And now what happens in Libya?

Thursday, August 25, 2011 

Well, it looks like the moment folks have been waiting for has finally arrived: Muammar Qadaffi appears to have left Tripoli, and perhaps right now is hiding in a spider-hole somewhere. Who knows?

It wasn't long ago that the US government was trumpeting Qadaffi as a success story in the war on terrorism

In a post put up yesterday, Juan Cole--someone whose views I have a lot of respect for despite Cole's consistent support for the Libya war--discusses how to avoid the mistakes of Iraq in Libya.

Actually, I would argue--and have argued elsewhere--that the first Iraq-related mistake to avoid in Libya would have been going to war in the first place. Nevertheless, Cole makes some good points--such as the necessity of paying public employees, avoiding the temptation to privatize everything, not repeating the ill-fated "de-Baathification" campaign which followed military conquest in Iraq, and keeping American infantry out of the country.

We'll see how that works out...

Anyway, here are a couple of questions that I have:

1. The US, France and the UK have played a leading role in removing Gaddafi from power. This has been accomplished not only due to NATO's bombing campaign but also through the recognition by the NATO powers of the "rebels" as the official government of Libya, allowing them access to Libya's foreign-held reserves. What happens if the "wrong" faction manages to seize control in Libya? After almost six months of financial commitment (one which was particularly biting for the UK and France, whose military budgets can't keep up with their interventionist instincts), what possibility is there that the NATO powers will sit on the sidelines while someone other than their protegees (whoever they are) takes power?

2. What impact upon Libya's new government, whenever there is one again, will the past several months of NATO support ultimately have? The possibility, in the near future, of a faction that is not beholden to NATO taking power seems unlikely. If and when a NATO-friendly government is installed in Libya and the euphoria of throwing out Gaddafi wears off, how much of a danger is it that the new government will appear to Libyans as western stooges? 

3. What about the Berbers? They appear to have played a role in the ouster of Qaddafi. Did foreign contacts with Libyan rebels include promises or hints of promises to Berber communities in Libya? Have the Berbers, like the Kurds of Iraq, been used as a wedge to insert foreign influence? If, to any degree, this is even perceived as having been the case, what impact could this have upon Berber-Arab relations in Libya?

4. How, in the grand scheme of things, will we ultimately see the NATO intervention within the narrative of the "Arab Spring" more generally? While protests--and crackdowns--continue in Syria, in some ways it seems like the intervention of NATO into Libya signaled the beginning of the end of the Arab Spring. Think about the long list of countries in which protests were taking place back in March and April. While there are many reasons behind the gradual loss of steam--outside of Syria--that we've seen among protests in the Middle East since April-June of this year, is it simply a coincidence that revolutionary fervor in the region has petered out at roughly the same time that foreign intervention escalated? 

5. What about the oil? Surely the oil companies which stand to benefit from regime change in Libya will be begging for as much access as possible, and pressuring the Obama administration to help them gain that access. Indeed, the oil companies have been in contact with the rebel groups  (or at least "our" rebel groups, the ones backed by NATO) for months already. Why should things in Libya work out differently, as far as the oil companies are concerned, from that which has been the case in Iraq?

For a piece on Libya's future, particularly with respect to oil, that is significantly more skeptical than Cole's, see Rachel Shabi's short article in Al-Jazeera.

We'll see what happens, but personally I'd be very surprised if the US, UK, and France--and oil companies friendly with the governments of these countries--failed to play a large role in Libya's near future. Too much time, money, and energy has been put into this already for the NATO powers to drop out of the scene now.

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