Brian Whitaker writes:
As recently as last Friday, Kathleen McFarland, a security analyst at Fox News, was lecturing President Obama on America’s “missteps” in Libya.
“Libya and Syria are the textbook examples of why it’s important to pick your battles, and then make sure you win the one you pick,” she wrote. “President Obama picked the wrong fight by going to war against Libya, and so far is not succeeding.”
Just three days later, the Gaddafi regime is almost gone and it’s looking as if Obama picked the right battle after all. The real test, though, is further down the line. One year from now, will Libyans be living under a government that is significantly better than the one that tyrannised them for almost 42 years? Will they be able to speak their minds freely and engage in the country’s politics without fearing the consequences?
The next few months in Libya are not going to be easy – only a fool would imagine that – but nor are the grimmest predictions likely to be fulfilled. Libya is unlikely to turn into another Iraq, let alone another Afghanistan.
The first encouraging sign is that the National Transitional Council – a diverse alliance forged out of necessity – has begun making the right noises. Its interim constitution, published last week, acknowledges the need for give and take. It recognises the rights of the Berber minority and, while accepting a role for Islamic law, also sets some limits to it.
As far as retribution is concerned, initial indications are that it intends to go by the book. Gaddafi’s most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, has reportedly been captured alive so that he can be put on trial.
Like Iraq (and many other Arab countries, for that matter), Libya has its social faultlines. Tribal, ethnic and religious rivalries that were swept under the carpet by the Gaddafi regime will now emerge into the open. Allowing them to do so is the only way to address them in the long term, though in the short term they could easily become an obstacle to democratic processes.
On the plus side, however, many Libyans insist that the social divisions are nowhere near as deep as in Iraq (we shall soon know if they are right) but, perhaps more importantly, in Libya they are less likely to become a proxy battleground for foreign powers.