Gaddafi is dead and the celebrations have already started. Without wanting to rain on the parade I do want to suggest some reasons why we should be a little hesitant about being too delighted.
NATO’s main goal appears to be fufilled in that the only clear agreed aim of the campaign was the destruction of the Gaddafi regime. That military goal appears secure. The official stated position was that the main aim was the protection of civilians but in practice this did not explain the proactive bombing which took place, nor did it explain why attacks on civilian areas by rebels were in effect ignored by NATO. Whether or not Gaddafi’s death is in the interests of the West depends on whether or not the new regime is intending to consider the West’s advantage. The Arab Spring was only ever partly about the need for democracy. The other part was to reduce the unwanted influence of the West. Since the rebels are a very disparate group and have vested tribal and political interests which include those of some al Qaeda sympathisers it is hard to see them being anxious to put Western interests ahead of their own.
Some of the warning signs are already present. Some of the larger groups of rebels have already stated they have no intention of letting the NTC speak for them and the rebels in at least three cities have been arguing about the way they are being misrepresented by other rebel groups in the other cities. We should also remember that when the NTC asked that Gaddafi not be killed – but held for trial they were defied, and then when they asked the rebels to release the body to their care, again they were defied.
As Fulvio Grimaldi has already pointed out there is every evidence that the anti-Gaddafi factions have already started to use their power to engage in some targeted genocide. Black Africans are being targeted as claimed mercenaries and any who declared loyalty to the previous regime (often for self preservation) are now prime targets. I would be interested to hear how the current complaints from Amnesty International and the correspondent John Pilger are being answered because they are providing a wealth of evidence to suggest that the new regime has many of the same characteristics as the one it replaces in terms of offences against human rights. Declaring that a previous but very substantial pro-Gaddafi support base is now the group on the outer will leave many disposessed and many potential enemies of the new regime. It also removes many of those in leadership and replaces them with political appointments many of whom may have no skills in the appointed positions. For the last month at least, spokesmen for the rebels appear to be split between those who insist that no remnants of the old regime will be allowed to stay in power, and those who say that the pragmatic solution will be to allow the technocrats from the old regime to stay in critical positions where their expertise will still be needed. Visions of repeating what has happened in Iraq and Zimbabwe should suggest caution in believing that a total change will result in automatic improvement.
Another problem for the incoming Libyan government as a whole is that all its essential wealth is tied up in complex oil arrangements which may well have to be renegotiated. It took many years to negotiate the current, now effectively defunct, arrangements and although the Oil Companies are saying it is back to business as usual, the new regime is unlikely to allow the same arrangements to continue for any length of time.
Removing a dictator in Libya might seem a step in the right direction, but the relatively recent history of what happened in nearby Algeria where the coup was followed by a decade of nasty civil war does not make it a given.
Should we celebrate? I for one will be waiting a while!