True, some freedom fighters have not yet put down their weapons, but there have been no major clashes among the militias that helped free Libya. Moreover, Libya is closely following the roadmap for transition to democracy the National Transitional Council set during the war. Across Libya, there is near unanimous support for holding democratic elections. Several cities, Misrata for instance, have already coordinated and held elections on their own which were peaceful and widely regarded as free and fair. And, these elections did not result in victory for Islamic parties intent on installing Sharia law.
On a recent visit, government buildings in Tripoli were blocked by more than 40 garbage trucks overflowing with garbage. When asked what they were protesting, protestors argued they had nowhere to dump garbage. Why? Because Libyan citizens living near sites where garbage had always been dumped were demonstrating and had blocked access to those sites.
Democracy in action has not yet translated into a better life. Libya’s transitional government does not feel empowered to make significant change and is led by people new to governing. Gaddafi’s 42-year iron-fisted rule left behind few institutions democracies need to be successful. Libya needs an independent judiciary, civil society organizations, anti-corruption watchdogs, a free press, new laws to protect individual rights and a transparent program for infrastructure development. These efforts can be supported by the U.S. and NATO, but mostly funded by the Libyan government, as it has significant revenues.
But little impact can be made by the U.S. when it has sent just an ambassador and a handful of diplomats, but little in terms of a plan to provide assistance. Europe has similarly understaffed its missions. And, the UN Mission, like most in transitional countries, is geared to helping high level political negotiations, not providing on-the-ground training, support and guidance.
The youth in Libya are a key. More than 70% of Libyans are under the age of 34. The young generation won the war. Students dropped their books, took to the streets and manned the frontlines. They were pro-Western, plugged into world events and connected to each other through social media. Yet, they are disaffected in post-war Libya. In a culture where age is respected over youth, they have little role in the transition. New institutions need to incorporate the youth, provide jobs and encourage them to participate in politics.
The discontent in Libya should not be dismissed as geographical or tribal. Libya is facing real issues which countries face during transition. How do you transform government so that it is responsive to the people? How do you use resources more transparently to improve daily life? What is the role of federalism? How do you empower local governments?
These questions need answers and the U.S. and other NATO countries can help. The U.S. spent more than $1 Billion on the air campaign to save the Libyan people from massacre by Gaddafi's forces. Let's spend a fraction of that to make sure the post-Gaddafi transition is successful. The cost of failing to do so is clear. After we helped the Afghans defeat Soviet rule in the 80's, we ignored their transition. Look at the result there.
Tafuri is a partner at Patton Boggs, former State Department Rule of Law Coordinator, and serves as legal counsel to the new government of Libya.