The headlong retreat in response to bombing occurring now in Libya is familiar to those of us who followed the Bosnian war, at the end of which the Bosnian Serb Army collapsed due to NATO bombing of its communication nodes. The rebels are not really winning the war, they are just filling the vacuum created when Gaddafi’s loyalists hightail it west. My guess is the retreat will continue until Sirte, Gaddafi’s home town, where he will try to have his loyalists make a stand.
This raises two important questions:
- How will order be maintained and services delivered in the liberated areas ?
- What will happen when the loyalists arrive back in Tripoli?
My hope is that the Libyan penchant for local councils will continue to manifest itself. While there is certainly some possibility of abuse, broadly representative local committees that include tribal, religious and secular community leaders committed to restoring order and providing services would be an appropriate way to fill the governance gap until something else can be arranged.
The stand at Sirte is not likely to last long if the bombing campaign continues at anything like its current ops tempo. The impending return of the loyalists to Tripoli raises several issues. Will there be a rising there that will put a quick end to the Gaddafi family’s rule? Will the loyalists clamp down even harder on a capital that has already seen a great deal of regime violence? In either event, there is a real possibility of heightened tragedy for the capital. The diplomacy to get Gaddafi out of Libya should by now be in full swing, even if invisible. Let’s hope it is successful in the next week, which is likely the amount of time before the rebels are at the outskirts of Tripoli.
There is another urgent issue: protection of the Gaddafi loyalists, including the mercenaries responsible for a good deal of the worst violence against civilians. If the past is a guide, they will face ferocious revenge. Likely some already have. It is important to prevent “eye for an eye” retribution, because it will set the new regime off in a bad direction. Accountability is important, but it will take time and fair process. The New Libya should not start with murder.