Another Word on Libya

So, it appears that the issue of just who the rebels in Libya are is finally beginning to receive greater attention.  Good for the policymakers and the press!  Even before the question of arming the rebels came into question, this should have been front and center.  The presumption up until this point seems to have made is that the ouster if Ghadaffi is a good thing for regional stability.  A solo-act rebel takeover would leave us in fundamentally the same situation that a western-backed ouster would leave us in.  Specifically, we are left with the destruction of a regime, and little idea as to what sort of institutional arrangements would take its place, and who would occupy those institutions, which (in my mind) does not sound like a recipe for enhancing regional stability.   

According to the article linked above, the American ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, has stated that he's "impressed with the democratic instincts of the opposition leaders."  Well there's no possibility that this is strategic misrepresentation on the part of rebel leaders.  None whatsoever.  I mean it's not like they're asking for economic aid and weapons, and may want to butter us up before doing so.  The broader policymaking community has indicated that there is very little information on these actors, so I'm not sure on what basis Mr. Cretz can claim to have been so impressed.  And assuming that the rebel movement is indeed a loosely cobbled together group, it seems highly presumptuous to assume that democratic institutions will quickly take root in Libya given what we've seen happen in Iraq and Afghanistan.    

Furthermore, what does a "rebel victory" look like?  The discussion of Ghadaffi's ouster also distracts from an issue I've discussed before regarding the influence of lower-level officials–many of whom may remain in influential positions even if and when Ghadaffi is out of power.  What do we know about the likely "leftovers" from his regime?  Will some liutenant attempt to sieze power?  Would we have a protracted conflict between rebels and former loyalists after Ghadaffi's death?  Could the loyalists themselves become split between rival military factions?  Would they fight the rebels first, and then each other?  Each other first, and then the victor takes on the rebels?  Or, Perhaps Ghadaffi's death may precipitate the splintering of his own military forces, in which case the rebel leaders may have an incentive to defect from the current rebel "organization" in an effort to ally with one of these former military factions, thereby securing additional manpower and access to superior weaponry.  We've seen that members of the Libyan regime have already broken with Ghadaffi, so I don't think it's out of the question to imagine that there could be further splintering among Ghadaffi's forces.  In this case, we may see an uneasy alliance emerge between remnants of Ghadaffi's regime and splinter factions from the current rebel organization. 

Basically, I think there is a lot of potential for alliance patterns to shift dramatically over the next few months.  How these shifts will, or will not, play out will matter just as much as whether Ghadaffi stays or goes in terms of the potential institutions that may emerge, or in terms of regional stability—possibly more.



About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

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