Libya's Uprising, Untapped Riches and America's Missed Opportunity

08/29/2011 09:30 am ET | Updated Oct 26, 2011

This article was co-authored with Mohamed El-Sherbeini, President of Bio-therapeutics Technologies and Adjunct Professor at Kean University.

With the prevailing sentiment against the United States committing to yet another war in the Middle East, President Obama carefully attempted a new approach in the Libyan conflict, founded upon multilateralism and military restraint. At the same time, France and England took the lead by enforcing the no-fly zone against Colonel Gaddafi.

Not surprisingly, many members of Congress were displeased with President Obama's measured approach on Libya. Republicans initially attacked the president's strategy and criticized his ceding of the NATO leadership to France and England. Subsequently, the Republican-dominated U.S. House voted to reject the Libyan mission. The vote prevented supplying the Libyan rebels with weapons, training or advice. Though it was an unintended result, the House vote was seen as a victory by pro-Qaddafi supporters in Tripoli, empowering the Qaddafi regime. Fortunately, France and Britain stepped in and provided the rebels with much needed weaponry and military training.

The Libyan crisis presented a rare example in global politics of a multilateralism that was almost universal. Thus, a successful outcome culminating in ending the Gaddafi era was only a matter of time. The Arab League, in an exceptional decision to act against a member country, asked for and supported a no-fly zone resolution at the U.N. The wide condemnation of Colonel Gaddafi's regime was a rare show of unity among the international community, U.N., and the Arab League. This provided an opportunity to stand on the right side of history and against one of the world's most brutal dictators. The 40-years-era of Gaddafi's grip on power came to an abrupt end with an astonishing speed on Sunday, August 21. The rebels advanced to their capital swiftly against little or no resistance from pro-Qaddafi forces. The cheers from jubilant Libyans were reminiscent of earlier celebrations of Tunisians and Egyptians and demonstrate that the Arab Spring lives on.

The United Stated missed an opportunity to lead the NATO effort in Libya. Clearly, this was a prospect for the U.S. to assert its standing by the Libyan people and to improve its image in the Muslim world. The House's rejection of President Obama's approach in Libya has further damaged the U. S. image abroad. Had it not been for the support of France and Britain, Gaddafi's regime would likely continue unabated. While France and Britain were united in their commitment to the Libyan mission, the U.S. military policies were uncharacteristically vague and at times divisive. Late Sunday, Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina issued a statement in which they said that they regretted that "success in Libya was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower."

It is hoped that the United States will step up to play a leading role in the new Libya as it redefines itself in the post-Gaddafi era. There is no compelling evidence that Libya needs foreign aid, as it has no foreign debts and it has hundreds of billions of dollars in assets in Europe and in USA. In addition, Libya has the largest oil reserve in Africa, albeit largely untapped, and holds over 140 tons of gold. What Libya needs is western expertise and modern technologies to build its institutions, army and its infrastructure. This provides a tremendous opportunity for the United States international policies, companies and economy and, if done right, can help stabilize the Middle East in the long run.