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June 08, 2011

Tactician, Plan Thyself
Posted by Eric Martin


Given my oft-stated concern about what a potential post-Qaddafi period will look like (would there be purges/an insurgency, would it require a peacekeeping/nation building mission, overseen by which groups/nations, etc.), these paragraphs from a recent New York Times piece on the conflict in Libya stood out:

...Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, returning from a brief visit to the rebel headquarters in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, hinted at concern in Western capitals about what might come after the toppling of Colonel Qaddafi. Mr. Hague said he had pressed the rebel leaders to make early progress on a more detailed plan for a post-Qaddafi government that would include sharing power with some of Colonel Qaddafi’s loyalists.

In particular, Mr. Hague said, the rebels should learn from Iraq’s experience, in which a mass purge of former Saddam Hussein loyalists occurred under the American-backed program of “de-Baathification,” and shun any similar undertaking. The reference was to a policy that many analysts believe helped to propel years of insurgency in Iraq by stripping tens of thousands of officials of jobs.[...]

He said Britain was encouraging them “to put more flesh on their proposed transition — to lay out in more detail this coming week what would happen on the day that Qaddafi went, who would be running what, how would a new government be formed in Tripoli?” Pressing the point about Qaddafi loyalists, he said the Benghazi leaders were “learning” from Iraq. “No de-Baathification!” he said, before adding, “They now need to publicize that more effectively, to be able to convince members of the current regime that that is something that would work.”

While it is encouraging to see Hague making these entreaties, it would have been nice had there been a clearer vision of post-Qaddafi Libya prior to commiting military assets to the cause of toppling him. Further, it is not only the rebel groups that should be fleshing out their plans for the post-Qaddafi era: NATO and other regional/multilateral organizations need to come up with their own proposals for which groups/nations will fill which roles during any transition period.

It is also worth noting the lack of leverage that NATO has should the rebels fail to make the progress needed in terms of fleshing out a plan, or, for one reason or another, failing to implement the established way forward.  As the United States can attest - pointing to recent experiences with our putative allies in Iraq and Afghanistan - even lavish amounts of aid, military support and boots on the ground cannot compel local actors to embrace forbearance, forgiveness or respect for human rights.

Ultimately, local factions will place their own grievances, imperatives and interests ahead of the norms and pleas of outside powers - even where those outside powers are their sole and necessary benefactors.

If rebel groups opt to take actions that create or exacerbate insurgencies and other internal conflicts, NATO (or whatever group/nations lead the transition period) will have little choice but to buckle up and go along for the ride. Which would prove extremely costly and time consuming - if not unfamiliar.

(Photo credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)


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Chairman of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya crazy .

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