08.22.11 6:42 PM ET
5 Great Opinion Pieces on Libya
Libyans deserve a moment to rest on their laurels and enjoy their success—but it had better be a quick moment, Faisal Al Yafai writes in Abu Dhabi’s The National. Yafai goes on to deliver a lengthy litany of the struggles the country will face. “These are dangerous times for Tripoli and for Libya. Dangerous in a small sense, because there are lots of hyped-up, excited young men with guns on the streets of Tripoli, far from their home in the east. Dangerous, too, because the regime has not yet surrendered. There are pockets of resistance in Tripoli, many heavily armed, and unknown snipers.” And that’s just the short term: the days ahead will see the fractious Transitional National Council tested; a new template for government demanded; and potentially, Gaddafi’s judicial fate decided. Yafai’s advice? “Having come this far, keep calm and keep going.”
The world’s collective joy is quickly being tempered by bleak predictions about the future of Libya. But that pessimism is unwarranted, argues Brian Whitaker, a former Middle East editor for The Guardian: “The next few months in Libya are not going to be easy—only a fool would imagine that—but nor are the grimmest predictions likely to be fulfilled. Libya is unlikely to turn into another Iraq, let alone another Afghanistan.” The arrest of Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam suggests the TNC wants measured justice, not summary retribution; the rebels, though quarrelsome, may not be as divided as the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan; and NATO’s bombardment has destroyed the military—creating the blank slate that Egyptian revolters didn’t enjoy. And Libya boasts vast oil reserves and untapped tourism potential, meaning there’s little prospect of economic ruin undermining progress. Things may be every bit as rosy as they seemed at first blush after all.
Middle East historian and blogger Juan Cole is beside himself with pleasure at the fall of Tripoli. In addition to his 10 myths about Gaddafi’s regime, Cole makes two analytical points about the moment at hand on his blog, juancole.com. The first is that the way Tripoli fell—suddenly and swiftly—proves Gaddafi had completely lost the support of the civilian population, and in particular the working class. Their silence was an indication of their repression; as soon as rebels reached striking distance, they reared up and threw off the regime. That’s encouraging for national unity in the aftermath. And Cole—an outspoken critic of the Iraq War during the Bush administration—says the result in Libya shows that intervention is sometimes warranted. “You can’t protect all victims of mass murder everywhere all the time. But where you can do some good, you should do it, even if you cannot do all good,” Cole writes.
In contrast to Cole’s bullishness on bombing, Cairo-based blogger Issandr El Amrani worries that Gaddafi’s fall may send the wrong message to the West. “As happy as I am about last night’s developments, I fear that the fall of Qadhafi is already being spun to sanctify the principle of humanitarian interventionism, which I am against, after its misuse in Iraq,” Amrani writes. NATO’s attacks worked—but they set a dangerous precedent by overstepping their legal authority. And now, with some commentators calling for boots on the ground to “stabilize” Libya, it appears the world is fast forgetting the lessons of the Mesopotamian misadventure. “[The] idea of foreign troops in Libya at this stage, when Libyans are taking ownership of their country, is mind-boggling,” he writes.
Blogging for Andrew Sullivan at The Dish, Zach Beauchamp homes in on an interesting dilemma on the American right. Few are willing to argue that Gaddafi—a longtime fly in the American foreign-policy ointment—ought to have been allowed to remain (David Pryce-Jones is the rare commentator to argue that the future may well be worse than the status quo ante). But many are frantically concerned about the threat of Islamists taking power, and charge that the U.S. and its allies were too hasty in taking the rebels’ side and aren’t sufficiently ready to counter jihadists in the transitional government. Beauchamp sees more than the clash of civilizations at work—he thinks it’s the domestic partisan clash that’s driving these pundits’ takes. “I almost pity the cognitive dissonance at play here,” he says. “Toppling Middle East dictators with the U.S. military is obviously good, but Obama did it, so it must be bad.”