Next Steps for Libya’s Transitional National Council and for the Libyan People’s Future?

We are getting closer to seeing the testing moment of whether or not the Transitional National Council (TNC) will be able to work together as a stable interim government rather than a rather fractious fighting rebel force. They have gained recognition by a wide group of nations including now the U.S. and the Arab League, which sets the stage for external help.

The proof will be if the TNC’s efforts successfully create a better future for its people and provide the basis for promoting reconciliation and democracy as well as create democracy and prosperity for that nation.  Certainly, they have the advantage of some major resources in their oil producing capacity (about 3% of world production) and their now “embargoed” massive Libyan assets which can soon be made available for useful investment in the country.  They also have a fairly high literacy rate unlike what we see in Afghanistan.

Equally, we will be seeing if the NATO powers and the Arab allies will be able to provide the vital necessary assistance in a timely way and in forms that immediately impact the lives, well being, and especially employment–particularly of the youths of that nation, who are now so armed and engaged that they present both an element of instability and a promising source of talent to rebuild their now fairly devastated nation.

Libya needs an economic plan not dissimilar to what Obama would have liked in America if the Republicans had not vetoed it and thus prolonged our sad economic decline we are now seeing. But clearly, for Libya, a real stimulus is just what the doctor ordered to achieve growth and economic renewal.

We made some major mistakes in Iraq and in Afghanistan regarding getting their economies and security systems established and working.  Let’s not make the same mistake while the Arab world is watching and its implications loom large for the future of the “Arab Spring” and, thus, the evolution of the Arab world towards modernity and democracy.

There are plenty of “shovel ready” projects in rebuilding the damage that six months of civil war have created. (Just like there are in America with our own deteriorated infrastructure where the government can employ millions for massive long term national benefits.)  In Libya this can, in the end, all be paid for by oil money.  (In the US it can be paid for by our own increased productivity and revenue plus savings from less imported oil and fewer unemployment checks and destitute families.)  But it requires the full mobilization of both national resources and help from outside experts, companies, and international organizations with expertise in rebuilding countries that have experienced major damage. It means massive educational and training programs that lead to real jobs. Such an effort is likely to make building national unity easier when all have a stake in success.  The coming six months of victory and rebuilding will be even more important than the six months of civil war!

Comments invited!

By Harry C. Blaney III.

A Region on Fire: The “Arab Spring” Moves to “Arab Summer” and Heats UP

The Arab Spring has morphed into an “Arab Summer” of heated uncertainty and brutal conflict and soon will transition into an ‘Arab Fall.’  The “Arab Fall” will likely be the key time when agreed transition actions, conflicts, and elections will come to a critical stage and outcomes a bit more known. I suspect that the fall’s events will be major in determining to some extent the true direction of the Arab upheavals. But the summer has demonstrated the risks and uncertainties of the transformation.  Thus, we have little time to really help with this critical transition.

We will look at some of the current changes we are seeing, but the question of what will become of all the unrest and upheavals and the still fragile accomplishments of the “Arab Spring” remains. The question especially is what should America’s response, and that of our friends and allies, be?

First is the cradle of the movement in Tunisia where, for various reasons, there is more hope than despair but a still fragile and changing situation. Here democratic forces are still responding.  We are likely to see party formations and preparation for elections over the coming months, and the response of the current transition government will be key.  Here we need to find a multilateral framework which can help promote civic society, democracy, transparency and, conduct election monitoring for the Tunisians. They are “the center” of the North African “upheaval sandwich” with Egypt on one side and Libya on the other—all unstable and continuing to go through dangerous change.

Second is the most important event of the “Arab Spring,” namely the “revolution” in Egypt.  Here things do not look so good, as the existing government seems of mixed inclination with actions against change for a real democracy and small, incomplete steps towards a functioning democratic government.  The military council, which rules Egypt, has put Mubarak on trial but not made transparent, nor deeply involved the opposition groups in, the decisions on the path to democracy.

Third is the continued conflict and revolution in Libya, which is still an ongoing hindrance to progress, but likely has an “end game” which has yet to play out. Here there have been both positive and negative trends. The positive is the international community’s wide recognition of the rebel council.  On the negative side, rebel supporters killed the general, who had been leading the campaign against Gaddafi.  Inter-clan rivalries seem to be a barrier to a unified and effective transition system of national governance.  Once money starts to flow to the Transition Council and supplies flow in, the rebels should gain a better advantage over the Gaddafi forces.  Nevertheless, the Council has yet to fully prove it can be a unified transition and honest governing body.

The problem again is the lack of a comprehensive follow through by the West and friendly, rich Arab countries to help the transitional leaders organize a truly national government, prepare a nation which never had democracy and is divided by clan and ethnic interests, and gain the capability of meeting the hopes and aspirations of its newly freed citizens.

Lastly, the other “upheavals” will have an impact on the region, and there are still lessons to be learned from the chaotic situation in several of these countries—the most dangerous and unpredictable being Syria. The government seems determined to kill its restive citizens while the West seems equally determined not to intervene due to what might be call “war” fatigue and lack of resources.

The UN has just condemned the killings but without taking any meaningful action.  Clearly, Syria is destined to be a problem for the whole region, a killing field, and a murderous dictatorship unless some concerted action is taken.  Without getting rid of Assad and his supporters, Syria will remain a festering source of regional instability.  The new troubles in Lebanon, due to the UN calling for the arrest of Hezbollah killers of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, highlight the potential of added turmoil in Syria’s bordering countries.

Other countries in the region remain either in revolt, turmoil, or restive states. These include Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Lebanon, etc. In short, much of the region is undergoing major changes that pose both extraordinary opportunities and equal risks.  Doing nothing or very little is likely the worse option, yet the mood and economy of the West is corrosive to bold action.

What about American policies in the region to further democracy and to help economic growth, which is necessary to achieve stability and support democratic rule over the long term?  Obama’s stated polices seem right, but the issue at hand is that Congress is so dysfunctional that Obama might not be given, in the present atmosphere, enough support and resources to make enough of a contribution to the region to ensure its stability and prosperity.  The political and economic situations confronting the U.S. and our European allies make reaching out and giving support to these positive forces questionable. That means that others with more malevolent intent could seize the day.  In that case, we will have lost an historic opportunity to help shape the region’s aspiring democracy.

Under these circumstances, what can and should be done to create democracy, protect human rights, and ensure a measure of economic justice?  In an earlier letter on May 2nd to the Financial Times, I urged a new multilateral effort to establish an international body, perhaps under the UN, to coordinate and to fund a regional development and democracy building program and to utilize the funding capacity of the World Bank, IMF, UNDP, and the Arab League to raise funds for the effort rather than rely on strained, traditional bilateral or insufficient limited multilateral assistance.  A multi-year “full court press’ is clearly necessary here. A regional fund of at least $100 billion to start is needed with a timeline of help over a ten year period.

The second initiative is one of concerted diplomacy to prevent conflict and hands-on assistance provided by NGOs and established international organizations to provide on the ground training, educational assistance, and jobs focused on the youth of the region, along with civil development support.  Not least, private sector investment is crucial and may need to be subsidized or guaranteed in some form.

We welcome our readers’ thoughts and comments as the events continue to unfold!

By Harry C. Blaney III.

Libyan Stalemate? Implications for Libya and Beyond

There appears to be a series of mixed messages coming out of the conflict in Libya.  One is that a possible negotiation may be in the cards with an outcome that would permit Gaddafi to leave, but leave some of his structure and people still in place. But a newspaper report indicates that the African Union’s aims are simply hope for a cease fire, access by humanitarian help and “starting of a dialogue between the rebels and the government” that could leave Gaddafi or his people in place.

The other possibility is a stalemate in the war, with the country divided, and with a possible cease-fire which could solidify Gaddafi’s power in Tripoli and the East with the rebels remaining in power in the West, based in Benghazi.

But the reality of the conflict on the ground did not make the effort by the African Union delegation auspicious for peace given some advances Gaddafi’s forces are making, while there are some success rebels seen in the East.  Gaddafi’s forces still have the advantage in terms of numbers, training and firepower. NATO air strikes have further destroyed some of his military but the ravage on rebels and civilians alike in some areas has had its costs. Continue reading