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Amb. Marc Ginsberg

Amb. Marc Ginsberg

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What Comes Next in Libya -- With or Without Gadhafi

Posted: 02/22/11 09:03 AM ET

There are not enough pejoratives to describe the many sadistic sides of Moammar Gadhafi (however you may choose to spell his name). He is a ruthless, unstable revolutionary dictator who has imported mercenaries from Chad, Sudan, and other Sub-Saharan dictator-led countries to massacre his own people as protests erupt across his subjugated nation.

In the panoply of 21st century ruthless leaders, he surely ranks in the top 5 of the devil's allies on earth.

In power for 42 years, to retain absolutist control, Gadhafi has massacred, killed, kidnapped, tortured and exiled anyone who dared to challenge his authority and the so-called Islamic socialist state that is Libya.

He and his seven biological sons have run Libya like a mob operation -- government institutions are virtually non-existent. Theoretically, power lies in the hands of so-called Jumariyah (or people's mass meetings). But all that mattered was Gadhafi's whim and edict.

To think he came so close to having a nuclear weapon before he was seized by a rare moment of temporary sanity and reverted the nuclear stockpile to safer hands to buy a fleeting degree of international respectability.

Well, he did manage for a while to turn himself into a caricature of a cartoon cum statesman -- until Tunisia erupted.

When I visited Libya a few years ago and met in a desert tent with his intelligence chief I was given a copy of Gadhafi's Green Book. Don't bother reading it... it is jibberish -- good for nothing except to decipher what passes as the dictates of a dictator.

For two days and then some, I was cross-examined about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Washington's potential reaction should Libya seek better ties with the U.S. It was hard to tell where all of the talk would eventually lead, but at least Gadhafi had an intelligence chief who could complete a logical thought and seemed to believe a saner Libya was possible. Alas, not to be.

I wonder where Mr. Souissi is tonight?

Unlike Tunisia or Egypt, Gadhafi will use as much brute force as he can import to quell the uprising... because there is no brake on his power other than the ability of the Libyan people to fight tooth and nail with their own wits and blood against him. This is truly a civil war, with the force of the empire aligned against the good people of Libya, a country afloat in incredible oil wealth, yet impoverished and as backward as any can imagine. Under Gadhafi Libya is a nation without a future. And you can be sure Gadhafi will fight to the last bullet. This is not someone inclined to flee the bunker.

Let's suppose for a moment that Gadhafi loses, and the Libyan revolution against his rule achieves its goal.

What then next for Libya?

One must understand that Libya is a colonial construct; stitched together by the allegiance of tribes, albeit for money and convenience.

In the short run, the eastern province, with the principal city of Benghazi, has traditionally been a hot bed of anti-Gadhafi activity and reports suggest it has fallen into the hands of his adversaries. Indeed, it is possible that Benghazi would declare itself an independent Islamic emirate. Too early to tell.

The key to Gadhafi's longevity is the city of Tripoli... Libya's capital to the west near the Tunisian border. A city controlled by Gadhafi's own tribe and by the paid allegiance of his police and mercenaries.

Tonight, Gadhafi lost the crucial support of two tribes vital to his rule -- the Awlad Soweija which has Islamist extremist elements in it and is based in around Benghazi, as well as the Awlad Waffala, which is the largest tribe south of Tripoli. The loss of the latter is a devastating blow to what passes as his regime.

In the event that Tripoli falls out of Gadhafi's control, Libya may descend in the short run into chaos and anarchy, since there is no one to take over unless a council of exiled democrats can come together, perhaps under the chapeau of the pretenders to deposed King Idriss. That may be Libya's best hope to prevent Libyans from having to die further once Gadhafi and his brood are banished. Memo to popular Libyans in exile: you will have to move quickly to catch the tail of this tiger before it becomes too late to do so.

What is clear is that there is a strong Islamist opposition that has targeted Gadhafi in the past. Ironically, the dictator who introduced conservative Shariah values is himself the target of their ire.

In this power vacuum, waiting in the wings are the remnants of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) -- now merged with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). LIFG is not the Taliban. It does not have the depth and breadth of support among the key tribes. But in the wake of the lawlessness that would inevitably take hold should Gadhafi fall, Libya could easily disintegrate into tribal redoubts and Somali-type Islamist insurgency where tribalism and Al Qaeda sympathizers battle it out. Think of Afghanistan in North Africa if a simplistic analogy is called for.

For the U.S., other than targeting AQIM and what emerges as the LIFG, there is little we can do to stop the bloodshed, but to stare at the gas pump as its price rises from the spectacle of oil-rich Libya imploding. No sanction or presidential condemnation from the Obama Administration will stop Gadhafi from butchering his own people. It would be more prudent for the White House to begin preparing two parallel policy tracks... for a wounded Libya with or without the man with the green book.