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But they’re *our* insurgents… now

But they’re *our* insurgents… now

Note: the title of the post is meant as a playful reference to the apocryphal, “He may be an X, but he’s our X.” Now, as for whether I think we’ve really taken ownership of the insurgency through this action–not really. Perhaps more so “adopted”, even if that’s not the (certainly not stated of course) goal.

So many of my thoughts on the Libya situation and especially the no-fly zone (NFZ)/UNSC resolution are hopelessly overdue and now mostly irrelevant. This post is mostly meant to clarify a hasty and vague set of points I began to lay out to my wife (now several days ago) after a couple of days where we hadn’t yet spoken about it; those points were mainly about explaining my dubiousness re: the NFZ.

One of the most flip thoughts I had: as soon as the resolution was affirmed, hearing reports of Benghazi celebrants firing into the air was, “they really ought to conserve that ammo.”



One of the others, which still appears to have some relevance (indeed, provoking surprise) to some of the people I’ve talked to is that just being the beneficiary of the NFZ/humanitarian aid doesn’t make you a “non-combatant” (which is what some appear to envision when they think “humanitarian”). They are insurgents.

That’s OK of course; years of opposition to the CPA, Maliki’s government, and the US presence in Iraq have conditioned some to equate “insurgents” with “bad guys”! This an insurgency; as long as we’re forced to entertain reductiones ad absurdum, we might as well admit that we’re at war (albeit an aloof one–hopefully it will only de-escalate, though that does seem unlikely).

There’s a civil war in Libya, and just by taking steps that are ostensibly humanitarian, we’ve chosen sides; we are supporting the (“good”) insurgents. But the big point here is that it will be difficult to separate our aims (or the rather broad remit of UNSC 1973) from the strategic goals of the rebels. Those strategic goals may be diffuse (they’re not likely to coalesce, either; rather, we/the coalition is likely to align more closely to the goals of “elite” players as they emerge) and are likely to take a long time to achieve. Put another way, UNSC 1973 and our goals are unlikely to have the same endpoint.

What responsibility do we have to a stateless Libya (surely the “humanitarian” risks are much greater when we have a failed state in a civil war)? To the formation of a new, stable government? Even if–in one most preferable scenario–Qaddafi “steps down”/relinquishes power in some relatively peaceful fashion, are we or any part of this coalition able to step away before there’s some semblance of stability or even a “decent interval”? This has to be their revolution after all, or we risk inheriting not only the legacy of Libya from the Italians, reinforcement of the narratives of US meddling in the region, but also the amplified resentment of those who might doubt their own self-determination…

On the point of government formation, I wrote the following in an email (from my phone, with quite divided attention, so it’s even less well-formulated than its adopted parent post–cut me slack!) to a question of facilitating elections (it was an innocent question I assure you):

And absolutely–BUT we aren’t anywhere close to that yet (there could still be a Qaddafi govt a month from now unfortunately!)… Opposition is coalescing into a sort of “shadow government” and might be fairly fully formed when/if they are ready (I HAVE to assume we have or have had–or someone say the French has–a covert relationship with the opposition)

Fact is, in a post-civil war/revolution world, we shouldn’t rush into wholesale elections–preferable if there is some sort of transitional govt ready in the wings (you really can’t go straight into nat’l elections–you start running the provisional govt, can start electing local govt, then–assuming a parliamentary system–start electing PMs).

Now, bear in mind that forming a govt after parliamentary elections *could* be messy (forming coalitions, naming a prime minister and starting a cabinet)–this took what, 6-9 months after the last elections in Iraq. That’s why you want a transitional govt and can’t rush right into representational democracy. You need the country to not absolutely fall to pieces “just because” you got rid of the dictator!

Libya doesn’t have terribly solid independent institutions–and you have to have something (police, water and power, hospitals) or people may really suffer (they unfortunately probably will in some way in either case. This was a huge advantage in Egypt… So much infrastructure was independent and you had a very strong army able to take up transitional tasks (assuming they remain “transitional”) AND public acceptance of the institution.

The sources of legitimacy, even compliance, are elusive–so, apparently, are our interests.


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