Where to, Muammar? What next?

By Matthew M. Reed

Libyan rebels have overcome the learning curve. Their successes multiply by the day. Thanks to NATO sorties, increased coordination, and Qaddafi’s ever-evaporating revenue stream, Tripoli is now more vulnerable than ever. Time for some tough questions.

What will happen to Qaddafi? He wants to stay. What we don’t know is whether or not the Transitional National Council (TNC) will allow it. Recent statements haven’t clarified much. On July 3, Reuters reported that Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebel council, said, “If he desires to stay in Libya, we will determine the place and it will be under international supervision. And there will be international supervision of all his movements.” The following day, Jalil stated the exact opposite. “There is absolutely no current or future possibility for Qaddafi to remain in Libya,” he said. In another statement, TNC spokesman Jalal el-Gallal said Qaddafi could stay but only if he resigned and faced prosecution.

If Qaddafi does face prosecution it won’t be at the Hague. On June 27, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Qaddafi and others. I’m hoping the ICC announcement was timed in order to increase pressure from within his inner circle, and was not simply a toothless measure intended to bolster the ICC’s moral credentials. Prior reports hinted at high-level interactions between Western governments and officials close to Qaddafi. In effect, the warrants limited Qaddafi’s options for exile, and one would hope fewer options would afford Qaddafi’s closest associates some amount of leverage, especially if they were encouraged by the West that the “end game” is fast approaching.

If the rebels win big Qaddafi won’t see the Hague because Libyans will exact punishment themselves, as they should. Qaddafi might, because of a combination of desperation, pride, and delusion, accept exile within Libya–but the TNC would have to decide where they stand and where he can pitch his retirement tent. This too would prevent the ICC from administering justice. NATO member states might arrange for his exile, worried that even in his weakened state he could outlast their political will. In that case he would avoid the Hague by lying low without fearing extradition.

There’s always the Mussolini treatment too.

What will a post-revolutionary government look like? I’d like to hear feedback on this. My understanding is that Libya will need to build institutions from scratch. Qaddafi was himself an institution of government, the only one of consequence even. Some are convinced the TNC has the talent and demeanor required for the task but the demands will still be monumental. In fact, they may face the most daunting challenge of any country considering how much Qaddafi warped Libya with his toxic cult of personality. Democracy will be the end result but the balance struck between judiciary, legislative, and executive privilege is an open question. The Libyans simply haven’t gotten that far in the process yet. Egypt is struggling to figure out their formula right now; Tunisia is not addressing these questions with any more success; and Iraq’s eight-year head-start is still plagued with uncertainty.

What next for the international community? Libya’s civil war may not end with Qaddafi’s demise. Peacekeeping forces may be necessary. Given the drama surrounding NATO’s intervention, dwindling budgets on both sides of the Atlantic, and little certainty about the mission’s purpose and end date, a peacekeeping force will likely include parties that played no part NATO’s intervention.

US legislators will not allow ground troops to be deployed. And the President often repeats two points: no American has died in Libya and the US is no longer serving in a combat role (unless you count drones). Sending American peacekeepers would require congress to relent and Obama to turn on a dime–arguing instead that ground forces are needed and the risk to their lives is worth it. It’s election season in the US again. That settles that.

Few parties would be more willing. The African Union has its hands full with missions in Sudan and Somalia. Britain and France–the loudest interventionists now tasked with paying more than lip service to the cause of freedom–now complain of the strain on their militaries. And the Arab League, still finding its footing during a time of unrest, will most likely sit this one out; after all, they provided the blanket of legitimacy in the first place and many member states are dealing with more pressing matters at home. Good luck enlisting China or Russia. Both feel betrayed at the moment, having allowed the campaign to start by abstaining from voting against it. The mission now seeks regime change rather than a humbler humanitarian resolution. This is not their mess. They won’t clean up after it.

There’s been some talk of Australia and Germany leading a peacekeeping mission. But all the major heavyweights are busy occupying other countries (US, Britain, France) or are too bitter (China, Russia).

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