Daniel Korski

Preparing for a post-Gaddafi Libya

The Libya intervention has been in operation for a few months and the rebels have been making gains, most recently in Yafran. But progress remains slow and perhaps it is time to look again at how the lessons of Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan might have a bearing on Libya.

The first lesson is simple: assume the worst. If you think that a regime will collapse quickly, plan for it to last a long time. If you expect a peaceful transition, plan for a violent one. And if you hope that unarmed monitors will be enough once hostilities are over, prepare for a well-armed peacekeeping force to be deployed. Optimistic predictions of the post-Saddam Iraq encumbered the planning process and meant the US-led coalition was unprepared for the contingencies that arose. That mistake cannot be repeated.

The second lesson is about the utility of force. Military might can achieve many things, but it has clear limits. In Iraq, it was the combination of a military surge and negotiations with insurgents which created the basis for stability. Similarly in Afghanistan it will be a political process not force, which produces a lasting and reasonably peaceful settlement. In other words, be prepared to swap force for politics.

A third lesson is about friends and foes. Those who are wearing white hats now may soon turn out to prefer a darker shade of headgear; and vice-versa. This isn’t to say that there is no distinction between people. There is. But look at Hamid Karzai and Nuri al-Maliki. They have been the West’s allies, but now they pursue policies that we don’t agree with. Expect the same to happen in a post-Gaddafi Libya.

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