Five myths about Libya

1. The Libyan rebels have won. If or when Moammar Gadhafi is captured or killed, it will be NATO firepower that has achieved it with the help of foreign training of the Libyan ragtag rebel army. Even if Gadhafi is ousted, he has sufficient armed supporters to carry on a civil war. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell famously said before the 2003 invasion of Iraq: “If you break it, you own it.” France, Britain and other NATO states have made it clear that they will remain “partners” with the new Libyan authorities and they will make sure that future Libyan policy is in line with their strategic objectives. With chaos looking the likeliest scenario for at least the short term, statements by President Obama and David Cameron, the British prime minister, that the future will be “Libyan owned” ring hollow.


2. The outcome is a vindication of Obama strategy. This remains to be seen, as the cries of victory against the Libyan tyrant could prove to have been premature. In agreeing to armed intervention in a country that holds no strategic vital interests for America, Obama was persuaded to “lead from behind,” and allowed France and Britain to take the dominant role while the U.S. took a back seat within NATO. What is clearly part of the Obama doctrine is the recourse to a multilateral approach — via the U.N. and coalition-building. However, in the light of the bitter recriminations from Russia and non-permanent U.N. Security Council members over what they see as the perversion of U.N. Resolution 1973 to authorize regime change, that route is unlikely to be used with any success again. What is more, it could be that other states with mischief in mind will look at the back-seat role played by Washington, and conclude that the United States is weak.

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3. The NATO role sets a model of “intervention lite.” Are people seriously suggesting that the NATO intervention could be a model for Syria? In the case of Libya, the U.N. only took action based on a specific request from the Arab League, which demanded a “no fly” zone. It took the league until this month before its 22 members expressed “grave concern” about the five-month Syrian crackdown, and they are unlikely to call for regime change at an emergency meeting on Syria Saturday. Meanwhile, Russia is threatening to veto a U.N. resolution on Syria sanctions. Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said “this is not the sort of place you want to tamper with” for geostrategic reasons.

4. There will be no “boots on the ground.” The U.N. resolution that authorized a no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians explicitly excluded “a foreign occupation force of any kind.” NATO leaders have consistently ruled out “boots on the ground” — however, it is clear that the special forces of Britain, France, Jordan and Qatar have long been inside Libya.
 
5. The new Libyan government needs a massive injection of aid. France has announced a big donor conference on Sept. 1 and one has already taken place in Qatar. This is a big worry. It is not clear to me why an oil-producing country like Libya requires more than the unfreezing of Gadhafi’s assets. Members of the National Transitional Council are former ministers with experience of government. Plus there are the lessons of Iraq and the billions of dollars poured into the country for the reconstruction that were stolen. The council might have been united in their goal of ending the 42-year rule of the Libyan leader, but once he is gone, they must demonstrate their commitment to the welfare of their own people and the stability of their government.