Should the Libyan rebels and the international community negotiate with Moammar Gadhafi’s son, Saif? Dr. Benjamin Barber, a distinguished Senior Fellow at Dēmos and formerly a board member of the Gadhafi International Charitable and Development Foundation, says yes.
Fareed interviewed Barber on GPS on March 6 and on March 8 Barber wrote a piece on Saif Gadhafi for the Global Public Square. Back then, Barber said that Saif could play a critical role in negotiating a settlement to the conflict in Libya. After international intervention in Libya and a stalemate on the ground, Barber maintains this view a month later. Here's why:
Amar C. Bakshi: In your article in the Guardian today (entitled “Yes, Saif is a Gadhafi. But there's still a real reformer inside”), you emphasize how Saif Gadhafi was a “reformer” who originally recruited some of the prominent government leaders who have now defected to lead the rebels.
Benjamin Barber: Last year, the Carnegie Endowment for Peace wrote an essay … saying there’s only one address for anyone who cares about human rights in Libya - and that’s Saif Gadhafi and the (Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation he presides over).
And the reality is from 2003 - when (Libya) first yielded their weapons of mass destruction and the rapprochement set in - Saif Gadhafi, the second-eldest son who was educated in the West and speaks English, seems to have been really dedicated to reform.…
I first met (Saif) because he was involved with a committee trying to write a new constitution. He’s been involved with human rights. He’s been involved with the rehabilitation of Islamic fighters who were captured and put into Libyan prisons. He was deeply involved in the release of the four Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor who had been held for years and years on trumped up charges of infecting children with AIDS. He actually negotiated their release even though they had been sentenced to death.
So he was, for a long time, a genuine figure of reform. He was at odds with his father, and he sometimes had to leave Tripoli.
Most importantly, the two leading figures … in the opposition today - (Mustafa) Abdel-Jalil and (Mahmoud) Jibril - both came into government in cooperation with Saif….
They were both part of reform - the fresh faces in the regime during the period of rapprochement with the West. Saif worked assiduously on that. They’re now both leaders of the opposition.
But hasn’t he now soured his reputation? Couldn’t he be put in front of the International Criminal Court along with his father?
No question his behavior has been abominable since the start of the insurrection. Although my view is that this is a torn young man. He was torn between loyalty to father, loyalty to family and loyalty to clan on one hand and loyalty to his own seven years as a reformer on the other….
But here’s the point: We can moralize about it and censure him and we should, but the question is now - is there an exit strategy for Libya that leads to the removal of Moammar Gadhafi and the cessation of hostilities and the end of this civil war? Is there one that doesn’t require or lead to Western military intervention on the ground, which would be disastrous for the West and would cause many more civilian deaths?
If you want an exit strategy and you want a diplomatic negotiation you’ve got to have somebody on the other side to negotiate with. Moussa Koussa, the former Foreign Minister who like a rat jumped off the sinking ship and fled to England, is trying to present himself as an interlocutor but he’s lost his credibility on both sides…. It’s not going to be Moammar Gadhafi. It’s certainly not going to be (his sons) Khamis or Mutassim, both of whom have brigades and are military and security men. The only person that one might approach through quiet diplomacy would be Saif Gadhafi.
What did you think of the African Union plan?
We in America and Europe are moralizers, and sometimes I think we would rather indulge our (morals) and condemn and censure all the villains on the other side than actually put an end to the bloodshed.
President (Jacob) Zuma from South Africa and the African Union came in with the idea: Let’s, first of all, stop the bloodshed. Let’s stop civilians from being killed. After all, the original U.N. mandate was to stop the death of civilians - to provide a humanitarian relief to those who were dying in the fight between the insurgents and Gadhafi’s forces.
If the aim is, first of all, to protect civilians and put an end to the slaughter of civilians, then President Zuma’s plan and the African Union’s plan was a decent one. But, of course, the opposition immediately said, “No, unless Gadhafi goes, we don’t want to do this,” which makes clear that they’re not particularly interested in ending the slaughter of their soldiers or of civilians.
They’re much more interested in continuing the civil war and trying to remove Gadhafi by force, which is their right. They can do that, but that’s not what the U.N. mandate is. That’s not what the Arab League mandate is…. It’s also not the American mandate.
And although (U.S. President Barack) Obama said he would welcome, and looks forward to, the departure of Gadhafi, he certainly has made it clear that that is not going to be the object of American military strategy….
The whole point of the negotiation with Saif is that I think Saif Gadhafi could possibly be in a position to persuade his father to retire, exit from power and (Saif could) then oversee a transition.
Why should Saif oversee it? Why can't someone else be in there?
Well someone has got to be there. Someone has got to negotiate this plan. Your question itself would presumably be subject to a negotiation. But my guess is part of his claim would be - and whether it’s valid or not you know you'd have to test - that his father would not leave if all the Gadhafis had nothing to do with what happened (next) because the father and the clan would worry that the minute that happened, they’d all be subject to international trials and possibly even being arrested and shot.
So having Saif in some kind of a meaningful position that’s guaranteed by the other side - meaning by NATO and the allies - would, I imagin, be a condition. But, again, it’s not for me to negotiate these things in public. The point is that one needs a negotiating partner on the other side. He (Saif) is the one both with the credibility in Tripoli and the capacity to have some impact on his father in a way that almost nobody else can.
What are your thoughts on the Doha Conference?
Unless they decide to embark on some quiet diplomacy - maybe through Ankara, Turkey, with somebody in Tripoli - I think it’s going to be a complete bust, because I think they’re going to emerge with the rancorous differences more pronounced and with (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy and the Italians pushing even harder for military intervention and America dragging its heels even more but trying to say the right things. Others in the coalition will be saying that NATO has gone much too far already and certainly should not become even more militant.
In other words, I think the only positive outcome is going to be some form of quiet negotiations, which we may not hear very much about but we will probably know they’re on if people come out and don’t argue with one another. If people come out condemning one another … it probably means there are no negotiations.
If people come out without saying very much, that may mean they’ve decided to try to embark on some form of negotiations, and I would be very surprised if they did not involve Saif Gadhafi - simply because I don’t know who else they would involve, and because I think he does have some genuine credentials.