Thursday, February 24, 2011

It is very unclear that Libya will have a good future after Kaddafi

As the Libyan civil war grows in violence every day--meaning Col. Kaddafi has been more and more ruthless trying to remain on his gilded throne--there have been suggestions floated in the United States that we ought to get involved, that we ought to side with the rebellion in order to help push Kaddafi from power.

Paul Wolfowitz, for example, wants the "imposition of a NATO-supported 'no fly' zone over Libya to halt further bombing by Qaddafi’s forces."

I'm sure Mr. Wolfowitz is well-intentioned. However, I think the risk that the rebellion there is seen as a coup by foreign powers is far greater than the risk of letting the Libyans defeat Kaddafi on their own. If the rebels are judged to be tools of foreign powers, then Kaddafi will gain strength from his nationalists.

It's possible that this war will go on for a long time and will cost a lot of lives and destroy a lot of that nation's infrastructure. That, I am sure, is what Wolfowitz would like to avoid. But I think it is far more dangerous than just letting things play out.

What ultimately comes of this war is hard to know. I doubt in the end Col. Kaddafi can win. However, once he is dead--it looks like he won't go into exile--there are a great number of possible outcomes I can fathom, many of which are bad for us (and probably bad for the Libyan people):

1. Dissolution. It's entirely possible that Libya breaks up into multiple, tribal-based smaller countries. If that happens, there would be a chance that those new states would fight each other over borders and minerals;

2. An Islamic state. Col. Kaddafi is now claiming that Osama bin Laden is the force behind this rebellion.

In a rambling discourse, he blamed the uprising on the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, saying he had drugged the people, giving them “hallucinogenic pills in their coffee with milk, like Nescafe.”

I doubt in any country anywhere at any time there is a genuine desire among a majority of citizens for an Islamic Republic where dirty old mullahs hold sway. However, in the absence of truly democratic parties, it's always possible in the Muslim world that Islamists are the best organized and most ruthless opponents of the regime in charge. If a vacuum arises, no one but the Islamists may be able to fill it;

3. Chaos. Somalia is a fine example of this. It's been 20 years since they had a central government which actually ruled that country. It's entirely possible that no one group will be able to take charge of Libya after Kaddafi is gone. What could follow is the rule of petty warlords over small patches of territory, each, like a mafia godfather, ruling with violence over his own people and fighting endlessly against other gangsters. In that scenario, Libya no longer produces much oil, and the standard of living drops off considerably, even from its current pathetic state;

4. A new strongman. It may take a decade or more for one to emerge, but I think this is a likely outcome in Libya. A new strongman, who personalizes power much like Kaddafi did, will be able to rule over the entire country by installing loyalists everywhere at the local level and quickly destroying anyone who would challenge him. No strongman rulers are ever entirely benevolent, but if Libya is lucky they might end up with one who advances that country, creating a vibrant market, investing in better public infrastructure and improving their basic public education. On the other hand, he could be a despot, just like Kaddafi has been for 42 years;

5. A democracy. Libya lacks just about everything you need to succeed as a democracy. It is poor and full of illiterates. It has no capitalist middle class. It has no tradition of democracy and civil rights. It is divided along tribal lines. And, because the people are Muslims, it is culturally not geared toward democracy. The people expect their leaders to be authoritarian. I don't expect a democratic outcome. However, if it comes, it may be because nothing else would work. Maybe the Libyans realize that a strongman is apt to end up being another brutal dictator. Maybe the Libyan people love Libya as a country and don't want to live as tribesmen. Maybe the Libyans have seen how horrible Islamism is in Iran and Saudi Arabia and everywhere it has been tried and will reject that as an option. Hopefully they will behave collectively and avoid the chaos of an anarchic state.

A best case scenario for Libyan "democracy" would be free and fair elections which put in a parliament which is broadly representative; and gives Libya a president whose powers are checked by the parliament. I expect they would have to start off in a socialist manner, making sure that the country's oil riches are collectively owned and serve the best interests of the infrastructure of their entire country. In time, they need to encourage the development of capitalist investment and better basic education. Hopefully they can figure out a way to respect the Islamic religion without letting the religious impose themselves on the state.

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