Post-war plans are needed, urgently

Tonight the President will clarify what we are doing in Libya and tomorrow a London diplomatic conference will assemble to congratulate itself on what we have achieved so far.  But I doubt either one will seriously address post-war planning, which is needed right now.  The President can’t call attention to it because his message will be that we aren’t going to spend much money on Libya, which Secretary Gates has already classified as “not vital” to the U.S.  The London conference won’t do it either, because the Europeans should lead on support to Libya but they are still in their all too usual disarray.

So let me offer some guidance about the elements I would consider important in a post-war plan.  The first thing to lay out is a satisfactory end-state, as Gideon Rose so eloquentlysaid in the Washington Post last weekend.  Let me borrow from the ill-fated lexicon of George W. Bush and suggest that a Libya (note the singular) that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself would be a satisfactory outcome.

I don’t mean to suggest that this is a U.S. responsibility; only that Washington should be happy if that is the outcome.  I fully expect the U.S. to avoid responsibility for the post-war efforts, which in my view should fall mainly to Libyans and Europeans.  Libyans because it is their country.  Europeans because it is their neighborhood (and a major oil and gas supplier).

There is no cookie-cutter approach, but post-Cold War state-building efforts have generally focused on five broad objectives.  Here they are, with some pertinent questions (with thanks to my SAIS class for our discussion of several weeks ago):

1.  Safe and secure environment: Libyans seem to quickly organize themselves for community protection, but in the aftermath of this war the big problem is likely to be the Gaddafi loyalists, who may conduct the kind of stay-behind operation that plagued the Americans in Iraq (and troubled Benghazi just 10 days ago, when Gaddafi appeared on the verge of taking the city).  There is also likely to be a serious rash of revenge killings, especially targeted against Gaddafi’s mercenaries.  Preventing emergence of an insurgency and blocking the revenge impulse will require serious leadership on the part of the Libyan rebels.  Failure to prevent revenge killings will incite further resistance from Gaddafi loyalists and haunt the New Libya for years to come.

There is also a need to secure whatever chemical and other weapons of mass destruction Libya may still have, as well as an eventual effort to collect first heavy and then lighter weapons still in the hands of rebels and Gaddafi’s forces.  Failure to do this will mean a constant threat to the state from well-armed organized crime, which will grow naturally out of whatever smuggling operations both the Gaddafi regime and the rebels have been enjoying.  The objective should be to establish the state’s monopoly on the legitimate means of violence, with all deliberate speed.

2.  Rule of law: Libya’s police force will need vetting and reform–this is something the Europeans have assisted in many other places and should help with in Libya, at Libyan invitation.  I know precious little about the judicial system in Libya, but as the head of the Transitional National Council is a former Justice Minister I trust we can rely on him to ask for what the judicial system needs.  Some prisons seem to have been emptied during the fighting, releasing extremists.  They will need to be recaptured, before they begin to wreck havoc in Libya or get to Somalia.

3.  Stable governance: This will be a big challenge. Libya under Gaddafi was a “republic of the masses” and lacked many functioning state institutions.  The Transitional National Council (TNC) will presumably be the seed from which other governing institutions–a parliament, ministries, a presidency, local governments–will grow. The TNC needs to remain broadly representative of all elements in Libyan society if it is to have the legitimacy required.  As the rebels move west, this will mean enlarging or changing its composition, a difficult maneuver while trying to keep so many moving parts in place.

Of course it is possible that a new strongman will emerge to replace Gaddafi and he’ll decide what happens next.  But experience elsewhere suggests that once people taste freedom it is hard to reimpose dictatorship.  The UN has extensive experience helping to reform and reconstruct governing structures, not to mention holding elections and writing constitutions.  The Libyans might do well to look there for help.

4.  Sustainable economy: Libya has the great benefit, and curse, of oil and gas in sufficient quantities to make its 6.4 million or so citizens reasonably well off.  Nothing of that sort happened under Gaddafi.  It is hard to imagine where all the money went, though the freezing of about $30 billion in Libyan assets by a single U.S. bank gives a hint.  The oil and gas companies will get in and fix whatever is physically broken once a safe and secure environment is in place.

What the Libyans need to focus on is making sure they have the fuel they need for their own consumption and establishing a system for oil revenue that makes citizens better off.  They could do worse than consult with Norway, which uses its oil revenue to fund an endowment and spends only the earnings on the endowment, but that is just one option.  Alaska’s approach, which provides per capita payments (much like welfare, but don’t tell Sarah Palin I said that) to each of its citizens, is another.  The worst approach is the most likely one:  giving the revenue to the government, which will then have no need to establish a rapport with citizens to fund its voracious desires.

5.  Social well-being: The most immediate problems are food, water, shelter and health care for the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people.  But Libyans have been through four decades of a reality-defying dictatorship, one that ultimately divided them into loyalists and rebels.  National reconciliation does not come naturally and will need care and attention. It will be easier if those revenge killings are few.

Again:  I don’t mean to suggest that all this is a U.S. responsibility.  It is not.  The Libyans should take the lead.  But Washington needs to think hard about ensuring that the necessary assistance is available.  That doesn’t cost much–we’ve already paid for the nation’s diplomats, at least until early April–but it is vital if Libya is to get where we want it to go:  govern itself, sustain itself, defend itself.

PS:  Those who are going to want to vaunt the Libya operation as a triumph of responsibility to protect should be particularly concerned about the lack of post-war planning.  The ultimate judgment of whether this was a wise humanitarian intervention will depend not only on the military outcome but also on the civilian results.

PPS: Steven Metz discusses the insurgency issue.

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