The Fall of Tripoli: Washington Asks "What Comes Next?"
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
After six months of fighting and stalemate, Libya appears to be on the brink of a new era. Rebel fighters surged into the capital city of Tripoli over the weekend appearing to deliver a deadly blow to the regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi. Today, Qaddafi is still at large. NPR is reporting sporadic fighting between rebels and loyalist forces. When the dust settles, Libya and the international community will face a series of tricky questions.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
If Qaddafi, indeed, does fall, who will fill the power vacuum? What role should Washington and its European allies play moving forward? Looking back, how will the world assess the role of NATO and the International Criminal Court? For the remainder of the hour, we'll explore what comes next. We begin with a Libyan exile who has lived in Washington for three decades.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
And, of course, your phone calls. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Are we at war in North Africa? Should Libya be considered a third war for the United States? 800-433-8850. Joining us now by telephone is Fathalla Al-Meswari, lecturer in law at the George Washington University Law School. He is head of U.S. Political and Legal Committee of the Union of Libyan Revolutionaries. Fathalla Al-Meswari, thank you for joining us.
PROF. FATHALLA AL- MESWARI
You're welcome, sir.
You have been living in the United States for three decades as a political exile. Tell us how you are viewing the images that we are all seeing coming from Tripoli.
Yes. Actually, I was watching carefully all the events since it started on -- actually, on Feb. 15. And I was watching and following up the news development. But the -- yesterday, or last night, it was an extremely important event in the history of Libya. And this is actually the -- one of the greatest revolutions ever happened, so to speak. And it was a great moment. I wasn't expected that to happen that quickly.
PROF. FATHALLA AL-MESWARI
It was well-planned, well-arranged and well-executed. It took 10 hours to get to the heart of the city of the capital of Libya, and with less casualties. We were expecting bloodshed, but thanks -- thank God, it happened as fast as we never expected.
You were a judge in Libya before you came to this country. It's my understanding that you left the country when the Qaddafi government outlawed the private practice of law. Is that correct?
Yes, yes, yes. That's one of the reasons when I left the country.
How has the local community, the people with whom you are in touch in the Washington area, responded to what we've been seeing over the course of the last, oh, 12, 15 hours or so?
Yes. The response was great joy and happiness. Last night, we stood -- we went -- celebrated, actually, in front of the White House for two hours. And people are happy. We were hugging each other and -- to express the happiness and the...
According to your estimate, about how many people, who live in this region, are from Libya?
In the metropolitan area, I'm assuming that around -- between 800, 1,000.
Fathalla Al-Meswari is a lecturer in law at the George Washington University Law School and head of the U.S. Political and Legal Committee of the Union of Libyan Revolutionaries. He joined us by phone. Joining us in studio is Heather Conley, senior fellow and director with the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Heather Conley, thank you for joining us.
MS. HEATHER CONLEY
And Robert Malley, Middle East and North Africa program director with the International Crisis Group. He is former special advisor to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998 to 2000. Robert Malley, good to have you join us again.
MR. ROBERT MALLEY
Heather, the Libyan rebels are the ones celebrating in Tripoli's Green Square, but their push into the nation's capital would not have been possible without the help of NATO. What role did NATO play in the military operation in Libya?
Well, since March 31, NATO has operated over 20,000 sorties -- 7,500 of those were ground -- air-to-ground combat. Initially, the -- they had very great difficulties. There was lack of coordination. It was really until French and British Special Forces got on the ground to support the rebels and they were able to coordinate much better, that we were able to see some real action on the ground.
NATO had its troubles, however. They were running out of ordinance. They were running out of sorties. They were -- there's a huge sigh of relief in Brussels and in London and Paris today because there were some deep, deep questions whether this would actually be a success or not.
You mentioned NATO forces on the ground. NATO's stated mission was to protect civilians, but is that all NATO did in Libya?
It was just the protection of civilians. Now, some European allies had a broader interpretation of the U.N. Security Council resolution, and this provided some incentives to place some support to the rebels. But it was not NATO. There are no boots on the ground. NATO provided the air support to protect civilians. That was their mission.
Rob, the Obama administration has taken great pains to not appear to be leading this military campaign. But the U.S. certainly seems to be doing more than it might be acknowledging. Some reports this weekend indicating that American air power was playing a critical role as rebels took Tripoli, but the U.S. has not been broadcasting its role. Why is that?
Yes. I mean, it may seem a bit curious, but I think the administration was torn between, on the one hand, the desire to see this through and, in fact, I think, to see this through not just to protect civilians, but actually to overthrow Qaddafi. I think that very quickly became the mission both of the U.S. and of NATO. But, on the other hand, I think the administration was affected by the experience of Iraq.
It did not want to appear to be yet again involved in the invasion, let alone the occupation, of a third Muslim country. And there was fatigue in this country very, I think, widely shared about foreign intervention, about the burden -- the toll it takes, the human toll and the financial and budgetary toll.
So I think demonstration from the outset, it wanted to be on the side of the opposition, on the anti-Qaddafi side, but didn't want to make this look like it was made in America. And that's why, contrary to earlier precedence, it took a rather backseat public role in the whole experience.
Again, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Gary in Washington, D.C. Gary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Hi, Kojo. First of all, I'll be glad when I can live without hearing that tired old phrase, boots on the ground. But my question is about vulnerable groups. And is this now to be the beginning of a period of terror in Libya? And are there likely to be slaughters of dark-skinned persons and other vulnerable minorities on Libya?
Fathalla Al-Meswari is still there on the phone. Fathalla, did you hear the question?
What would you respond to Gary?
Yeah, I think the people in Libya, never be united. For the past four years, I -- as if I heard, and also I called people there, the people never been united and came into unity like this before, so I don't expect any, I mean, conflict among people or tribes or anything. So I think it will go smoothly. There should be minor events here and there, but, overall, it will be a peaceful and a great transition towards democracy, justice and peace.
That is certainly, I know, the hope of people who support the rebels. But, Robert Malley, from the outside, we tend sometimes to see politics in the Middle East and North Africa, through very simple dichotomies, whether it's seculars versus Islamist or dictatorship versus democracy advocates.
In Libya, however, we also know that tribal affiliations play an important role in politics. What kinds of questions should we be asking here?
Well, first, I think it would be a first if this were a revolution that were not accompanied by score settling by rival regions, which, already, we're seeing within the opposition. That's normal. That's to be expected. I think what the questioner asked and put his finger on is very important. And there have been already reports of hostile acts against dark-skinned Libyans, if that's how we're going to describe them.
There is an antagonism that, I think, Libyans have acknowledged and...
What does that mean, dark-skinned Libyans?
Well, I mean, the two -- there's two categories. There are the Libyans who are Libyans, but who have a darker skin than others. And then there also are African migrants, I mean, people who've come -- Qaddafi used to import labor, cheap labor from African countries, black African countries, some of them, perhaps -- I mean, there are many reports they were used as mercenaries during this conflict.
There's resentment against them, but that resentment can turn into far greater discrimination and acts of retaliation that are wholly unjustified.
And, I think, organizations, human rights organizations on the ground and others have already drawn attention to the fact that the opposition has to be -- no longer opposition perhaps -- but the new rulers of Libya are going to have to be very careful and not to allow that kind of score settling, whether against Africans, migrant workers, or against Libyans who are affiliated with the former regime, to go unchecked.
Which suggests to me, Heather Conley, that NATO may still have a role to play in Libya if it is, in fact, to try to continue to protect civilians.
A role to play, potentially. Politically, I'm not sure that they are going to be able to agree to a political role. Today's statement by NATO Secretary Gen. Rasmussen was very clear. They are not convinced that, politically, the alliance has a broader role. It does set an interesting idea.
Some are starting to believe that the European Union, theoretically, has crisis management capabilities and forces that they could emerge as a crisis management capability. But I don't foresee that there is going to be unity within NATO to agree to a more robust mission. As Rob was mentioning, about American fatigue, there is fatigue, great fatigue within NATO for the exact same reasons.
NATO is very stretched in Afghanistan and beginning to do a transition strategy through 2014. The European sovereign debt crisis has had a dramatic impact. Really, we're seeing an acceleration of a decline in European defense spending. Again, what the Libya operation showed, there was enormous lack of defense capabilities coming out of Europe.
You also have the politics of a very anti-immigrant mood in Europe that believes the transformation of North Africa is representing a threat to Southern Europe in particular. So there are a lot of reasons why NATO may not be able to step forward. And then the question is, who does? And we know that border control, security sector reform -- really, the challenges are just beginning of how you transform the society.
If you have questions or comments about NATO and the U.S.'s involvement in Libya and the future of Libya and whether or not the U.S. and NATO should have any role in it, call us at 800-433-8850. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. Here is Tesfa (sp?) in Arlington, Va. Tesfa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
I know what it means to live under dictatorship. I have seen two dictators in Ethiopia, and I exactly know how the Libyans feel. Meles Zenawi is dividing Ethiopia like Qaddafi did along ethnic lines.
However, it would appear, Tesfa, that Qaddafi is on his way out, if not already out. What do you see happening in Libya's future?
It's going to be very hard and tough, but it's going to be better than what's going on under Qaddafi. To be suffocated by a dictator is the worst thing you can ever face. And it's going to be tough and rough, but it's going to be much better. What comes next to Libya...
Allow me to have Fathalla Al-Meswari comment on that because there are people in Iraqi -- in Iraq who will argue that it was not necessarily that much better after the dictator left. What is your own hope, Fathalla Al-Meswari, for what should happen in Libya after this?
Yeah, I'm hopeful and (word?), to some extent, that the situation would be more -- I mean, for the people, it will be a great improvement because there will be a legitimate government, democratic government. People are -- that we have highly qualified people to rule, I mean, to administer this country, to -- I mean, to control everything, to -- it's for the people, to serve the people.
There is no infrastructure, no hospitals, no schools, but I'm sure that things will be great in the future.
Hey, Tesfa, thank you very much for your call. Fathalla Al-Meswari, thank you so much for joining us.
You're welcome, sir. Thank you.
Fathalla Al-Meswari is a lecturer in law at the George Washington University Law School and head of the U.S. Political and Legal Committee of the Union of Libyan Revolutionaries. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Robert Malley and Heather Conley and take your calls at 800-433-8850. The Fall of Tripoli: Washington Asks "What Comes Next?" I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Welcome back to our conversation about what's taking place in Libya and what comes next, the fall of Tripoli. We're talking with Robert Malley, Middle East and North Africa Program Director with the International Crisis Group and the former Special Adviser to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, and Heather Conley, senior fellow and director with the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Heather, NATO's operation in Libya offered a new model of western cooperation, European allies out in front militarily and U.S. leadership from behind. Would you say this model has worked well? And did it answer the criticism from former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates about Europe's unwillingness to pony up funding and troops for military actions in its own part of the world?
Well, it was a new type of model. I would argue that the European in the lead and America leading from behind wasn't quite truth in advertisement -- in advertising. In fact, really, the United States played an extraordinary role because they are the cornerstone of NATO. It's our capacity, our logistics, our coordinating function that absolutely played a vital role. But having said that, European aircraft were certainly much -- had a much broader role.
And, in fact, it was the focus of the U.K. and the French forces, as well as Norwegian and Danish contributions that really were significant. The Americans played a very large role in the early days, but, you know, April, May timeframe really began pulling back.
What will be interesting to see, if this leadership model now continues and oppose Qaddafi era, whether we have the Europeans maintaining a strong leadership role in developing economic assets of Libya and helping Libya transform democratically and economically. Or will the U.S. play a stronger role? And how will that be coordinated? We have not seen great coordination, quite frankly.
Yes. Sometimes the Europeans get out a little ahead of time, answering questions about unfreezing assets, and, politically, we play a little catch up. But they are working very hard at trying to send a coordination mechanism. So we'll have to see. The Europeans also showed that they have a -- there's a great lack of capabilities and that it can't sustain military operations for a prolonged period of time.
So it was a mixed picture. Secretary Gates was right in some ways, but I think you're going to see this model continuing for the foreseeable future.
Rob, the U.S. faces a conundrum across the Arab Spring. It might support some of the protesters, and, in the Libyan case, it might support rebels. But the act of saying so and the act of physically aiding rebels runs the risk of altering the public perceptions of these conflicts -- don't they -- as seeing them as maybe U.S.-inspired or U.S.-backed?
Yes. But just -- first, a comment on NATO. I mean, I think defeat would...
Defeat would have had 1,000 orphans. Victory is going to have a million parents. And I think the criticism of NATO, which is probably valid in terms of its capacity, is going to be forgotten, at least for now, as people relish the victory, which was, in some ways, inevitable given the balance or the imbalance of power. But you're right about the image of the U.S.
And if you look back, there are many cases where the West -- not just the U.S. -- has helped people come to power. You could think of Afghanistan. You could think of Iraq. You could think and go on and on. But the victors ultimately didn't turn out to be the ones we expected them to be, and they didn't turn out to act as we wanted them to.
And I think, whether it's in Egypt today or in Tunisia or Libya, we can't be so sure that the people we helped bring to power in some way will end up being pro-American allies. And we're going to have to live with that. That's one piece of it. The other piece, of course, is that the U.S.'s image in the region is now -- I'd say it's quite mixed, quite ambivalent.
There still is a residue, strong residue of hostility to the U.S. because of Iraq, because of Abu Ghraib, because of Guantanamo, because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it's true that President Obama's approach to the Arab Spring has gained him some sympathizers, not enough yet to reverse the image.
And the recent polling that has been done, and which our listeners may be aware of, has shown that the image of the U.S. has, if anything, declined over the last year or so, which is not good news and which may be some -- a reason why those coming to power are going to want to keep at arms' length from Washington.
When this started, the U.S. Department of Defense estimated it would cost Washington $750 million. Already, it's believed to have cost more than a billion. Was this, in fact, a third war for Washington and the Obama administration?
Well, there certainly is an enormous amount of discussion on that in Congress in the War Powers Act and what constitutes war. And I'll leave that to the legal scholars to wrangle that one. But, yes, I think in every time you engage NATO and a military alliance to take action, whether that's from the air, that is a military action.
And because there was not a sufficient response from Libya, does not make it not a war, but it certainly -- there was great danger. And when an alliance makes a decision as critical as that, to go and use military force, then that is a war act to me.
Here is Anne in Washington, D.C. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Thank you very much for taking my call. I just want to say a little bit before I talk about what, I think, the implications are for the future. I think that we are really not hearing from almost -- in the media, from almost anyone who would have supported Qaddafi, and yet, clearly, he did have popular support.
We have to remember that he had the whole arsenal of the U.S. and the European, advanced industrialized countries, marshaled against them, including a naval blockade on the north. And yet what...
Hold that thought -- Anne, hold that thought for a second because I'd like to ask Robert Malley. I'm going to bring you back, Anne. You know, some people like Anne may argue that NATO's military operation in Libya could be seen as a demonstration of weakness, a difficult struggle against a poorly armed dictator.
Well, I think that's true. I mean, if it took six months to get rid of Qaddafi, it says something about the ineffectiveness of both the military operations against him. Perhaps it says something, as the caller is saying, about the level of support Qaddafi had. I think it's -- in all of these cases, it's too quick to say that it's one dictator against the entire country.
Even dictators have popular support, whether it's extended clan, family, tribe, you mentioned earlier people who've benefited from the regime. And there always are people some who benefit from the regime. That said, it does seem, at least judging from the pictures we're seeing and from the reports we're getting, that his support was narrow and getting narrower by the day.
But it's true, that the picture of -- why it took six months to get rid of him -- what does it say about how easy it's going to be to get rid of someone like Bashar al-Assad in Syria who won't be facing NATO? I think it's a -- you know, it's a message of optimism but also tinged with quite a bit of cautionary notes.
Here is Anne again. Go ahead, please.
Okay. Well, essentially what I wanted to get at is that I think that we have to really -- in order to understand what's going to come next, I mean, we have to evaluate the fact that the opposition does include the Muslim Brotherhood, which I understand, at least in Libya, had long-term connections with the CIA, that Qaddafi basically had given -- Libya had the highest standard of living in all of Africa.
And Qaddafi had given support to any number of national liberation struggles, such as the African National Congress, the PLO. He had brought over African-Americans. Sometimes, you had political activists who were being persecuted here. He was not -- I mean, it was not a perfect situation by any means, but it was -- they struggled in isolation internationally for many decades...
Yeah, but, Anne, Anne, Anne, as you're pointing out, there are -- there's one side of the situation. And then there is the well-documented massive record of human rights violations on the part of the Qaddafi regime: the jailings and the killings and the torturings, et cetera. Please do not omit those when you talk about Muammar Qaddafi.
Okay. I don't -- well, I think that, definitely, there were abuses. I don't -- but I distrust some of the international reporting. I don't think Qaddafi was a god. And he made some -- he -- I think he felt forced to make some serious compromises with imperialism. But my main point that I want to get to is that the U.S. and European powers did not take a strong stand on the serious atrocities in Yemen or Bahrain.
They went into Libya because it had oil. And they're not going to...
Okay. Allow me to have another caller who wants to make a similar point so that we can address several of those situations at the same time. Here is Muhammad (sp?) in Hyattsville, Md. Muhammad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Hey, Kojo. How are you doing?
Yeah, like I was saying, what, like -- what's the next thing United Nation or the United States is going to embark on? Is it going to be Syria? Or just because United Nations does not have any interest in Syria, they ain't going to do nothing about it?
Okay. Thank -- Muhammad, allow me to have our guests respond to both your and Anne's questions. Why isolate Libya? Why select Libya? There's Syria. There's Bahrain. There are all kinds of other countries in which governments are accused of human rights abuses against their own citizens. Why the emphasis on Libya?
Well, I think Libya was an example where there wasn't an immediate action, foreseen event. Benghazi, you had two Security Council permanent members -- the U.K. and France -- that were boldly pushing forward on this account. And what happened is some extraordinary work at the U.N. Security Council.
You created the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, of which gave the international community -- ultimately, NATO -- the international authorization to take that action. Now, I think, over the last five months, you've seen where the right to protect that -- which was being the catalyst for the U.N. Security Council resolution -- was broadly interpreted by some.
And they'll never get that -- or I won't say never. But it will be extremely difficult to -- for getting a similar resolution like that put forward. I think the Russians, the Chinese and the other permanent Security Council members are not going to be as forward-leaning as they were on Libya.
So, while it was an important first stake in international law for right to protect, in some ways Libya may be an exception for the moment because many are very concerned with how Libya -- particularly Russia, China, other actors -- how NATO and Western Europeans, particularly the British and the French, interpreted that R2P mandate.
Robert Malley, for most Americans, Libya was essentially a black box before this uprising happened. We identified the country with one erratic individual, Col. Qaddafi. Was there enough knowledge about this country within Washington when this whole thing started?
Probably not, I mean, I think, and that would probably apply to most countries in the region, certainly the case in Iraq. But the question asked, why we went into Iraq -- to Libya -- I think the question why we did what we did in Libya, the answer to -- Kojo, let's be quite frank.
It's because it could be done, because it was not a hard case, because you had -- as Heather mentioned, you had Security Council, Arab League, because Qaddafi, for all the international assistance he may have given to others, I think she -- the caller was right. He had very little sympathy because of the way he did things. So, very quickly, you saw the Arab League take this unprecedented decision of calling for his ouster. So he was isolated.
It could be done. There was the trigger events in Benghazi. But, ultimately -- and, as I said earlier, I think the goal was to get rid of him. It was not only to protect civilians. It was to get rid of him. Oil, obviously, was one of the motivating factors.
And, I think, if you speak to Africans -- and this is a point of view that you don't hear that much in the media -- they were extremely ambivalent about this whole thing. I mean, people in African countries that Qaddafi had given money to, they felt that it was another instance of the West coming in and deciding -- instead of Africans or Arabs deciding -- deciding who should rule, when it makes sense to intervene.
I think it's going to leave some scars, but, again, fewer scars because it ended up successfully.
On to Tim in Washington, D.C. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Good afternoon, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. My question is around the rebels themselves. I think it's fair to say that the rebels' success is due to the West loaning them an air force and a navy, among other things. Yet we've heard on the news that -- over six months -- that the rebels in Benghazi and the east are organizationally, tribally different than the rebels in the west, who seem to be the ones doing the work in Tripoli and Misrata.
And the question is, without that unifying purpose of being anti-Qaddafi, does anyone actually know or understand what the rebels are, and if they won't, for one, turn on each other or continue a debate about who, in fact, is going to succeed in Libya as a government versus just let's all fight Qaddafi?
Well, I don't know anyone who does, but Robert Malley might.
I don't. But this is obviously the most important question now, and we're already picking up. We have some people at the International Crisis Group who are in Libya with the rebels and already picking up divisions between who is going to be able to claim the mantel of the revolutionary with legitimacy. We see this, again, in every revolution. People say, I was the first to fire -- I fired the first shot. That's what the people in Benghazi are saying.
Some people in the West are going to say, yes, but we were the first ones in Tripoli. And you're hearing some antagonism between them. Is the Muslim Brotherhood, which one of the callers mentioned earlier, are different groups? The real question is going to be, can they get together and agree on a division of power and responsibility between now and the time that democratic elections will decide it in a more legitimate way?
Well, I think adding on top of that complexity is how the international community plays this. And are they going to pick winners and losers? Understand, the last several months -- I mean, the European Union has had an office in Benghazi, that we still have had official representation. Do they know the rebels in Benghazi better? Are they going to lean towards them? How does the interaction with the contact group play out?
And if you can get assistance to transform economic issues, does that help you in governing? So it's a very complex picture, though a picture that we're just only going to begin to see how it comes to fruition.
That's still unfolding, even as we speak. Heather Conley is senior fellow and director with the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thank you for joining us.
Robert Malley is Middle East and North Africa program director with the International Crisis Group. He's a former special adviser to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs. Robert, thank you for joining us.
Always a pleasure.
And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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