Battle still looms for Libya after Gadhafi
US Asst Secy of State Jeffrey Feltman meets with Libyan NTC Chmn Mustafa Abdul Jalil Photo By: AFP/Getty Images
August 23rd, 2011
06:56 PM ET

Battle still looms for Libya after Gadhafi

As what might be the final battle rages in Libya, another is looming: the political battle to create a functioning democracy.

As Libyan rebels try to consolidate their military gains in Tripoli, the National Transitional Council in Benghazi is trying to activate plans for a political transition.

What role the United States will play in Libya's future isn't yet clear, but most believe it will be a major partner in an international effort.

Getting an interim government in place in Libya as soon as possible is critical, the U.S. State Department says. That government would lead the process of writing a constitution and getting to elections, the building blocks of democracy.

But international assistance will be necessary to put the other blocks in place.

The priority is security, "because we don't need any more civilian lives lost in Libya," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

U.S. officials said they're encouraged by reports the rebels have set up checkpoints around public buildings to promote public safety.

"Tripoli does not look like Baghdad looked after the fall of Saddam Hussein," with widespread looting, said Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

Confusion over the reported capture of one of Moammar Gadahfi's sons by the opposition raised questions about whether the Libyan people and the international community can trust the council with Libya's future should Gadhafi fall.

Observers say the reported arrest - and prompt reappearance - of Saif al-Islam are at the least an embarrassing distraction for the rebels as they seek to take control of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Mahmoud Shammam, minister of information for the NTC, acknowledged the situation over the reported capture was confusing. "We admit our communication was not clear," he said, saying it had been representatives in Benghazi who stated Saif al-Islam was under arrest, rather than the prime minister.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Tuesday that the rebels had the confidence of the American government despite the conflicting information over Monday's arrests.

"We have definitely found them to be credible and reliable interlocutors," she said.

Professor Daniel Serwer of Johns Hopkins University has met with the NTC and said the opposition seems acutely aware of the need to establish the rule of law.

"From what we know, they want a democratic Libya, an Islamic state but a state that is clearly a multiparty state, that is clearly a liberal state. It would not be unique perhaps in the world, but it is certainly an experiment for Libya, which has not had a state at all."

The rebels who NATO assisted in routing Gadhafi forces are not professional soldiers and would need help in securing the huge stockpiles of Gadhafi's weapons and ammunition, including weapons of mass destruction like mustard gas.

There also are reports of Gadhafi loyalists shedding their uniforms and melting into the crowds to fight another day. They will have to be tracked down.

"All along we've been talking about the inevitability of some foreign boots on the ground. That will take place, whether the fighting assumes what we would call street-to-street, block-to-block type of engagements that are characterizations of urban warfare or, more importantly, during these periods of transition," said retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. James "Spider" Marks.

"There will be a transition and it's coming up shortly. You've got to be able to lock down Gadhafi's military forces so they don't grow legs and go elsewhere and that takes some degree of a force on the ground."

While the United States has contributed substantial assets and intelligence to NATO-led efforts to oust Gadhafi, President Obama declared that no U.S. ground troops would be used in that effort nor in the aftermath.

Referring to the rebels, a White House official said on Tuesday, "They haven't asked" for U.S. boots on the ground and "they don't want" U.S. boots on the ground.

The official suggested any support of that nature would have to come from international partners.

The NTC's stabilization team said it is considering asking several Arab states - including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan - for a force of several hundred troops to help protect important installations in Tripoli. Gadhafi's stockpiles of mustard gas and possibly other chemical weapons and surface to air missiles constitute a threat that would go beyond Libya's borders.

"Well, I'm worried about it as are many others," said Nicholas Burns, a former U.S. undersecretary of state and ambassador to NATO, "...because if they were to get out and proliferate, it could do untold damage on the United States."

Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said while he had faith in the good intentions of the rebels, "I don't know what their capacities are to find this stuff and to secure it. And we are going to start having to talk about some of the issues that are a little bit more difficult like what kind of international role is going to have to be played in Libya once Gadhafi has fallen ... we're going to be facing questions pretty early on about whether there has to be something more, including perhaps some international forces that can go in and secure weaponry if the rebels are unable to do so."

Marks said he still has concerns about Libya's one-time nuclear weapons program; even though Gadhafi gave up the program, the intelligence behind it is still dangerous.

"The smart technical brains I would imagine are still in place, and what side are they on? Where do their loyalties lie?"

The NTC has already agreed to a timetable for a new government. The next step would be an "interim authority," broadening the TNC from 33 members to 60 to include newly liberated parts of the country.

A 15-person panel will draft a constitution over 45 days. The constitution would then be voted on in a national referendum and legislative elections would be held four months later. A presidential election would be held two months after that.

NTC officials estimate the process will take 10 to 15 months.'

"(It would) become an interim government that would represent a broad cross-section of Libyans from different walks of life, different parts of the country, different political backgrounds," Nuland said.

But tribal loyalties, control over oil revenues and disputes over Libyan government assets - including $30 billion frozen by the United States - could cause rifts in the opposition.

Then things could turn ugly.

I think we're going to have to expect to see a slow transition, perhaps a chaotic transition, perhaps, even, unfortunately a violent transition that wouldn't be surprising at all given the degree of disinfection and disunity that this country has suffered for so long." Burns said.

The U.S. is working with the United Nations to release $1 billion to $1.5 billion in frozen assets, Nuland said Tuesday, and give the money to the NTC for humanitarian purposes and to "help it establish a secure, stable government."

Burns said the same international effort that carried out the military effort should now carry out the economic one.

"The Obama administration made a big point of saying the Europeans and the Arabs should be leading. And I think now that needs to extend to the aftermath of the fighting," he said.

"If there is going be a major international economic effort to help stabilize Libya, to rebuild the shattered cities, of course the United States should participate, but the Europeans should lead and do more because France and Italy and Spain have greater historical social economic interests than we do, and certainly the Arab countries should do more to help the Libyans.

"President Obama was criticized, as you remember, by some of his critics for having been too solicitous of the allies, for not having had the United States in front. It turns out to have been a very wise policy. It does spread the burden and the burden should still rest on the issue of weapons and other - and on economic aid, I think, with the European allies and with the Arab neighbors."

William Cohen, a former secretary of defense and U.S. senator, called the international effort against Libya "an important geopolitical statement."

"Other countries have to step up and carry some of the burden. It can't be the United States leading every effort and you have other countries, whether it's the British or the French or the Italians or others who have strong ties, historically, to Libya, they have to play a bigger role," Cohen said. "The United States can bring its power to bear in the form of intelligence, surveillance, direct munitions or precision guiding munitions. We can do all of that, but it's time for others to step up and bear some of the load that we've been carrying for many, many years now."

soundoff (11 Responses)

    Best view i have ever seen !

    April 17, 2021 at 3:51 pm | Reply

    Best view i have ever seen !

    April 16, 2021 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  3. rajeev

    Sweet crude of mine
    By Pepe Escobar

    Royals dancing in palace corridors have been spotted in Riyadh. The heir to the Libyan throne, Prince al-Senussi, a nephew of King Idriss who was deposed by Muammar Gaddafi and others in a bloodless 1969 military coup, has embarked on a busy self-promotion campaign, saying he's ready to go back to Libya and even "lead the country".

    Nothing in the world would be sweeter for the House of Saud – extremely distasteful of most Arab secular republics – than a friendly, brand new emirate in northern Africa.

    But the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the real winners of the Libyan tribal/civil war, may have other ideas. Mahmoud Jibril – the dodgy National Transitional Council's prime

    minister – speaking in Qatar, has explicitly thanked the winners by name: France, Britain, the United States, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Of this top five, the Western top three might welcome, in theory, a pliable emirate – but as long as it does not exhibit North Waziristan-style ultra-fundamentalist tendencies, as in Pakistan's tribal area.

    It's an open game, because at this stage no one really knows the degree of influence Islamists will be able to wield in post-Gaddafi Libya. A week from now, in Paris, some answers might be on the table; that's when the "friends of Libya" (FOL) will gather with council leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil and prime minister Jibril to talk business regarding what is gearing up to be a new NATO protectorate.

    Meanwhile, from Benghazi to European capitals, the dancing is to the tune of a Guns 'n Roses megahit, now rebranded Sweet Crude of Mine. France and Germany are already pressing the "NATO rebels" leadership for juicy deals, Italy starts today (Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is meeting Jalil in Milan) and the Brits and the Americans are about to join the fray.

    Up to now, Libya's National Oil Company was essentially awarding service contracts on old, profitable oil fields to Libya's national subsidiaries. But what BP, Total, Exxon Mobil and the Qatar oil company really want is serious involvement in new fields, and those famous production-sharing agreements (PSAs) that allow stratospheric profits. They want the full bonanza they didn't get in Iraq – where some of the juiciest contracts went to Russian, Chinese or Malaysian players.

    As for those players that were already on Libyan soil, such as Spain's Repsol and Italy's ENI, they are planning to be back in business before the end of September. No one knows what will happen to Chinese investments.

    What WikiLeaks had already revealed [1] will certainly be back in the form of dogfights, such as between US companies and Italy's ENI for the cream of the contracts. Largely because of Berlusconi's very tight "bunga bunga" links with Gaddafi, ENI was already pumping almost 200,000 barrels of oil a day before the tribal/civil war.

    Anyway, from the point of view of corporations linked to the war "winners", no more Gaddafi is already a surefire guarantee of ultra sweet contracts and an array of concessions.

    Follow the money
    On the banking front, WikiLeaks once again had already revealed [2] that the privatization of Libya's central bank was regarded as a golden "opportunity" for US banks. The shadow "rebel" bank facilitated by HSBC in all probability will take over – obviously not independent as the previous Libya Central Bank but aligned with the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the central bankers' central bank.

    So bye-bye to "subversive", unifying Gaddafi ideas such as dumping the US dollar and the euro so Arab and African nations would start dealing in a new single currency – the gold dinar. It's crucial to note that most African nations – and a lot of Arabs – backed up the idea. The only serious contrarians in the region were South Africa and the Arab League (influenced by the House of Saud). Obviously Washington and the European Union (EU) were furious – to the point of calling NATO to the rescue.

    It's never enough to remember that in late 2002 Iraq under Saddam Hussein started accepting payment in euros instead of US dollars for its oil. Everybody knows what happened next. Don't mess with the petrodollar, or else ...

    So the oil and the flow of money will be secure in the hands of the "winners". Now for the strategic design. The Pentagon's Africom – after its first successful African war – will be rewarded with its first African base, thus abandoning its headquarters in that lovely African bush, Stuttgart. And NATO will proceed in its sacred mission of turning the Mediterranean into a "NATO lake". Northern Africa is already in the bag; now for the eastern Mediterranean, to teach a lesson to those pesky Syrians.

    Whose flag is this?
    To qualify the TNC's cast of characters as "dodgy" is in fact an understatement. Virtually everyone is "invisible". Few may remember that the TNC's Jalil was the judge that condemned those Bulgarian nurses to death – a notorious case in France that warranted muscular intervention by neo-Napoleonic Nicolas Sarkozy, who even regimented his trophy wife Carla Bruni to seduce the Big G. After the nurses were freed, Jalil was promoted by Gaddafi to justice minister, lasting from 2007 until his opportunistic defection last February.

    To believe that this motley crew of disgruntled tribals, radical Islamists, fake "socialists" of the Tony Blair variety, cynical opportunists on the payroll of oil giants, military defectors and outright thugs will pray in the altar of "democracy" is a mirage. Not to mention that they invited NATO and regressive Arab monarchies to bomb their motherland – certainly not where they live, but "the other side", Tripolitania.

    It remains to be seen how most people and tribes in Tripolitania will relate to the people of Cyrenaica – which they view as lowly country bumpkins – seizing power. They are already fuming at being degraded in the new Libyan flag – which is basically the Cyrenaica flag (black rectangle with a white Islam crescent) with two additional strips, red for Fezzan and green for Tripolitania

    No one knows how the next stage of this "kinetic" war that is not a war (copyright: The White House) will play out. Yet there are serious reasons to believe this may turn out to be a devastating remix of the 2001 "defeated Taliban" and 2003 "Mission Accomplished" scenarios.

    Bedouins and Berbers, at war, are all about strategic retreat and ambushing. That is, guerrilla. No one knows what degree of tribal support Gaddafi may still count on not only around Tripoli but around his fiefdom of Sirte or in the high desert. Yet it's a sure bet that he'll go the guerrilla way. Whether he'll end up like Saddam or play "the road goes on forever" like the Taliban is the $100 billion question (the amount of Libyan funds to be unfrozen by the "winners"). Quagmire looms.

    1. See WikiLeaks cables show that it was all about the oil.
    2. See Libya makes progress on banking reform.

    Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

    He may be reached at

    To follow Pepe's articles on the Great Arab Revolt, please click

    August 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  4. reallynow

    "Gadhafi loyalists shedding their uniforms and melting into the crowds to fight another day"

    Wonderful, a new strategy by Gadaffi. Obviously if government forces can't beat the rebels head on because of NATO support, then stop fighting, go to your hideouts and start building the first of many road side bombs for the arriving convoys of rebel troops. Meanwile Al Quada will also slip in to the conflict sooner or later.

    This is going to be another nightmare for western powers.

    August 26, 2011 at 1:24 am | Reply
  5. rajeev

    August 25, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Reply
  6. dog4dog

    one thing i would do though is to take some of the COL's money and build the memorial at ground zero with it,and i dont mean that to be insulting or to be funny, it would be poetic justice,don't get me wrong the col is not a good person and lockerbie gives usa all the justification it needs(or needed)cause after all that was in the 80's right, seriously i couldn't think of a better insult to the terrorist than to have them finance the damn memorial

    August 24, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  7. dog4dog

    someone else is going to have to fix libya now that no legitimate authority is there, i think i might punch the next dumb a s s redneck who blindly supports the country's dumb(not evil)actions, all i am saying is that the french now got involved in iraq, i'll see how their doing in about 5 years, tell the brits to go home and let the french struggle av wau

    August 24, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Reply
  8. dog4dog

    i wouldn't be suprised if the col ends up back in power 5 yrs down the road after the lebanon

    August 24, 2011 at 10:46 am | Reply
  9. dog4dog

    wasn't there a picture floating around of hillary clinton with the COL in 2009, if i remember right it was dealing with a donation we (USA) made to the COL, anyone remember when the rebel leader said muammar could stay as long as he retired (doesn't sound all that evil), anyone realize the eu got the majority of it's oil from lybia in 2010, the country is now in the hands of who – the guy who served as the Col's secretary of justice for years, common now we just made a stupid a s s move, the country is going to become a civil war, anyone think some al qaeda boys moved in to get a piece of he pie, anyone see the looting on the streets the other day, we just took another country's central authority away, now don't get me wrong, lockerbie gave all of nato the legitimate authority to wage the war – but that was not their reason for doing so, you all should read something other than cnn or bbc and you would realize what propaganda spoon fed bs our news really is, seriously google pravada or chinese news agency (xi something) and you will see what the world really thinks about the usa and nato, now don't get me wrong i am a very loyal american and would gladly serve my country it's just that i think a bunch of jihads just took over another country,

    August 24, 2011 at 10:43 am | Reply
    • blacky

      I I get it!!

      August 26, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Reply

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