Three future scenarios for Libya
April 7th, 2011
06:02 PM ET

Three future scenarios for Libya

By Amar C. Bakshi, CNN

Testifying before Congress on Thursday, General Carter Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command affirmed that the situation in Libya is grinding toward a stalemate.

The Libyan rebels are not an organized fighting force, but Moammar Gadhafi cannot mobilize a major offensive against them because of NATO airstrikes and dwindling support within his own army.

So what lies ahead? Military analysts and Libya experts articulate three main possibilities: (1) a prolonged stalemate, (2) a negotiated settlement, or (3) total victory for one side.

1. Prolonged stalemate: The situation could remain much as it is now with the opposition controlling Benghazi, Ajdabiya and some of the coastline. Moammar Gadhafi would control the rest.

Zachary Hosford and Andrew Exum at the Center for a New American Security recently described what this might look like: “A stalemate in Libya would effectively result in a de facto partition of the country with a severely under-governed and disorganized safe haven in eastern Libya for the rebels that could provide refuge for various militant and criminal groups capable of exporting violence and instability to other countries in North Africa and the Middle East.”

Max Boot, a national security fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), describes the worst case scenario in which this stalemate drags go on for years – much as Saddam Hussein clung to power for a decade after the First Gulf War.

Middle East scholar Juan Cole illustrates a more hopeful scenario in which - after weeks, months or perhaps a year - a negotiated settlement is reached.  He noted that the 1995 Dayton Accords were signed more than a year after NATO started bombing in Bosnia.

2. Negotiated settlement: Many analysts argue that time is not on Gadhafi’s side.  NATO strikes wear down his forces while other nations supply the rebels with weapons and training.  The rebels are gaining access to oil money and potentially to Gadhafi’s frozen accounts, while sanctions squeeze Gadhafi and his associates.

Unable to pay his mercenaries and losing control, Gadhafi might ultimately feel forced to negotiate, or former loyalists may oust him and negotiate in his stead.

In either event, the outcome of a negotiation is an open question. They could lead to the establishment of an interim council, paving the way for parliamentary elections, or, if the stalemate lasts for many years, potentially the partition of Libya.

3. Total victory for one side or the other: Gadhafi’s regime could collapse. This is the scenario many are hoping for. This could occur if Gadhafi’s army breaks in the face of continued NATO bombing or if Gadhafi’s deputies defect en masse. Tripoli would then be open to the rebels.

Having the rebels forcibly overthrow Gadhafi would be much more difficult. As Libyan journalist Fadel Al-Ameen explains, “I don’t imagine that the rebels in the East will be capable of driving all the way to Tripoli. Even if they do, just to invade Tripoli would be a humanitarian catastrophe because Gadhafi and his forces would wreak havoc on the civilian population there.”

The opposite possibility is that Gadhafi defeats the rebels and reasserts control over all of Libya.  This is the nightmare scenario, but it is also extremely unlikely. The world’s attention would have to shift away from Libya entirely to allow Gadhafi to amass the requisite force.

Then what?

Most analysts agree that sooner or later - whether weeks, months or years - Gadhafi has to go, leaving open the question of what happens next.

As James Lindsay of CFR notes, “Part of the problem is we’re talking about what happens on day one….The crucial question is what will be happening in the fall and next year. The same is true if the rebels take it all. That is only the first chapter of the book.”

Exum worries because “most post-conflict states go through a stage where external aid exceeds the government's capacity to effectively administer it, creating conditions ripe for corruption. In Libya's case, you will have a similar situation with both (a) a lot of government oil revenues and (b) very little bureaucracy capable of redistributing resources within the society.”

But there is also reason for optimism. As Al-Ameen says, “Libya’s level of education is high. We’re not looking at a country like Afghanistan, which is a tribal society without leadership or government. Nor is Libya like Iraq with so many sectarian differences. Libya also has economic resources that will help it survive and prosper. The future doesn’t look too bad."

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Topics: Libya • Middle East • Military • United Nations

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soundoff (218 Responses)
  1. Activist

    CNN is propaganda machine of Jews zoinist. Today Israel killed 12 civilians in Gaza.. no news coverage..but any unrest in Islamic world is the headline of CNN. Israel is the main cause of unrest in Arab world.. Israel needs to be wiped out if peace is to be desired

    April 9, 2011 at 3:18 am | Reply
    • MDX

      Oh, damn, here we go again. Whatever happens is Israel's guilt. Maybe even the fact that my drunking neigbor plumber shed the beer on his pants when he was tight yesterday and was turning the air blue for half an our the way the whole hood heard is also zionists' schemings? Poor dizzeasesd. You are to be injected with life-giving euthanasia to be cured of your cerebral phimosis, or you're quickly and enevitably reaching the full calcification of thought-conducting channels of your interaural ganglion.

      April 9, 2011 at 8:36 am | Reply

    Gahhh lay what a crisis :(

    April 9, 2011 at 3:41 am | Reply
  3. Libyan

    The future all Libyans looking for is one WITHOUT GADDAF, HIS FAMILY nor his regime who all should and will pay for all their crimes against Libyans and humanity. Gaddafi and his regime not only terrorized Libyans for 4 decades, they terrorized the whole world and should be punished.

    April 9, 2011 at 6:11 am | Reply
  4. Jitas

    U.S.A leaders and Some European Countries leaders should go to Japan and have a nice Nuclear Shower!!! Who make war who should be punished!!!

    April 9, 2011 at 8:04 am | Reply
  5. Anon

    It's not a matter of imperialism or economic expansionism. The fact is the rebels are little more than impoverished farmers with a couple guns and technical trucks against a professional army equipped with tanks, artillery and snipers, not to mention training. All the NATO airstrikes are designed to do is eliminate the pro-governmental armor and heavy weapons to create an equal playing field between the rebels and the pro-government forces. Despite these strikes, it's clear the pro-government forces still have the advantage.

    April 9, 2011 at 9:54 am | Reply
  6. Rod

    All these calls for Democracy in the arab world bring a mixed blessing.
    They will most likely succeed in over-throwing the dictators, but freedom & liberty will not follow.
    Once all of these countries take their first vote, guess who the victors will be ?
    This is not hard to figure out. Almost everyone will vote for the parties of islam.
    So, the mullahs will come to power, just as they did in Iran, and we see the results there.
    Un-fortunately, there can be no Liberty in any of these countries.
    After the mullahs are in charge in all of these countries, there is a much greater
    danger of war with the west. There will only be bondage.
    Where the spirit of the lord is, there is Liberty.
    All else is bondage.

    April 9, 2011 at 10:31 am | Reply
  7. Omar Mohammed

    There is only one scenario for Libya and the world at this time: freedom for Libya and the Libyan people; riddance of Gadaffi. Those who won't accept it will have to accept defeat.

    April 10, 2011 at 5:18 am | Reply
  8. nassser khan

    I think First option and first para is most possible because UK and France are involved in this conflict. Both are master in dividing the nations, creating problem forever, torturing, dividing society and people and making the division and hatred and plundering wealth so much that it is not possible to fill the gap for centuries They could not solve a single problem but created many more. Look back history and human right in Africa, Asia, Middle East etc during occupation. I think US is aware of the dirty game kept itself away. Now they take the cover of UN and can do any thing. The international community is handicapped because they are also affraid of them.

    April 10, 2011 at 8:08 am | Reply
    • David


      The slaves predator ,imperialist and colonialist are back to AFrica with the ultime "Humanitarian mission".

      They come as strangers in your land you welcome them into your house ,you bring them at your table for supper ,THEN they corrupt , they divide , they kill, destroy, still, vandalize , burry any hope in your land , send they children and children children to do the same : slavery, colonize civilize ...then now "humanitarian mission"

      April 10, 2011 at 9:47 am | Reply
  9. wittus

    Obama is a shame to African's and Africa. Because Ghaddafi stands for the UNITED STATE OF AFRICA. because his investment in 25 African countries alone over shines that of the West. because of his idea of introducing the Africa one currency "Afro in 2017, because of his Malibya project in Mali that has kicked France out of the country, because of his idea of Africans to have just one set in the UN security council, ect.... Obama and his European friends have decided to see Africa remain in its down turn. But they are all wrong, history is on our side. The French will loss their grip.

    April 10, 2011 at 8:34 am | Reply
    • David

      Obama grand father use to own slaves . He is one of them . it is in his gene.

      The slaves predator ,imperialist and colonialist are back to AFrica with the ultime "Humanitarian mission".

      They come as strangers in your land you welcome them into your house ,you bring them at your table for supper ,THEN they corrupt , they divide , they kill, destroy, still, vandalize , burry any hope in your land , send they children and children children to do the same : slavery, colonize civilize ...then humanitarian mission

      April 10, 2011 at 9:50 am | Reply
      • MDX

        Have you got stuck, Davie? Familiar symptoms. First signs of cerebral phimosis. I fear, you have already been affected by the most horrible plague of the internets.

        April 10, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • David

      MDX I
      F I,M WRONG WITH the imperialist , that i know very well then tell me.

      if not why are you disrespecting yourself with your word . I thought you were an intelectual who want to discuss.

      if you can debate , please just withdaw from this forum please.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:59 am | Reply
      • MDX

        Oh, damn it, the fellow who's publishing the same spam-like posts again and again, insists on somebody's leaving the forum. Tell me one thing: if you hate imperialists so much, why are YOU visiting forums of imperialistic medias? The inferiority complex, huh?

        April 10, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  10. Complete Victory for Lybian Rebel Forces or Qaddafi the new Saddam?

    It has to be one or the other, if not why waste the international community's time, effort & money? The international community supports the rebels not for oil purposes but for humanity. People should have the right to express themselves freely and not be punished for it but middle eastern countries do not like criticism nor handle it in a humane way. We ( the international community ) should put all lies aside given to us by Qaddafi's regime and entirely back the rebels and let them decide their future or step out completely and let Qaddafi continue killing his own people without any interference. I support freedom I support the rebels.

    April 10, 2011 at 9:55 am | Reply
    • David

      No fly zone in Darfur

      No fly zone in Gaza

      Humanitarian mission ONLY then
      humanitarian mission then
      no fly zone
      arm deal
      training .WE ARE SPENDING MILLIONS OF $$ every dayF REE FOR charge only for humanitarian mission.
      They rebels only said to the FRENCH AND whoever help them that :



      April 10, 2011 at 10:24 am | Reply
      • Complete Victory for Lybian Rebel Forces or Qaddafi the new Saddam?

        Humanitarian mission, No arms deal, Qaddafi regime ousted, Oil deals approved to finance a new SECULAR Lybia.

        April 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  11. benge

    The display of utter diplomatic indiscipline by those serving in Libyan foreign missions abroad when they resigned en mass should be addressed here. What exactly are they saying is their honest reasons for dissociating themselves from a leader they loyally served for 4 decades? If this was not the most immoral sign of self preservation to avoid reprisals against them then I do not know what it was. So, did they all of a sudden grow brains and realized they were backing a wrong man? They were appalled by the crack down on protesters so they said. Oooh, please move over! These people who took to the streets of Libya should be called what they really are, anarchists, pure and simple. They were not peacefully calling on the government to discuss changes they wanted made as a matter of urgency. What they wanted was a sudden and disorderly removal of a regime by any means necessary. This is what I find rather disturbing and the West and everyone is unanimously in support of such actions. Is this the culture we are truly advocating all disgruntled nationals to employ whenever they are unhappy with their leaders?

    It is clearly undeniable that the western powers are not entirely being driven by their morality in dealing with what is happening in the Arab world particularly in Libya. What they failed to achieve through the many years of isolating Libya, they have most definitely found a necessary primer to try again in the current crisis to push this agenda.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:05 am | Reply
  12. Dee

    The only scary thing about these revolutions is the possibility of something worse – something more extremist – gaining a foothold.

    Just imagine a revolution in the US that saw the Tea Party come out on top.

    Scary, indeed.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:18 am | Reply
    • MDX

      The only difference is that comparing the Muslim Brotherhood with the Tea Party, the latter appears a genuine example of liberalism.

      April 10, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Reply
  13. vladde

    This article told me yet again what opinion to have about the situation in Libya, Rebels = good, Gadaffi = very bad. Think I got it now, is there any chance to get some news soon?

    April 10, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  14. CRK

    The west made a mistake by invading Libya. Not because Gadaffi is good/west are bad or that there will be huge mess after Gadaffi. No, the only reason is that if people want freedom, they have to fight for it (not necessarily with weapons), otherwise if someone gives freedom as a gift, people do not respect it and may loose it soon.

    April 10, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  15. wittus

    @David don't worry MDX appears to be very short sided with no sense of direction. out of touch and consumed with the mess-media deception.

    April 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Reply
    • MDX

      Stop creating virtuals who "support" you, Davie. This is old and totally unimpressive trick.

      April 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  16. steven

    Why the EU and USA care Libya, but no one cares Yemen&Syria, no foreign force help civilian in Yemen. All of them suffer this kind situation. What is the difference between Libya and Yemen? Libya, an American emeny; Yemen, an American friend.

    April 10, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  17. nelson

    Willing Willie’s” March 12 episode on TV5 .He reiterated that there was no abuse committed.”I did not do anything wrong with that child),”Willing Willie’s” which featured a crying six-year-old boy while simulating a striptease as show host Willie Revillame laughed and egged him on, triggered strong rebuke from the public and government’s rights and social welfare agencies.

    Revillame named the celebrities who criticised him on microblogging site Twitter and threatened he might file charges against them. He mentioned the members of PILIPINO CRAB MENTALITY names are: Jim Paredes, Lea Salonga, Aiza Seguerra, Leah Navarro, Bianca Gonzalez, K Brosas, Agot Isidro and Tuesday Vargas as among those who attacked him.

    April 10, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Reply
  18. james2

    Ultimately, the success of the mission in the end is going to depend on whether or not Gaddafi retaliates because the entire rationale for arming/supporting the rebels (after preventing the humanitarian crisis in Benghazi) was that a Libya with Gaddafi still in power would not fly and to prove to other leaders that Gaddafi's model of response would not work. If there is a negotiated settlement, will Gaddafi in the future build up his arms and try to attack again? And if he does will the international community respond in a similar way? There should be no surprise that the opposition forces will not agree to anything that includes a Gaddafi in power. As Fareed pointed out earlier, if anything is going to break Gaddafi, it is going to be economic pressure and defections of his inner circle. In this sense, the best outcome is somewhere between 2 and 3. To accomplish this, NATO should continue with its operations, continue to train/arm the rebels, and also provide them with humanitarian aid if needed. Meanwhile, the African Union should work to convince Gaddafi to “gracefully” step down from power so as not to anger the supporters in Tripoli. This brings up another important question: how will Gaddafi’s most ardent supporters in Tripoli view the rebels if/when they try to form a new government in the name of Libya? There is nothing wrong with arguing, protesting, or yelling at each other to achieve political power and compromise, but I do not know how attached to Gaddafi Libyans in Tripoli are. If they decide to reject the rebels’ interim government and the contention devolves into another civil conflict then the coalition will have no choice but to pull out.

    April 11, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Reply
  19. kwabenalumumba

    Wow the results of "virtual" democrary. It's pathetic that so many people have lost their lives in the Middle East wave of so called democratic revolutions; this adds up to a manipulation of the ME masses by western media short sightedness. I say this because western media and politicians, in regards, keep talking about democracy, liberty and other tenets of Americanism but in every breath cheapen the value of such words, not every mentioning that each are the result of a process that "can't" be handed to anyone, anyway but must be earned by struggle over generations — not to mention that many of the gulity in this matter would call themselves patriotic too — unfortunately, the blood is on the west hands now.

    April 12, 2011 at 1:18 am | Reply
  20. Abdussalam

    For so many years the world knowledge(Specially Americans ) about Libya is as .a big lake of oil, Qaddafi and Terrorism . If you ask most of American 3 months ago what do you know about Libya ...the answer will be as above .Most of ABC,CBS CNN, not know the history ,culture or the Language Libyans Speak..but now you know they are 6.5 million Libyans live in Libya .We like to see all of these Media workers to visit Benghazi...and you are free to talk to any Libyan not like Tripoli. The East of Libya is a free land,soon the rest of Libya will be free from the Dictator .

    April 26, 2011 at 2:27 am | Reply
  21. Anonymous

    We all here actually talking but we feel .. but none of us has so far thought for positive solution ... Kadafi's regime was not that much attractive .. but it was much more better than the current situation & Kadafi brought planned revolution with all his theories & believes which highly required for any state.... it worked for that time & he controlled his regime successfully with the tool of spreading fear unjustified brutality on his nation an easy way out to rule which was his worst cruelity & backbone for stablizing his regime... Its pretty obvious in the history that all dictotors & king use to hang agressively to rebels by labelling them traitors... & thats what going on uptill now even democratic countries detain & kills many of their rebels by labelling them terrorists... a leader cant be graceful he has to be fear & pity less to run his regime... revolution in Libya is justified but only in the sense when it was planned to win or to die .. not just by hang the country & start crying like a baby for help ... opposition might have brought a great start of revolution but they dont have further plan which is highly required to run the country ... they are just selling their country on any cost for throwing Kadafi out ... & Kadafi is dictotor who ruled for 42 years even after extremly opposed by West .. how can he accept his incomplete defiet... the best solution is this divide the regime by accepting Saif El Islam & wait untill Kadafi dies he will die after 3 – 4 years .. coz its easy to regime from Saif

    May 22, 2011 at 9:18 am | Reply
  22. Ramon Nwagbara

    Hahah, A spring Airsoft gun makes an awesome backup weapon however I will not wish to depend on it as being my primary weapon. you would be way out gunned against these electric machine guns now in play.

    July 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply
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