Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What Would Be a "Successful" Outcome in Libya

Many people have observed that the coalition going into Libya has not articulated what "success" would look like. You can find optimistic recitations of what might constitute success from people like Juan Cole, but there are no publicly stated official goals or benchmarks beyond addressing immediate humanitarian concerns.

That silence leaves me uncharacteristically cynical.1 That is, it was not at all long ago that Qaddafi was being fĂȘted by the leaders [added: and would-be leaders] of nations that now want him ousted. He was a poster child for "victory in the war on terror", a rehabilitated character who was opening his country up to foreign investment. But really, he was the same old Qaddafi and everybody knew it (and he was happy to provide occasional reminders "just in case"). I heard a war crimes prosecutor explaining why Qaddafi hadn't been charged along with Charles Taylor for war crimes in Sierra Leone. Qaddafi's public rehabilitation was a leading factor. Qaddafi's mistake, perhaps understandable given how much he had been able to get away with since having been declared "reformed", was that the embarrassment brought about by his actions would again make him persona non grata and subject to removal by military force.

For the engineers of the intervention, what do I believe an unstated "acceptable outcome", perhaps even "preferred outcome" of this intervention to be? For somebody within Qaddafi's regime to oust him (whether by convincing him to go into exile or through "wet work"), and to promise to the west that Libya's new leadership will honor its contracts with western companies, tone down the embarrassing behavior, and add a few layers of velvet to its iron fisted domestic rule. If in six months the new leader has kept the first two promises, I expect the response to be a shrug, "Well, two out of three ain't bad."
1. Yes, I know, it's not uncharacteristic. Let's call that sentence an exercise in poetic licence.


  1. I heard, I believe it was John Kerry, defending this action and talking about how he had met with a leader of the opposition who seemed like a perfectly nice and responsible sort of fellow. When challenged that he was describing one of many, and that even if his impressions were correct they may not be representative, he insisted that as this person had been chosen by the other dissident leaders to speak on their behalf it was fair to assume that he was representative. I guess it's obvious that if you're hostile to U.S. interests or goals, you're going to be completely honest, pick somebody to speak for you who will share the unvarnished truth, and alienate the military powers you want to act on your behalf. It would be wrong, and thus impossible, to engage in what amounts to disingenuous P.R. spin - it would never happen, right?

  2. Realistically speaking, it's difficult to imagine an outcome to this intervention that does not either result in the current government retaining power, or some form of "power sharing agreement" with insurgent groups that will be difficult to enforce even if a UN peacekeeping force is put into Libya.

    Giving due consideration to Kerry's statements, I don't think the west really wants to turn over power to insurgent groups about which we know next to nothing even if they have a decent spokesperson. It's not clear at this point that they're competent to govern, even if we ultimately find their ideology acceptable. It also seems likely that a compelled truce with the current government, post-Qadaffi, won't last any longer than the western or UN military presence, nor would any de facto partition put into effect by virtue of the military presence.


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