By William Fisher
Anyone remember Judith Miller?
She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times who went to jail rather than reveal her sources to a judge. Her coverage of Iraq's alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) program both before and after the 2003 invasion generated much controversy. A number of stories she wrote while working for The Times later turned out to be inaccurate or completely false.
She had an awkward departure from The Times in November 2005, and later became a contributor to the Fox News Channel and a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute think-tank. Late last year, numerous media outlets reported that she had signed on as a contributing writer to the conservative magazine Newsmax.
In her latest editorial romp, she asks the question, “Will Democracy Prevail in Libya?”
That, of course, is the question everyone is asking since the death of Muammar Qaddafi. Ms. Miller weighs in with, “The death of Muammar Qaddafi means that a 40-year era of repression in that oil rich country is over. That is good news. But the next 48 hours will be crucial in determining Libya's future. This is the moment of truth for the Transitional National Council (TNC) and its chairman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil and prime minister Mahmoud Jabril.”
OK so far. This is pretty much what everyone already knows and advice that some analysts are recommending.
Miller then launches into a rant about the incredibly difficult things that the TNC and its leaders will have to achieve before Libya has even a remote chance of becoming a peaceful, representative, stable democracy serving the needs of its people. And they are incredibly difficult.
As a micro example of the macro changes that will put Libya on the road to some form of democracy, Miller tells this anecdote:
“Only last week as a delegation from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were meeting at the Finance Ministry in Tripoli, unknown armed militia men disrupted the meeting and ‘arrested’ a Libyan member of the Ministry of Finance delegation as the astonished visitors looked on, according to Libyan press reports.”
We should not be surprised by just about anything that happens in Libya in the coming weeks. Chalk it up to The Fog of War. But, as Miller correctly points out, “So far, the TNC has been unable to establish order or a political consensus among its 35 members from different regions, tribes, and ideologies. Nor has it been able to give control either its Military Council, nor the numerous militias throughout Libya that have been running their own towns and competing for control.”
Right. And she goes on to admonish: “So celebration is premature. Half of the TNC members continue to live in Benghazi; others are now in Tripoli. Various spokesmen contradict one another about basic facts regarding the economy, political maneuverings, and the militia which provides security at some key government ministries. The airport is controlled by another militia.”
The problem, Miller says, “is not money.” She goes on to explain that Libya is one of the world's largest producers of ‘sweet,’ light crude oil. And the U.S. has contributed $135 million in aid to Libya's new leaders since February. The Libyan assets that were frozen after Qaddafi was forced to flee are being unfrozen.
She then announces, “This is potentially a great moment for Libya. Its version of the "Arab Spring" which erupted in February and forced Qaddafi and his rapacious family from power, has now prevailed.”
But here comes her zinger: “…without American or NATO boots on the ground, and without a Libyan army that is loyal to the TNC and able and willing to restore order, Washington will just have to hope that the TNC can achieve the control that has so far seemed beyond its grasp.”
Miller’s prescription is right out of the neo-conservatives’ playbook. As they were able to incontestably demonstrate in the throughout the peaceful hamlets of Iraq and Afghanistan, to name but a few, “American or NATO boots on the ground” solves all problems. Just like they are doing in Afghanistan. Right!
I take a dim view of American boots – especially American – anywhere near Libya. First, it’s unclear that the US has any compelling national interest in Libya; NATO more closely has a dog in this game -- oil. Second, we’re suffering through the most painful economic environment in a generation – we probably can’t afford a third war. Third, the American people are war-weary; if the voters don’t have your back in wartime, you’ve lost. Finally, it is doubtful we have the troops – at least not the right kind of troops.
Our GIs know nothing about Libya, its people, its customs, its languages, its tribes. This is part of your armor if you’re going to try to use soft power, or smart power, rather than blunt trauma. Or are we going to have US or NATO troops bashing down doors in the middle of the night and dragging families out of their beds? That will certainly build one-ness among the country’s diverse population. We see how well that’s working in Iraq and Afghanistan.
No, the job that will sooner or later have to be done in Libya – and it will take years – is a heart-stoppingly complex job of internal development. Qaddafi was beyond clever in organizing his regime (or, more correctly, not organizing it.) He put no robust institutions in place. And since there were no jobs to fill in his empty institutions, there was no need to train people to occupy chairs that weren’t there. After all, Libya has oil!
The world is full of talented, sensitive, tough, multilingual development specialists. And they are not just the “Beltway Bandits” of the Washington DC area. This global fraternity/sorority of individual and corporate development specialists – including UN agencies -- knows how to help Afghans write a Constitution, organize a political structure that is truly representative of Libya’s people, monitor free and fair elections, help lawmakers and judges build a Code of criminal and civil conduct, work to build a rule of law, expand the skills capacities in the various ministries, and begin to wean Libya off its one-product status by introducing foreign investment in industry and agriculture and working with farmers and industrialists to bring Libya the most up-to-date and proven techniques and technologies to help make these ventures successful.
If the US is asked to help in this undertaking, it should give serious consideration. But many other countries – some with far more substantial and apparent national security interests than the US has – are at least as well equipped.
So, no, I don’t think with Judy Miller that this is not the time for celebration. It is time for a huge, albeit relatively brief celebration. But Libyans would do well to keep a watchful eye on Egypt to fully appreciate how hard it is to turn from revolution to governance.