We are now seeing the final chapters in the Libyan revolution which are playing out with growing disquiet and concerns about the evolution of a new society and the fledgling government. Observers are now looking closely at indications of the likely way forward. They know it is up to the new government to build a national coalition and bring stability and security to the nation. However, there has been a spate of reports recently about the influence of more extreme Islamic elements trying to gain greater political control. The urgent need to isolate these elements must be high on the National Transitional Council’s agenda along with widening its representation, dampening down tribal rivalries, and disarming civilians.
There is some good news in the advance of rebel forces towards areas controlled by the old Gaddafi regime. Also the new government is starting to get some of the money that is being held abroad. Further, there are efforts underway to recover the oil infrastructure and exports which will generate significant income to rebuild the nation. As noted here before, the immediate employment of out of work citizens in public works and other projects is vital to stability and cutting back on unrest. However, some observers are seeing splits in the governing council and regional divisions.
During the recent visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the capital, they received a warm welcome. They said they would continue to provide military and economic support to the new government. They acknowledged that the fight was not over and Gaddafi was still at large. The visits were efforts by the British and the French to cement ties with both the Libyan people and the new authorities. While they must have hoped for economic cooperation and trade benefits, they said there was “no prior agreement” and disclaimed any desire for “preferences.” My guess, however, is that given the recent history, the coalition partners will likely gain an advantage especially over those who were not supportive like China and Russia or even Germany. But Islamic members of the coalition, like Turkey and the Arab League, are likely to want to participate in new economic relations with the emerging Libya.
But the most important issue is still the composition and the unity of the new government. It is hoped that America will strengthen its diplomatic representation and also establish a strong development assistance effort aimed at not providing money but technical assistance and military and civilian training. Private investment is another place that America can make a contribution. The key is to make Libya a model for other countries of the Arab Spring still in their own difficult transitions.
This is also a time of starting to ratchet down somewhat the purely military efforts in the coming weeks and turn more to “nation building.” Some are noting that the visits reflect a key transition in trying to draw a line, reduce high military costs and a kind of “partial completion of mission.” The question is will the NATO nations, including the U.S. blow the opportunity of the good will they have gained?
By Harry C. Blaney III.