What May Come from the Hurt Revolution in Libya
Previously published on Mar 23, 2011
Where mass protest turns into violent revolt, the prospect for militant activities is far greater. In the case of Libya, as well as other countries, violent reprisal by the Qaddafi regime could still inspire the rise of new militant causes throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The instability created by such activities would lead to human rights issues far beyond what is currently seen in the region while undermining social and economic development. Despite belated action to establish a no-fly zone, the International Community has likely overshot the time window that would have allowed the uprising to be resolved with minimal violence as Qaddafi has done much to harm the opposition.
Unfortunately, the fall of any regime leaves a power vacuum that will be filled by anarchy and massacre in the worst of circumstances. Lebanon serves as an example where a recovery dynamic undesirable to Western interests continues to fluctuate and creates problems for the region while Somalia represents a failure that has yet to recover in any sense. If a proper transition is shepherded by some credible institution, the growing pains of change can be minimized. Ideally, elements of the outgoing regime or a broad coalition of citizens might step up to rebuild their civilization when critical violence is absent. Where a population in question will embrace intervention as a whole, outside authorities can assist, just as we saw with the Kosovo territory during the 1990's.
Thanks to the quick exodus of Ben Ali and the strength of its governing institutions, however, the risk of fracture in Tunisia is low so long as the democratization process progresses smoothly. In Egypt, the belated departure of Hosni Mubarak ratcheted up tensions and expectations, thus protestors continue to aggressively pursue their demands instead of trusting in the process. Fortunately, the Egyptian military and the People do appear to respect each other enough to manage potential points of conflict. Regrettably, Muammar Al-Qaddafi chose to protect his regime by stomping out revolt with violence against barely equipped protestors who picked up arms in self-defense. No matter how long he resists NATO lead intervention, his legacy will be defined by its violent end.
The sooner stability can be reestablished in Libya, or what fractions might emerge over time, the sooner a legitimate power(s) can be formed and the less likely violence will become a prevailing trait of the culture. Had the International Community acted before Qaddafi began to reassert his authority, i.e. crushing his airpower and operational capacity, there would have been a risk of his regime collapsing into a militant, insurgent faction. Then again, this risk exists anytime a regime collapses as seen in Afghanistan. What a belated response, or a failed response, could ultimately create is a demoralized opposition that might grow so fractured infighting develops or one that might fail to rise up to embrace regime change when the time is right, just as in Iraq.
Even without intervention, the rise of democracy in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt likely meant crushing the revolution in Libya would not have ended the growing revolt. Qaddafi may have sufficient force to beat down dissenters, yet his failure to embrace elements of the coalescing opposition would have only forced them to use the weapons of the weak against his regime, i.e. terrorism. Considering Qaddafi appears to have rallied his forces with lies of foreign invasion, he would have found it rather difficult to maintain solid control over his territory, especially the oil rich Eastern half. As such, his regime could have probably held on for some time, but instability would certainly have continued with rebellion turning into a more chronic problem for Qaddafi.
Furthermore, it is important to remember instability is a contagion that only spreads with time when unchecked. Ultimately, the situation could lead to a greater need for intervention that will either be too costly or take years to resolve as the US experienced in both Iraq and Afghanistan. At such a point, the fear would be instability spreading to neighboring countries, which happen to supply the world its oil. While containment would be the most prudent option, the consequences would be great and success would not be certain by any measure. In Africa, for example, the International Community sees entire regions where weak, corrupt governments have affected the development of the entire continent. Consequently, a no-fly zone is a practical, yet uncertain, course.
Then again, the Libyan crisis differs from the situation in Afghanistan while it has yet to progress to the point where Iraq destabilized. Like Iraq and Afghanistan, however, NATO and Arab intervention cannot be used to simply impose order as we do not know the culture well enough to do so nor can any outsiders insert legitimate government. What limited, well-defined action takes place in Libya must focus on disarming Qaddafi while failure in Libya has to be an option as escalation is not. If the People of Libya want freedom, they must rebuild their Country once we help defend them. We might remove road blocks in their pursuit of peace and stability through our support, but developing crises across the globe dictate an extremely limited commitment of military assets.