Libya: which way forward?

And so the efforts to unseat Muammar Gaddafi continue. As former US ambassador to Morocco, Marc Ginsberg, writes in the Huffington Post, the current strategy — keep up a heavy barrage on Gaddafi’s fortress in Tripoli, and hope that something gives — is hardly looking like an impressive solution. NATO has flown more than 12,000 missions over Libya since March, to little real effect. That’s if we even accept that removing Gaddafi by force is a legitimate aim.

Nor does the regime look imminently likely to collapse. Gaddafi may be lacking in loyal generals, but he can still hire mercenaries, and if he can’t be dislodged by air, rebels on the ground seem unlikely to shift him soon. All of which points to a protracted, grinding conflict with little chance of a satisfactory conclusion.

NATO is divided. Italy has already called for a halt to hostilities in order that humanitarian aid might be delivered to Libyans. And, naturally, negotiations that might require Gaddafi to step down are being met with a stony response.

We find ourselves asking what could be done to improve the situation? Is there anything to be achieved through any kind of Western intervention? Or are we best to simply leave Libya and let what comes to pass come to pass? Were we to do that, would Gaddafi re-establish a power base? Part of the problem is that we don’t know the answers to these questions. It seems likely that Gaddafi would probably behave brutally towards anyone who opposed him. We might even face retaliatory attacks on civilian targets.

NATO has now staked out the position that Gaddafi has to go, a position guaranteed to provoke the maximum amount of resistance from him. While we agree in principle that he cannot legitimately claim leadership of Libya, neither can we claim a mandate to remove him — or, for that matter, a stake in deciding how the country is governed in the aftermath of such a removal.

The words ‘rock’ and ‘hard place’ come to mind. On the one hand, we risk setting ourselves up for prolonged conflict that only exacerbates political instability. On the other, we could be seen to be standing back and allowing an apparently unhinged dictator free rein. The question, and it’s one we intend to address in greater depth in future posts, is where the third way might lie.

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