Libya and the specter of the unknown

By Reza Sanati

Just as the fall of Kabul and Baghdad ignited a spate of jubilation and self-vindication from proponents of intervention in those countries, the fall of Tripoli has reincarnated this pattern, both from humanitarian interventionists and their U.S.-interest minded counterparts. And now that the Qaddafi regime has completely eroded, even skeptics of the war are grudgingly offering recommendations which, they argue, will enhance the situation in Libya for the Transitional National Council (TNC) and Western interests.

Nevertheless, beneath the veneer of what is now touted as a success for the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East, lies the severity of unanswered questions related to the future of Libya for at least the next 5-10 years.

These uncertainties, much like those which resulted after the collapse of the Iraqi Baathist enterprise or the Afghan Taliban, need to be dissected and openly addressed.

For now, the most glaring queries about the situation in Libya are as follows:

1) Does the TNC actually represent the rebel fighters on the ground? In other words, will the rebels, who have essentially been armed and trained by NATO advisers, remain loyal to the TNC – which, by the way, is largely made up of former officials within the Qaddafi power structure? In recent days, the Islamist strand of rebel fighters has openly called the prior assumption of a united Libyan opposition into question.
2) If, for whatever reason, the answer to the previous question is not a definitive “yes”, what then? Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations, initially an opponent of the intervention, has recently come out in favor of foreign troops on the ground, ostensibly to prevent chaos. Yet if one assumes that the TNC and the rebels are united, meaning the former have functional control over the latter, Haass’’s prescription would seem redundant, unless the TNC and rebel fighters were only linked by the tentative and tactical goal of removing Qaddafi.
3) Equally important and related to the prior two, considering that small arms have now proliferated throughout Libya proper, is the question of how disarmament of the civilian fighters will be carried out. If there is no broad-ranging political understanding between the commanding rebels on the ground and the TNC, then more conflict may be looming. More probable though – assuming that an agreement between the rebels and the TNC is not reached – is a scenario where the rebels try to bypass the higher echelon of the TNC, replacing them with officials that are more representative of the fighters on the ground. What will NATO’s response be in such a circumstance?
4) It is estimated that the post-uprising sanctions upon Qaddafi’s regime left approximately $160 billions dollars of Libyan assets abroad frozen. The Atlantic has rightly stated that due to the “many layers of national and international law” Libya will have to go through a “long, tedious legal struggle” to recover those funds. However, some funds have recently been released this past week under “humanitarian grounds”, but only a pittance of the overall sum. If the real goal is to help the Libyan people’s cause, would it not make sense to place the releasing of these assets on a much faster track? While the Atlantic argued that certain aspects of international law and intrastate “red-tape” will make it difficult for Libya to obtain the frozen assets, the country’s extraordinary circumstances would render the releasing of those funds to the TNC in a much smoother and faster pace far more justifiable. So why the delay?
5) Lastly, what will happen if there is chaos? Fears of Baghdad 2.0 have always been present and if there is no political arrangement that is credible and sustainable for the population at large, the possibility for low-grade and sustained violence will be quite high. This dynamic could invite far more intervention than what has already been witnessed.

The downfall of Muammar Qaddafi has brought hope to millions who suffered under his rule, but his departure from the political scene was by no means natural. It therefore remains to be seen whether out of an inorganic situation, a new, indigenous political framework within Libya can be constructed and sustained. If it cannot, then even more questions are bound to arise.

Guest Contributor

Articles by guest writers.



  1. When a jet bringing American tourists home from Paris is blown to pieces by a surface-to-air missile “lost” during the overthrow of Qaddaffi, will anyone care?

  2. Jon, sure, only this time we will railroad some Iranian as the culprit. That would be fitting as Iran is most likely responsible for Lockerby

Comments are closed.