The endgame in post-Gaddafi Libya

Gaddafi’s downfall is welcome news, but “however churlish it may sound”, this week’s events still do not justify our intervention, says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. Nor would success in Libya justify intervening in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain or Egypt – fervently as we may wish for their people’s freedom. We made a mess in Iraq and are trapped in Afghanistan. The mission creep in Libya has “been a classic”: a no-fly zone escalated into a bombing campaign against Tripoli and then a mission to topple Gaddafi.

Now, “Britain and France can hardly back off by not offering aid, advisers, logistical support and possible troops to Tripoli to keep order and his faction out of power”. But the more it becomes our business, the “less robust” the Libyans’ liberation will be. Intervention “strips a new regime of homegrown legitimacy and strength”.
It’s true that Britain didn’t have an exit strategy, says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times, but that isn’t surprising. Six months ago, the governments of Britain and France were faced with the certain knowledge that if they did not act promptly to establish a no-fly zone, Gaddafi would have massacred the dissidents. Cameron and Sarkozy decided to act to save civilian lives and it is “their success in achieving that objective that justifies their action”. Leaders can never be sure in advance if they are going to be successful. “All they can do is consider what is at stake and make a reasonable judgment about the probabilities.”
The aftermath was always going to be messy, says Robert Fisk in The Independent. “Unseating tyrannical Arab rulers is a dangerous game when unelected Arab rulers join in.” Like all the other Arab countries, Libya suffered from financial and moral corruption, but will the future be any different? We have spent too much time honouring the courage of Libyan ‘freedom fighters’ and too little examining the Transitional National Council. Its supposed leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, “has still been unable to explain if his own chums connived in the murder of their own army commander last month”.

The signs aren’t promising, agrees James Hider in The Times. The scandal forced Jalil to dissolve his own government and he has yet to create a new one, ideally bringing in representatives from the west of the country. Although “few doubt his integrity… there are concerns as to whether he has the charisma and strength to stamp his authority” on a country traumatised by six months of civil war and four decades of dictatorship.

It will be many months before we discover whether Gaddafi’s regime will be replaced by something better or whether Libya will degenerate into civil war as the country’s tribes contest dominance, says Max Hastings in the Daily Mail. Iraq and Afghanistan have both provided a “sobering” education about how “good intentions can be set at naught”. “The default position of the Muslim world towards the West is hostility, rooted in our support for Israel against the Palestinians, and perceived cultural dominance… There seem great risks, and precious little profit, in sticking out our national neck one inch further in Libya than we have already.”

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