Libya, the endgame

The disparate elements that make up Libya

So Colonel Gaddafi has lost, it is just a matter of time to his departure day. Militarily the ground forces against him are singularly unimpressive and fire most of their ammunition into the air, however his own forces are even less impressive and choose running over fighting. However it is not the ground war that is shaping the ultimate resolution. Gaddafi is now a total pariah shunned by the international community, he has zero income, is embargoed, his personal assets and those of the country are largely frozen, there are shortages of commodities appearing in his territory, much of the oil infrastructure is in the hands of the rebels and most of his own people want him removed.

Add to the above the every day reality that the allies can blow up anything they want any time they want using total air superiority and his demise is inevitable. This could come from a palace coup d’état as those around him realise where their best interests lie, it could come from the rebels knocking on the front door of his tent or it could come when he accidentally gets in the way of some collateral damage. So it is a matter of when, not if. And really this could be later today or in a month’s time, this conflict has had many twists and turns and will continue to do so.

So the world is now trying to organise what they are going to do about a Gaddafi-less Libya. Today in London there is a meeting of all members of the military alliance, the UN, Nato, the African Union and the Arab League. They are in the luxurious position that Libya will have lots of oil money to rebuild itself and you wonder if they would be so enthusiastic if this were not the case. And of course what happens in Libya will be ultimately decided by the Libyans, not by this meeting in London.

So what are the potential outcomes?

  • Libya becomes a pluralistic, secular, “Western” democracy. For this there is the precedent and shining example of Turkey and it is no surprise that the Turks are having significant political input into the whole matter.
  • Libya becomes a sham democracy run by a corrupt dictatorship. Like Russia and quite a few other countries. History tells us that this is the most likely outcome, a strong man emerges who gets to the top and then abuses the system to stay there.
  • Libya returns to being a dictatorship but with a leader who is less unacceptable. This could happen, after all it has been the natural state of affairs for Libya and most African and Arab countries for a very long time. What makes now different?
  • Libya fragments into multiple states. A large, artificially created and strongly tribal country, this is a big possibility as local strongmen  have enough power to hold onto their territory but insufficient power to grab the whole country.
  • Libya becomes an Islamic Sharīʿah state like Saudi Arabia where most basic human rights are suppressed in the name of a religion.
  • The lunatic religious nutters take over. This is very highly possible in the Yemen. Obviously they will also be working very hard to achieve this out of the chaos of Libya and there will be a very small minority of Libyans who want it. This is the number one fear of the West.
  • Descent into anarchic chaos. This is possible because Gaddafi has always suppressed debate and opposition, so there are no people or structures that have any experience or power base to replace him. Add in all that oil money and the disparate interests that abound and this becomes a real possibility.

My feeling is that the outcome will have a lot more to do with what happens on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube than what happens in London, where the delegates each will be pursuing their own vested interests. The example of Iraq has shown us that we are pretty useless at nation building and that trying to impose our political philosophy on a country not prepared for it is not a straightforward matter. As Stalin once said about the communist system in Poland: “It is like putting a saddle on a cow”.

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