October 21, 2011 · 0 Comments
This feature of NYT eXaminer (NYTX) is where we juxtapose commentary and analysis by writers who we think offer important insights and that can be closely contrasted with content from the Times to develop a better understanding of the issues. In this instance, we compare the views of Phyllis Bennis who authored an article titled “Qaddafi Is Dead; Long Live – What?” with today’s Times Editorial titled “Colonel Qaddafi’s End” and which appeared in print on October 21, 2011, on page A34 of the New York edition.
Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. She has been a writer, analyst, and activist on Middle East and UN issues for many years. She is also a member of the NYTX Advisory Council.
The Times writes that:
Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya died as he lived — violently. We sympathize with the Libyans who suffered for so long at the hands of the ruthless dictator and are glad he can no longer hurt them.
…after 2001, when the Bush administration was eager to round up new recruits for its “global war on terror,” emissaries were sent to make nice to the long-excoriated Libyan leader. Within a couple of years, Qaddafi had been brought in from the cold. He had agreed to dismantle Libya’s nascent nuclear program, he had offered compensation to families of the Lockerbie bombing, he offered normal diplomatic relations with his once-and-future enemies in the U.S. and Europe. By 2003 or so European and U.S. oil companies were standing in line to sign contracts, and by 2007 and beyond, photos of Qaddafi arm-in-arm with Berlusconi, Tony Blair, Sarkozy — as well as both Bush and Obama and, famously, Condoleezza Rice – were regular staples on newspaper front pages and the internet around the world.
For the U.S., the strategic interest in turning on Qaddafi in 2011 after years of chummy good relations was primarily rooted in fear of loss of control. Qaddafi was our guy now, yes — but who knew how long that might last? What if the mercurial Libyan leader, under pressure from anti-dictatorship democratization processes next door, reversed course and turned to Washington’s enemies for strategic ties? China continues its expansion of economic investment and political influence in Africa – What if? Qaddafi’s opponents include Islamists of various stripes, including some Salafis, followers of the Saudi Arabia-based branch of extremist Islam favored by some militants — What if? Libya’s own people, post-Qaddafi, might decide that an alliance with the west was not in their best interests — What if?
The Times says:
Leaders of the Transitional National Council, the interim government, have promised to build a democracy in a country that has never had one. There is an enormous amount of work to be done and no time to waste.
Bennis writes that:
The challenge facing Libya now is daunting. The power, accountability and especially the legitimacy of the interim governing structure remains contested. The civil war created new divisions and consolidated others between parts of the Libyan population. Rifts between east and west have amplified, with the Benghazi-based TNC widely distrusted in other areas of the country. They have already had difficulty setting up shop in Tripoli, where anger remains at the disproportional Benghazi/Eastern Libya representation. The anti-Qaddafi militias largely remain independent of the TNC, with fighters from the hard-fought western town of Misrata as well as those from the NafusaMountains, both of which played key roles in the anti-Qaddafi victory in Tripoli, having made public their lack of accountability to the TNC.
Divisions have been exacerbated between Arab and Tuareg Libyans, as well as between those with different languages, local tribal or clan or regional identities, and more. The divide between lighter skinned Arab Libyans and black African Libyans has been further worsened by the widespread attacks on dark-skinned Libyans as well as on sub-Saharan African workers by anti-Qaddafi fighters accusing them indiscriminately of being mercenaries for Qaddafi. While there is significant evidence that some African mercenaries were indeed part of some of the pro-Qaddafi militias, the vast majority of Africans in Libya were there as economic migrants, working in the lowest paid and hardest jobs across the country. The racism inherent in those attacks is now a bleeding wound across Libyan society.
The Times writes:
Earlier this week, on a visit to Tripoli, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States will provide $40 million immediately to help Libya secure weapons. It is also offering to help, care for the war wounded and train civil society groups. Britain and France have also promised help. More than money — thanks to oil, Libya is wealthy — Libya will need sustained technical advice and full-time engagement.
What role a new Libya will play in Africa, after years of Qaddafi’s largesse doled out to build clinics, schools, roads, and other infrastructure as well as to line the pockets of corrupt officials across the continent, remains uncertain. Qaddafi’s long years of bankrolling the African Union are unlikely to continue now, with uncertain impact on the regional body.
How will the TNC – or whatever governing structure follows it – include representatives of Sirte, which many in and around the TNC have condemned as being all Qaddafi loyalists? Certainly Sirte’s population included many supporters of the ousted and now dead leader – but many had fled the city before the fighting escalated in recent weeks. They are now returning to find their city in ruins, with blocks of houses looted, destroyed and often burned to the ground.
The TNC has committed itself to holding elections within eight months of the “final liberation” of the country — expected to be announced some time today or tomorrow. The U.S.-backed appointed prime minister has promised to step down immediately after that announcement. Whether those promises are kept, whether anything remotely resembling a free and fair election can be arranged in eight months in a country with no recent legacy of political parties or civil society institutions, remain huge challenges.
Whether U.S. and European offers of “help” will serve as cover for ensuring the election of a pro-U.S. government, maintaining Libyan dependence on the west, and thus keeping a U.S. foothold in the very center of the otherwise independent Arab Spring, are questions hovering just behind today’s celebrations on the Libyan street.
[Read Phyllis Bennis's article “Qaddafi Is Dead; Long Live – What?” in full.]