Over the last several weeks the situation in Libya has become increasing complex. In Egypt and Tunisia the respective leaders chose to leave power rather than launch an offensive against their citizens. It seems President Muammar Gaddafi has chosen a different route. Instead of resigning or accepting the United States' offer of exile, he has chosen to "stay till the end". Punctuating this decision, pro-Gaddafi militias have launched an offensive attempting to recapture several towns taken by the rebels and his air force has bombed rebel held cities.
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has waded into an already complicated situation with an offer to form a "committee of peace" to mediate between Colonel Gaddafi and the rebels who currently control half of the country and the oil rich city of Benghazi. Chavez, who has been joined by his allies in the Bolivarian Alliance, has refused to condemn the man he calls a friend and "the Simon Bolivar of Libya." Instead, Chavez and his Latin American allies' explanation for the ongoing turmoil in Libya is an invasion plan by the United States.
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's undergraduate course on mediation, a successful mediator must follow the following nine principles.
1) Assumes the role of facilitator
2) Seeks consent of both parties before beginning
3) Establishes a safe environment for both parties by setting ground-rules (e.g. no interruption)
4) Leads parties through process of communicating (facts, effects, feelings)
5) Eases communication by paraphrasing: removing emotional words, preserving facts
6) Requires each side to listen to the other
7) Encourages parties to propose realistic solutions
8) Suggests creative solutions
9) Always preserves own neutrality
None of these principles appear to be the natural strengths of President Hugo Chavez. It is increasingly clear that his offer to mediate in the current crisis in Libya is an attempt to help a friend hold onto power, not a good faith effort to stop the bloodshed. Colonel Gaddafi probably understands this; he quickly accepted the offer.
The United States must continue to stay the course, ratcheting up pressure on Colonel Gaddafi to step down while discouraging any effort which might lead to his continuity as the head of state. The Obama administration should heed the calls by the rebels to establish a no-fly zone which would protect innocent civilians, and support the activity of the International Criminal Court in assuring that Gaddafi at long last answers for his crimes.
Follow Joel D. Hirst on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joelhirst