and wish them good luck, or does it plan on some sort of post-Gaddafi role? France has a historic interest in Libya. Will European nations simply walk away or will they attempt to help craft a solution in Libya?
Finally, is the collapse of the Gadaffi regime a vindication of Obama’s “leading from behind” strategy? It certainly forced NATO to do more than has in quite some time and the campaign got the desired result. Does that make it a good strategy for the future, or a one-of-a-kind campaign that got lucky given the weakness of the target and the geography of the nation?
All of these questions and more will be answered in the next few weeks. One has to wonder how many of the answers will come as a surprise.