Libya’s post-intervention history has been so bleak that it is being compared to Iraq and cited as proof that American interventions make things worse. But that is probably a hasty judgment.
The current situation in Libya is tough to explain in one paragraph, but here it goes: the parliament is making a valiant effort at representative government, but all the real power is in the hands of at least 125 rogue militias. The sole source of government revenue is oil, which has dropped to 20 percent of its usual capacity in the last three years. This is a $30 billion loss, Ambassador Anne Patterson told Congress. Libya elected yet another prime minister in June, but the elections were so chaotic that the poor man had to convince local police to retake his office by force before he could enter it. Militias have taken over Benghazi. And when militants refused to stop fighting even to put out a massive fuel fire on Tuesday, Italy finally intervened to stop the blaze.
The violence is now so bad that the diplomatic team from France, the United States, and the United Nations has left, and respective governments are offering evacuation plans for expatriates from Egypt, Britain, France, the Philippines, China, and Greece.
This is no time to give up altogether, even if temporary departure is wise. As Americans, we should not behave like first-time employees who look askance at the office interns, forgetting what it’s like to be that position. Consider the “state” of the United States, three years, ten years, or even fourscore and seven years after declaring independence. Have we already forgotten what arduous tasks await a people determined to “live free or die”?
It is a serious thing for a people to win their freedom and develop the institutions necessary to protect it. Ambassador Patterson admitted everyone was surprised by the lack of Libyan civil structures to fill the power vacuum left by Qaddaffi’s deposement. In fact, the closest thing to “civil structures” that did surface was the patchwork of militias that made short work of Qaddaffi’s weapons cache, despite a $40 million budget to contain it.
That said, the European powers have been helping more than one might think. One of the EU’s main jobs was to set up a much-needed police force. This has stalled because the tribal system has become so strong that none of the residents want to admit into their community an unknown who might be armed and dangerous.
Many Libyans still have hope, though, particularly the sixty members of the constitutional committee. They began work in April with an eight-month timeline for completion and have shown astonishing dedication to the task at hand, reported Reuters. American officials have called it “the one bright spot” amid the literal disaster swirling around Libya.
One somewhat cheering thought in terms of American national security is the securing of the MAN pad missiles and nuclear weapons from the weapons arsenal. Admittedly, plenty of other weapons are still flowing out and around Libya with reckless abandon, but the fact that the really bad ones are out of circulation is good news, even if it is the only good news from Libya.
Wednesday was the quietest day in weeks around the airport in Tripoli, as one of those oh-so-familiar humanitarian ceasefires began so officials could bury bodies and put out the fire. It’s not much, but it might be a place to start.