Eager to intervene, NATO has been less enthusiastic about figuring out what happens next
If NATO has a plan for achieving victory in Libya, it has been well disguised. Regardless, the world's most powerful military alliance will surely somehow, some day prevail over a besieged dictator with little support. But is NATO prepared for what happens when they win?
Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen took to Twitter last week to proclaim, "Once political settlement is reached, I don't expect NATO to play leading role" and "Future to be shaped by Libyan people. NATO will support international efforts if requested and needed."
The United States has joined more than 30 countries in recognizing the rebel Transitional National Council as Libya's legitimate government. So, unlike in Iraq eight years ago, there is a group in place over which to turn nominal control once the regime is deposed. But simply declaring a new government does not mean that it can run the country.
As Center for a New American Security fellow Andrew Exum observed at the outset of operations, post-Qaddafi Libya will be an exercise in "starting from scratch." The former Italian colonial rulers destroyed most pre-existing institutions while studiously avoiding creating new ones. "The Italian governors of Libya systematically undermined the old Ottoman administration, which they viewed as a threat. Qaddafi, incredibly, managed to make things worse. Suspicious of the very idea of the Libyan state, he denied such a state was necessary and undermined any attempt to create functioning bureaucracies."
A February Newsweek feature by Dartmouth-based Libya scholar Dirk Vandewalle declared, "Libya will begin afresh after Gaddafi, in a comprehensive reconstruction of everything civic, political, legal, and moral that makes up a society and its government. But it remains dauntingly unclear where new leadership will come from." It continued, "Getting Libya back on its feet will be an unwieldy, and probably fractious, process in which many scores are settled against those who once supported the Gaddafi regime. But the problem is, of course, that much like in the former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe, virtually everyone at one point or another had to deal with the regime to survive. Unless political authority can be restored quickly, the sorting out of claims will undoubtedly be a bloody affair in light of the pent-up frustration that is now being released."
James Dorsey noted for Al Arabiya recently, "The immediate problems Libyans and the international community will have to address once Mr. Qaddafi departs are huge and so are the potential pitfalls. The problems include restoring and maintaining law and order; securing basic services such as food, water and energy; achieving international recognition of a post-Qaddafi government; resuming oil exports to ensure funding for the new government; and kick starting Libya's stagnating economy."
He noted, "Anticipating the need to maintain security, avoid violent revenge and retribution and ensure that a post-Qaddafi government gets off to a good start, some US commanders, including Admiral Samuel Locklear, NATO's joint operations chief in Naples, and General Carter Ham, who runs the US military's Africa Command, have suggested that United Nations or African Union peacekeepers would have to be inserted into Libya once Mr. Qaddafi has been removed from power."
The parallels with Iraq are eerie. In his seminal work on that conflict, Fiasco, Thomas Ricks quotes Major Isaiah Wilson, the official Army historian of the spring 2003 invasion and later strategic planner in Iraq saying that there was "no single plan as of 1 May 2004 that described an executable approach to achieving the stated strategic endstate for war." Joint Staff officer Gregory Gardner explained why: "Politically, we'd made a decision that we'd turn it over to the Iraqis in June" 2003. Additionally, an Army War College study found, what little planning there was for post-conflict stabilization was predicated on the unfounded assumption that "the international community would pick up the slack."