Beware the Perils of Libya after Qaddafi Has Gone

Daniel L. Byman

In recent weeks, NATO has repeatedly bombed Muammar Qaddafi’s compounds, deployed attack helicopters and escalated its air campaign. Yet as the military campaign steps up, the potential for blunders rises too – NATO bombs went astray on Sunday. Libya’s regime said nine civilians died, including two children.

While military operations to topple Colonel Qaddafi have sped up, the political and diplomatic preparation for his fall plods along. Even if the dictator perished under a pile of rubble, Libya’s fate would remain uncertain. He might be replaced by another dictator or a junta, or Libya could slide further into civil war – none of which is a prize worthy of the struggle of ordinary Libyans and their Nato backers. As the world surely learnt in Iraq and Afghanistan, a gap between military operations and political planning is a recipe for disaster. 

NATO is divided on its aims in Libya, with some allies focusing on the protection of civilians rather than regime change. U.S. politics have made the diplomacy harder. The Obama administration backed into the war (wanting to “lead from behind,” as one official said) and is not making a strong effort to sell it to Americans, who are understandably reluctant to see the United States set ambitious goals.

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