Given the post from last week, I'm somewhat surprised that this has happened so fast. There was some speculation that the scrapping of uniforms by Ghadaffi's soldiers meant that the battle into Tripoli would be a long and drawn out affair, as Ghadaffi loyalists geared up for more of an insurgency-style campaign against the rebels. However, it's also possible that they were just ditching the uniforms so as to not get killed. Either scenario is plausible, and the reality is probably a mixture of the two. Anywho, I had just a couple of thoughts as to where we go from here.
- It's not over — Many of the news reports that I've come across have made this point already, which is a good thing. Not to belittle the efforts of this struggle that has been unfolding over the past 6 months or so, but ousting Ghadaffi may have been easy to compared to what needs to happen next. The National Transition Council needs to make the move from rebel movement leadership to national government. The collapse of Ghadaffi's regime, and potentiall his capture, might erase the very basis on which the rebels have achieved unity thus far. We might we come to see tribal divides become increasingly salient as rebel leaders begin their efforts to assemble a national government. We've recently been reminded in Iraq of how difficult this process can be (thanks to Phil for the link). That said, the BBC article above makes note of the fact that the rebels are negotiating turning over custody of Ghadaffi's son, Saif, to the ICC. I could be misreading this, but I would view this move as encouraging, as it may signal a willingness to put some faith in institutionalized means of redressing grievances.
- Where's Ghadaffi? — At the moment nobody seems to know where he is, although the rebels have reportedly captured two of his sons. The Libyan information minister has stated that up to 65,000 loyal troops remain in Tripoli and that the rebels can expect to find some pockets of resistance as they advance throughout he city. This could certainly be the case, but it could also be a means of slowing the rebel advance so as to allow Ghadaffi and other senior leaders time to escape the capital. He could already be gone, but I think it's certainly possible that he's still around somewhere. The fact that two of his sons were captured says something about the speed with which the rebels were able to advance on Tripoli, and/or the beliefs that Ghadaffi and his family had regarding the probability that the rebels would advance so far so fast. From what I gather, Saif was a fairly prominent member of Libya's governing elite and quite close to his father. If there's one guy that you'd expect to get out ahead of the rebels, it's this guy.
- NATO — What does this say about NATO and multilateral efforts of this kind? What started out as a "protect the civilians" mission quickly turned into an "aid the rebels" mission, and there is a high probability that the rebels would not have advanced so far without the aid of NATO forces clearing the way. Insofar as the United States is concerned, the Iraq and Afghan wars have led many to question the desirability of intervening in the affairs of other nations, as well as the effectiveness of such multilateral endeavors. All things considered, however, the efforts in Libya have been achieved through the limited commitment of NATO forces and America's military quickly took on a less prominent (albeit still significant) role in the operation. The use of ground forces has been quite conservative, and the bulk of NATO's presence has manifested itself through the use of air power and ship-to-shore bombardments. NATO's efforts in Libya sort of represent a model on which subsequent interventions may be modeled. Granted we're dealing with an N of 1 here, but Libya may turn out to be an example of what went right or what is possible—especially when governments are having to cope with the desire to maintain military capabilities while also cutting spending. That said, this really depends on what happens next. If Libya devolves into a drawn out civil war between former members of the NTC, NATO's efforts will likely come to be associated with failure, regardless of whether or not they achieved what they set out to do.