MAGDZIK: Finish the job in Libya

On June 4, 2009, President Barack Obama gave a historic speech in Cairo, directed towards the Muslim world at a time when difficult realities of the administration of the War on Terror strained many of America’s relationships with Middle Eastern countries and their populations.

When Obama spoke in Cairo of his commitment to governments that reflect the will of the people, administer justice equitably and do not steal from their countries, he addressed a North Africa replete with tyrants and repressed populations. But 28 months later, with the death of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, America has an opportunity — and a duty — to create a stable and democratic state.

There are doubtless going to be calls from across the American political spectrum to declare “mission accomplished” and withdraw or draw down the U.S. presence swiftly, regardless of NATO’s function going forward. While well-intentioned and understandable in light of the ongoing debt crisis and other standing commitments across the Middle East, this would be a mistake.

Libya is in shambles. It does not have a parliament, political parties or any semblance of civil society. Its infrastructure — or whatever existed of it before the civil wars — has been severely damaged. The country has no traditions of protecting free speech, religion or press. It has no institutions of press either, for that matter. The Libyan people do not understand how to hold governments accountable, because theirs has never been accountable in living memory.

Leaving them to deal with these things alone is a recipe for a failed state, and the consequences thereof are unacceptable. Behold the government of Somalia: powerless after a civil war, it was forced to helplessly watch the rise of Al-Shabab, a blight on the Horn of Africa and the world. If violence grips Libya and the Transitional National Council does not make a smooth shift into formal governance, a similar fate may await. The damage to regional stability would be severe, and this is not exactly a region that has become known for its political stability in recent months.

The consequences of a failed state may be even more dire in Libya’s case. In 2003, Gadhafi renounced Libya’s weapons of mass destruction program and dismantled existing progress on a nuclear facility. But in late August of this year, a former senior U.N. inspector warned that there was still unsecured material at the Tajoura nuclear research center near Tripoli. The International Atomic Energy Agency had confiscated nuclear weapon design information years ago, but there are apparently still radioisotopes, radioactive wastes and low-enriched uranium fuel there. Additionally, as of February, only about half of Libyan mustard gas stockpiles had been confiscated. There are international impacts in play here.

I am well aware that, to many, these arguments sound like shadows of the American experiment in Iraq. But that situation was different, and we should not take away the wrong lessons from our failures there, as so many in America have done. It is not time to retreat into our shell and surrender the world to the Chinese century. Nation-building and stabilization operations are only going to become more frequent and important in the coming years, not less.

We did not invade this country and we are not dealing with an insurgency. We allowed the Libyans to play a leading role in their own liberation while still supporting them both in spirit and with material assistance. And most of all, we have the weight of Iraq heavily on our minds, guiding our every move in Libya. We will not make the same mistakes.

I am not arguing for military occupation. I am arguing for sustained civil support and the inclusion of experts in the fields of police training, courts and legislatures, industrialization, infrastructure and more. They should be there to advise, not to make demands.

If we work together with the new Libyan government and play our cards right over the next few years, we can send a strong message to other authoritarian regimes in the region, from Syria to Iran. This is not something to leave to the Europeans (even if they are interested), and it is certainly not something to leave to chance. Our principles and our national security demand commitment.

Michael Magdzik is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact him at michael.magdzik@yale.edu.

Comments

  • Arafat

    “The country has no traditions of protecting free speech, religion or press. It has no institutions of press either, for that matter.”

    And this is why:

    Here are some reasons Islam and democracy are incompatible.
    • Inimical to ‘social freedoms’, demanding that all people obey their 7th century moral codes without question or criticism, under penalty of death.
    • Inimical to ‘man made’ laws, claiming that their laws are given to them by God/Allah and all must obey them, in submission, under penalty of death.
    • Inimical to the ‘social contract’ that is democratic constitutional government, for the people and by the people, in pursuit of ‘life, liberty, and happiness’, as these are ‘man made’ ideas, and to submit to them over Allah’s laws is apostasy, punishable by death.
    • Inimical to the ‘rights of individuals’ to pursue their own ideals and beliefs, freedom of worship, freedom of inquiry of truth, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of artistic expression, freedom of loving other human beings, freedom of choice, freedom of pursuing one’s life with reciprocal respect for others regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity, or sex, as these are our ‘inalienable’ rights; to pursue these may be punishable by death.
    • Inimical to ‘democratic freedoms’ as protected by (man made) constitutional laws agreed upon by social contract to protect the rights of individuals, but in favor of ‘dictatorship’ politics supported by the Ulama with the ultimate goal of imposing a universal Caliphate dictating all society according to (Allah/Mohammad’s) Sharia, where submissive obedience is rigorously mandatory, under penalty of death.
    • Inimical to intellectual ‘secularism’ in all its forms, in education, in philosophical inquiry and discourse, in the sciences, in religious studies, in history studies, in sociological studies, in anthropological studies, in archeology studies, if these are not in concordance with the ‘religious’ teachings of the Koran, except as studies of ‘infidel’ societies to be subdued, conquered for conversion, to pay the jizyah, or be put to death.
    • Inimical to social ‘equality’ of all human beings, especially of the female sex, women kept in oppression as chattel for procreation and sexual gratification of males; as submissively obedient house slaves in violation of the sanctity of their personal humanity, unfree to seek life as they desire but must live in fear of their male masters who will punish them if they disobey, for violating their ‘honor’, with death.

  • Arafat

    Michael,

    Your idealism is exactly that.

    The reality is far different. America is Islam’s enemy. Our freedoms are hateful to them. Gays and lesbians openly being so – as can be seen on TV and in our cities all the time – is disgusting in their eyes. Awadh Binhazim – a Vanderbilt professor – has openly admitted gays will be killed under Sharia law.

    Anything we do as Americans, short of converting to Islam, will likely come up short in their eyes. I would like to be proven wrong but I cannot think of many (or any) examples where Muslims have sincerely thanked us for our help in anything other than the most cursory way. Even after Hussein invaded Kuwait we were castigated for basing soldiers in Saudi Arabia in our effort to force Hussein down.