Preparing for Post-Gadhafi Libya
AUGUST 21, 2011, 5:26 P.M. ET
Preparing for Post-Gadhafi Libya
A power vacuum is not inevitable.
By GEORGE GRANT
Moammar Gadhafi is surrounded in Tripoli. Over the weekend, rebel forces secured the town of Zawiyah, a strategically vital staging post 30 miles west of Tripoli, on the coastal road connecting the Libyan capital with Tunisia. Last Monday, the rebels took Garyan, which controls the highway leading south to Algeria. To the east lies Misrata, now also under the rebels' control, and beyond that Benghazi and eastern Libya, which have been free of Gadhafi since February. To Tripoli's north is the sea and an impenetrable maritime blockade.
By almost any measure, Gadhafi's days as "Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya" appear to be numbered. But with no exit strategy, regime diehards will see no choice but to keep on fighting, and rebel leaders privately admit that attempting a forceful takeover of Tripoli could prove disastrous. Fortunately, that is not their plan. Instead the rebels' strategy has been to encourage a collapse of the regime from within, or at least a popular uprising in Tripoli itself that will force Colonel Gadhafi from power. Various media outlets were reporting yesterday that this uprising has now begun.
So far the strategy seems to be working. On Friday former Libyan Prime Minister Abdessalam Jalloud, who helped bring Gadhafi to power, defected and fled to Italy. Also last week, Interior Minister Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah and long-time Gadhafi ally and Libyan army commander Massoud Abdelhafid both fled to Egypt. The week before, Wissam Miland, a captured colonel being held by rebels as a prisoner of war in Misrata, told Agence France-Presse that his former master is holding his embattled military together through mercenary-enforced martial law.
Facing seemingly imminent victory, the mood in the opposition camp is upbeat. The same cannot be said though for many of the Western players in this desert struggle. Last week the Times of London quoted an anonymous Benghazi-based diplomat warning that "catastrophic success" is "the phrase now being generally used in NATO. . . . And even if it's not catastrophic it will be chaotic success because the opposition is not ready to govern and there will be a vacuum if Gadhafi goes."
This dismal prognosis is premature. A post-Gadhafi Libya can certainly succeed, and there is every reason to believe that what comes after Gadhafi will be a marked improvement over what existed during his 42 years in power. If the rebels abide by their plan to work with former regime figures and incorporate non-criminal elements of the existing security architecture into any post-Gadhafi settlement, a power vacuum is not inevitable. Likewise, the international community must heed the lessons so painfully learned in Iraq and Afghanistan and be comprehensive in delivering the assistance necessary to develop and consolidate the transitional government's capabilities.
Like any other people, Libyans aspire to live under a representative government, one that respects their basic rights and serves them instead of the other way around. They will soon have the chance to turn that aspiration into a reality. It's time to get ready.
Mr. Grant is director for Global Security at the Henry Jackson Society and author of "Towards a Post-Gaddafi Libya," a briefing on the conflict and potential outcomes published in April.