Tuesday, July 29, 2014

who lost Libya?

There's an interesting pair of analyses this week regarding Libya. Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic, a self-proclaimed skeptic of intervention, cites the many triumphalist comments after the 2011 intervention that ousted Qaddhafi but still haven't succeeded in creating a stable government.
Most of all, I am struck by the willingness of prominent interventionists to have publicly declared their instincts in Libya vindicated when the country's future remained very much in doubt, as if they couldn't conceive of an intervention that would result in more lives lost than the alternative even as the possibility of that outcome was extremely plausible. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Washington, D.C. foreign-policy establishment seemed to perform no better at foreseeing how events would unfold than non-expert commentators who simply applied Murphy's Law. At the very most charitable, the common interventionist claim that Libya vindicated them in their dispute with non-interventionists was wildly premature. Perhaps the lesson to take from the NATO campaign is that even the most thoughtful interventionists have no idea how geopolitical events will unfold.
At the Washington Post's Monkey Cage, FredericWehrey, a Libya expert at the Carnegie Endowment, blames the failure on the lack of a strong enough central government faction or coalition.
Outside observers are often tempted toward a one-dimensional reading of Libya’s turmoil. It is easy to trace Libya’s breakdown as a political struggle between Islamists and liberals: The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party and more rejectionist, jihadi factions like Ansar al-Sharia versus the “liberals” under the National Forces Alliance (NFA). Another level of conflict seems to be regional: A contest between the towns of Zintan and Misrata for economic power and political leverage in Tripoli, or amongst federalists and their opponents in the long-marginalized east. Yet an additional layer is between remnants of the old order – ex-security men, long-serving and retired officers, former Gaddafi-era technocrats – and a newer, younger cadre of self-proclaimed “revolutionaries,” often Islamists, who were either exiled and/or imprisoned during the dictator’s rule.
Elements of all these dimensions are at play, but none of them alone has sufficient explanatory power. At its core, Libya’s violence is an intensely local affair, stemming from deeply entrenched patronage networks battling for economic resources and political power in a state afflicted by a gaping institutional vacuum and the absence of a central arbiter with a preponderance of force. There is not one faction strong enough to coerce or compel the others.
I think both authors have valid points: the overthrow of Qaddhafi was a textbook case of multinational intervention for largely humanitarian purposes; but the international community lacked the will, the vision, and the capability to install a new government.  Political leaders are often short-sighted once their initial goals seem to have been achieved as they lurch to new crises.  That surely didn't work in Libya.

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