Libya’s quagmire

LIBYAn rebels sit on top of a pick-up truck. AFP - 7-19-2011

In the beginning, it was supposed to be a matter of a few days. Then it became a matter of a few weeks. The situation in Libya now, as the Arab spring enters a hot summer, has seemingly ground to a halt.

Western officials made promises and predictions about the power of NATO-led military operations to achieve dramatic results in Libya. The initial optimism, however, has led to a depressingly familiar set of news items: a city is overrun and occupied by rebel forces. Then, it changes hands and reverts to the control of the forces of Moammar Gadhafi.

The NATO bombing runs destroy ammunition dumps and troops belonging to Gadhafi, but a resolution to the conflict appears to remain a distant development, as the casualties on both sides mount.

Gadhafi reportedly responded to the NATO attacks by purchasing fleets of the same vehicles used by the rebels, to confuse his enemy. Couldn’t the powerful intelligence capabilities of NATO countries anticipate such a development, and take the appropriate steps, to prevent the conflict from dragging on even further?

Gadhafi is reportedly on the ropes, while a growing number of countries are recognizing the rebels’ National Transitional Council.

But Gadhafi appears to be well-entrenched in his bunker and is managing to conduct negotiations with the outside world over his fate – whether over a departure from power, or from his country as well.

Despite all of these efforts – political, military and diplomatic – no tangible results are on the horizon, just a depressing daily update about the latest incremental movements by this or that side.

The saga of Libya during the year of Arab uprisings generates a number of questions, and while foreign leaders have certainly addressed them, the answers have been less than inspiring.

What is the actual situation on the ground? Can the long slog of NATO-led military operations actually produce results, and when? Where do the various parties to the conflict stand? Are talks over Gadhafi’s departure serious, or do they represent a plan to stall for time?

Many countries have intervened in the conflict – do they have a clear, feasible and satisfactory end-game in mind? Do they have a workable road map to get there?

Gadhafi and his cronies have billions of dollars of frozen assets abroad. Where is the money exactly, and when will it be used to alleviate the Libyan people’s suffering, and ensure a smooth transition to the future?

Do the rebels have a well-thought-out plan for what to do about a post-Gadhafi Libya? Can they ensure a reconciliation between the people who have taken sides in this bloody conflict? Will they be any better at building institutions than Gadhafi?

The saga of Libya, instead of becoming more clear-cut as it drags on, is entering a worrying state of inertia, with no light at the end of the tunnel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 21, 2011, on page 7.




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