Month: February 2011

Trying to see the humor in it

Three video items that have come to my attention today, causing my darker humor bone to vibrate:

1. Berlusconi kissing Gaddafi’s hand, courtesy of PressTV (they might have a bit of an ax to grind):


2. Saif al Islam selling snake oil to Christiane Amanpour, who isn’t buying, courtesy of the Daily Beast:


3. A bit of fun at the Saudi King’s expense, courtesy of Emma Sky:


For those interested in more serious fare, try the Ottaways’ Of Revolutions, Regime Change, and State Collapse in the Arab World – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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Think ahead to building a Libyan state

Gaddafi has now become a dead man walking–it is only a matter of time before the rebellion that controls most of Libya catches up with him.  That, however, could take some time.  By all reports, the Libyans are good tunnelers, so he will have lots of places to hide, like Saddam Hussein.

That is a problem:  anyone remember how Saddam’s stay-behind operation wrecked Iraq’s ministries, destroyed its files and its buildings and made it impossible for the Americans to turn over authority to the Iraqis quickly?  Libya has much less institutional structure to wreck, but some of it like the oil ministry is presumably vital.  The rebellion has to plan its entry into Tripoli with care, trying to ensure that it makes a clean and quick capture of the institutions, as well as the man.

In order to do that, the rebels have to stay united, which will not be easy.  Libya’s tribal and geographic divisions will compete for influence within the rebel movement as it gets nearer to Tripoli, where control will provide wealth and power.  There is no existing parliament, no constitution to amend and no chief of state position to occupy.  If the violence continues to escalate, power will grow from the barrels of guns, which is not often a good place to initiate a move towards democracy. For all the difficulties Tunisia and Egypt are now facing, they are blessed to have civilian institutions whose roles are fairly well understood and more or less accepted, even if they now need changes. When the prime minister steps down, we know pretty much what that means in Tunis or Cairo.  It would mean little in Tripoli.

The revolution underway is so far entirely of the Libyans, by the Libyans and for the Libyans, as it rightly should be.  The international community has contributed the UNSC resolution, which helps to shape the environment but does not involve direct intervention.

Later on, Libya will likely need assistance when it gets to the institution-building stage, if only to gain control of its own oil production and revenue.  But there is likely to be more needed:  municipal and national government, political parties, civil society, proper financial institutions, independent courts are all lacking.  The Libyans will be able and I hope willing to pay for much of what they need to develop new institutions, but it is not too early for people in Europe, the U.S. and the Arab world to be thinking about the requirements and how to provide them. Generosity should not stop the day the struggle in Tripoli is over.

Libya is likely once Tripoli falls to look more like a society emerging from conflict than either Tunisia or Egypt.  We have not done brilliantly well in any of the post-conflict reconstruction efforts of the past 20 years, but a good deal has been learned and could be applied to a Libyan-led effort to establish the country’s own state institutions.  It is not too early to start thinking about how to organize the international community’s efforts to help.

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UN 1, Gaddafi 0 but no one knows how much time is left

It didn’t come as fast as I would have liked, but the Security Council resolution on Libya is vigorous and detailed.  Carne Ross’ analysis is on the mark, even if I count as a virtue the fact that it mentions international peace and security (the traditional justification for Security Council action) and he likes the Responsibility to Protect (internal conflict) approach.  Both are there, so neither of us is disappointed.

The referral to the International Criminal Court is the big novelty under this resolution “1970”, and it comes with a deadline:  the ICC prosecutor is to brief the UNSC in two months time.  I hope this is not taken as a pro forma effort, but as something more serious.

The asset ban and travel freeze are clearly more than pro forma, including establishment of implementation mechanisms and the possibility of adding names to the lists.

Missing is the no-fly zone (NFZ).  But that would not have been worth any delay in what has been approved.  NFZs are difficult and expensive to implement, and doing so would allow Gaddafi and his minions to argue that his opponents are just the leading edge of foreign intervention.

With the departure of the ferry carrying their Embassy staff, the Americans seem to have dropped their reluctance to speak and act forcefully. U.S. unilateral sanctions went into effect Friday, but I am still wondering where the Sixth Fleet is.  I hope it is close by and that Gaddafi knows it. Menace is more important than action at this point.  It will be much better if the Libyans solve this problem on their own.

They have apparently set up a kind of provisional government in Benghazi under former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil.  I’m no fan of former Justice Ministers from regimes like Gaddafi’s, but if he genuinely has broad support among the rebels, that’s enough for me for the moment.  The main thing is for Gaddafi’s opponents to remain united.  Any fragmentation at this point would seriously weaken them, something they cannot afford.

We need to see the end of the Colonel.  How and when that will occur is anyone’s guess.  He could save all of us a lot of trouble, but that has never been his habit.

PS:  Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy has kindly pointed to reporting that suggests less than unanimity in the former Justice Minister’s backing.  The main thing, as I said before, is that Gaddafi’s opponents remain united.

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So much to keep track of!

So I thought a quick update on the revolutions of 2011 might be in order:

  • Libya:  Gaddafi holding on in Tripoli, where his forces indulge in random killings, but most of the rest of the country seems to be in rebel hands.  Tribes and a hodge-podge of local authorities seem to be the mainstay of law and order, insofar as it exists.  The army is split.  Lots of high level defections.  The Americans have finally imposed unilateral sanctions freezing assets and banning travel.  The UN Security Council is still debating its draft, which may have to lose the referral to the International Criminal Court in order to get past India, China and Russia (none are states parties to the ICC).
  • Yemen:  Protests have grown dramatically with adherence by some important tribes, President Saleh took the Gaddafi vow to fight to the last drop of blood, and the opposition seems intent on continuing despite Saleh’s vows to leave office in 2013 and not install his son.
  • Egypt:  Big demonstration yesterday to keep pressure on the military, force out the prime minister, who is Mubarak’s buddy, and end the state of emergency, which the military has promised to do once order is restored.
  • Bahrain:  Another big demo, but the monarchy clearly committed for the moment to avoiding violence.  An important Bahraini Shiite leader returned to the country from exile and was allowed to speak.
  • Tunisia:  Protesters Friday pressed for faster change.  Pro-Ben Ali youth rioted Saturday.  Violence in both instances.  The good guys should really wear white hats and maintain non-violent discipline, as that will help to distinguish them from the bad guys.
  • Iraq:  At least eight killed around the country in the first big demonstrations, mainly by undisciplined security forces.  The Speaker of Parliament says he supports the demonstrators’ right to protest, Prime Minister Maliki tried to fend off both protests and criticism, and Ayatollah Sistani weighed in on the side of the improved public services and an end to corruption.  Sistani is the one really worth listening to, but he hasn’t got a lot of influence in Kurdistan, where violent demonstrations continue.
  • Jordan:  A big, peaceful demonstration Friday, but big is much smaller (4000) than in other places.  The call is still far more for reform than for regime change.
  • Iran:  The regime still has things  “under control,” mistreating its own people even as it praises the rebellions in Arab countries.  The video at that link, by the way, demonstrates a lack of discipline on both sides of the confrontation, but the text is useful for understanding why demonstrations in Iran have been less than fully successful.
  • Overall: lots of ups and downs this week, but it is clear that few real dictators will survive much longer.  The question of what will replace them is still an open one, but it is looking more and more as if re-imposing autocracies will be nigh on impossible.  The people simply won’t stand for it.  More power to them!

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The UN begins to roll

It is starting to look as if the UN Security Council will actually do something about Libya soon.  Its draft resolution includes asset freeze, arms embargo, travel ban.  There may also be movement towards a no-fly zone, despite reported opposition in the State Department.  Michael Knights has treated that proposition well (–sorry, just can’t get their links to work right).  In tears at the UNSC, the Libyan Perm Rep (Ambassador to the UN in New York) denounced his long friendship with Gaddafi and pleaded for action.  The Libyan mission in Geneva has also defected to the protesters, as have other Libyan diplomatic missions.

Meanwhile, the situation in Libya is confused. Gaddafi apparently appeared in Green square:

His forces continued to murder protesters, but rebels made progress outside Tripoli, especially in the east.  While his position today seems precarious at best, it cannot be excluded that Gaddafi will reestablish himself in the capital, but if he does it will only prolong Libya’s suffering. His son, Saif al Islam, is apparently offering to negotiate, claiming he is holding back the army.

While UN action today will not likely have any immediate effect, it is important that the forces loyal to Gaddafi begin to understand that there is no future with the regime.  The possibility of prosecution for the crimes being committed now has to be made real.

Gaddafi and his sons seem determined, as Saif put it today, “to live and die in Libya.”  It will be better for Libya and the rest of the world if both can be done quickly.




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The UN needs to hustle

Today is Friday, when the demonstrators will try again to assemble in Tripoli. It has been Libya week, all week.  The situation has gone from bad to worse.  Claiming that the protesters have been drugged by Osama bin Laden, Gaddafi is increasingly delusional and homicidal (forget the picture–it’s the audio you want to hear):


Many Libyans are courageously disloyal to him, but the international community is doing nothing effective.  I hope to have to revise that last phrase, but I see no reason to do so yet.

President Obama was slow to react, apparently because of concern for American citizens in Libya.  When he finally said something, it was forceful and clear, especially on holding people to account.  But there is no clear course of action yet.  Asset freeze?  Travel ban?  Arms embargo?  International Criminal Court referral by the Security Council?

A no-fly zone has pros and cons. I wouldn’t want to waste a lot of effort discussing it at the UN Security Council or at NATO, but I do hope the necessary 6th Fleet assets have been moved into position.  Washington needs to be ready for all contingencies.

The last best hope is that Gaddafi’s loyalists will abandon him to his fate (or commit him to it).  There have been quite a few high-level defections, so that does not seem completely out of the question.  It is difficult to believe someone won’t try.

One mistake the rebel forces are making (hard to call them “protesters” any longer) is violence against the non-Libyan paramilitaries that Gaddafi has imported for protection.  I realize he pays them well, but you don’t want them to stick with Gaddafi because they also fear for their lives.  A promise of back pay and a ticket home would weaken mercenary resolve faster than killing them.

The Administration is apparently defining Libya as a humanitarian and human rights crisis.  If this is an effort to make it easier to invoke “responsibility to protect,” so be it.  But in my way of think Gaddafi’s actions are a clear threat to international peace and security.  The Security Council is on the hook for this one, whether it likes it or not.  The Russians and Chinese apparently asked yesterday for more information about what is happening on the ground.  The Chinese should talk to some of the 12,000 citizens they have already evacuated.

That said, it is a good idea to try to send in a  UN inquiry, a proposition that will apparently be discussed tomorrow at the UN Human Rights Commission.  This is far better than the previous proposition, which was a discussion Monday.

The UN needs to hustle.  People are dying.


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