Gadhafi is dead but Libya’s challenges remain
Libyan women celebrate in the streets of Tripoli following news of Moammar Gadhafi's death on October 20, 2011. (Getty Images)
October 20th, 2011
05:11 PM ET

Gadhafi is dead but Libya’s challenges remain

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter

By James M. Lindsay - Special to CNN

Moammar Gadhafi died today as he ruled Libya—cruelly. Still, few Libyans will lament how he was killed. They are understandably celebrating the death of a tyrant—and the promise of a brighter future.

But a despot’s death hardly guarantees a better day. Just ask the Iraqis. Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003 and executed three years later. Iraq nonetheless has been wracked by violence for eight years. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died wondering when the peace promised by the liberation of Baghdad would come.

Libya, of course, is not Iraq. It lacks the deep sectarian and ethnic divides that haunt Iraq. But Libya faces its own challenges. An immediate one is disarming the militias that toppled Gadhafi and replacing them with a competent national military as well as with effective local police forces.

That is a tall task. The militias see their weapons as guaranteeing their political clout as well as their safety. They may resist ceding power to either a national military or local police forces, however much both might be needed to keep order. That is a danger because revenge attacks, whether from Gadhafi loyalists or foes, threaten to touch off a cycle of escalating violence. The resulting instability would turn Libya into a magnet for criminals and terrorists.

A second challenge is to get Libya’s economy going again. Here Libyans have the wind at their back. They have what the world wants—oil. The western companies that produce most of Libya’s oil have all returned and restarted production. Libya should be producing nearly one million barrels a day by spring. That’s almost two-thirds of where production stood before fighting began.

The third challenge is the hardest—to build a stable, effective, and legitimate political system. Most revolutions stumble on just this obstacle. Agreement on toppling the old ruler gives way to disagreement over what should come next. The competing news briefings that Libyan officials gave today on Gadhafi’s death highlight the divisions that exist within the National Transitional Council. The complex ties of clan, tribe, and region further complicate things.

Libyans aren’t the only ones that face challenges after Gadhafi’s death. The United States and NATO do as well. Topping the list of concerns is tracking down portable ground-to-air missiles and other weapons looted from Gadhafi’s military depots and sold on the black market. Should any of these weapons end up being used against Americans or Europeans, assessments of the wisdom of Operation Unified Protector will quickly be revised.

The United States and NATO also need to confront the long-term diplomatic ramifications of Gadhafi’s death. The passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was justified on the grounds of protecting Libyan civilians. In the eyes of its champions, it put into practice the norm of an international responsibility to protect.

To much of the rest of the world Resolution 1973 now looks like a bait-and-switch. Earlier this month Russia’s ambassador to the UN dismissed an effort to punish Syria for killing protestors by warning of how back in the spring “the demand for a rapid ceasefire turned into a full-fledged civil war.” The resolution failed to pass even though it did little more than wag a finger at Damascus. So rather than marking the birth of a responsibility to protect as international practice, Libya may mark its demise.

The United States and Europe may have to deal with this consequence sooner than they would prefer. Gadhafi’s death undoubtedly caught the attention of Bashar al-Assad. But how will the Syrian dictator react? He might decide he doesn’t want his lifeless body dragged through the streets of Damascus and go into exile. More likely, he and his supporters will conclude that their best course of action is to crack down harder on protestors to keep them from gaining an upper hand. What will the United States and Europe do then?

For the Libyan people, however, these are all problems and dangers that can wait for tomorrow. Today is a time for celebration. The tyrant is dead.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of James Lindsay.

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soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Joe

    "Libya, of course, is not Iraq. It lacks the deep sectarian and ethnic divides that haunt Iraq."

    "The complex ties of clan, tribe, and region further complicate things."

    Did you read what you wrote? Are you ignoring the fact that the berbers, arabs, and blacks are totally at odds?

    October 20, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  2. Daniel

    This is going to be a great field day for Obama and his right-wing henchmen in Washington as they celebrate Qaddaffy's murder to no end. Another Muslim country to succomb to the NATO steamrollrer as it rumbles across North Africa and the Middle East! I guess that the Libyans will soon be chanting "Allah Akbar, but Capitalism Akbar-er" if Obama gets his way!!!

    October 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  3. Blackwater Bob the Privatized Military Contractor

    Yipee ! Who are we going to murder next? We're on a roll ! Kill kill kill kill kill kill ! This is fun! Next ! hehehe Unfortunately it's the only way to peace.This guy Gadhafi was a an evil man.Let's look for more evil men and kill them.They are murderers,and we must murder them to stop them from murdering people.

    October 20, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  4. Delex.

    Blood thirsty cut-throats! Go on with your murdering spree. There are still a lot of Ghadafis still waiting for your brutal firearm. But who is worst, a harmless tyrant or a fierce nuclear warlord? Think about it.

    October 20, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Reply
    • Chainyanker

      Sponsoring the bombing of PanAm 103 is not 'harmless.'

      October 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  5. Markus Knutsen

    "The third challenge is the hardest—to build a stable, effective, and legitimate political system." – This is where I believe that the Europeans and Americans need to interfere. Although it might be risky for the west to pick political sides in Libya, it is crucial that they do so in order to create a moderate Libya. Many Libyans have already expressed their wish of a conservative Islamic state. Such a state would provoke further conflicts in the Arabian world and in the Middle East. There is no doubt that the Arabian and Middle Eastern countries are in a vulnerable political state. And as the Arabian Spring has proven, the political actions taken in one country can dramatically affect the actions taken in other countries. Think of it as a circle of dominos. That is why it would be wise of the west to help create a moderate Libya. That does not mean that the west should pick Libya’s new rulers! The west should help with the funding, organizing and the creation of political debates and political parties in Libya.

    October 20, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Reply
    • TRUTH

      True democracy is not done by remote control. If they want a bloody immoderate state so be it! If they want to invade every second country in the middle east – like the United States and Nato – they shoul be able to do it. Is the US a democracy? Did it wage wars? Well why can't every other country do the same? Fair is Fair.

      If Moderate means a poodle of the West so be it but lets not have any illusions.

      October 21, 2011 at 6:24 am | Reply
  6. Blackwater Bob the Privatized Military Contractor

    Yes Marcus ! They will be stabilized and all that stuff.It's going to be swell.In no time they will be happy.Now they'll join AFRICOM because NATO has a hard time attacking Africa.Gadhafi wouldn't join AFRICOM.They will now! Yee Haw !

    October 20, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Reply
  7. j. von hettlingen

    Is the filtering system blocked again?

    October 21, 2011 at 5:28 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Hopefully the execution of Gaddafi isn't going to be a common practice in the new Libya!

      October 21, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  8. TRUTH

    Libya prospered under Gadaffi. He renounced terrorism and was embraced by the EU. All seemed to be going well.

    What snapped the patience of the the NATO block?

    Was it the widely reported plan to allow Russian bases in Libya?

    Was it the oil deals for the Chinese?

    Was it the $ 5 billion paid by Italy in reparations?

    It may seem that NATO is the more corrupt of the two – hijacking the mandate to protect civilians and using it as an excuse to wage war and kill, to refuse peaceful ceasefires which Gadaffi offerred.

    50,000 dead. I challenge any EU leader to come out and say that it was worth it, just like the 1 million Iraqi children.

    You can win any war in the world but you will not win the respect of anyone.

    Your hypocrisy reeks. After lecturing the third world on human rights you cheer when an unarmed man is shot and killed and dragged through the streets by your traitorous dishonorable minions on the ground.

    Too bad the world can see it all. Maybe not.

    October 21, 2011 at 6:20 am | Reply
  9. David B

    Lets just be happy for them for now...there will be time enough to be brought down with all the problems, challenges and politics later. But today they should be allowed to celebrate and rejoice for they did something no one thought was possible and it will give pause to those in and out of Libya who do not heed the lessons taught. But for right now, celebrate.

    October 21, 2011 at 9:32 am | Reply
  10. martinmunson

    New photos of Khaddafi's head posted to wickedimproper . com. May not be suitable for all audiences.

    October 21, 2011 at 11:02 am | Reply
  11. foolish orc

    Kill kill kill kill... More killing that's all we need. Murder more murderers to encourage the stop of murdering.. Yess... Go Obama. We as humans are so smart. Yipeee... Life is awesome. I love working having all my money go to taxes. And what doesn't go to taxes goes to the big corporations which fund and run our government. Exxon mobile bank America fannie Mae Freddie MAC. Tis is just awesome. Those of u that think this is there is another way are silly. Forget what Jesus said to forgive all trespasses. Forget what all religion says. Love ur brother more than thyself. Forget about having a grand purpose to life. I'm all about mcdonalds for breakfast, corporate greed for lunch, mind control for supper and wash it down with some slavery as the nwo sets up another plot to brain wash everyone into a consciousness of fear and death. Hail to the illuminati and hail to kucifer god of our planet. Looks like he is in all of us. And we can't see it. Yep its our ego. The antichrist.

    October 21, 2011 at 11:51 am | Reply
  12. foolish orc

    Wake up people. Occupy wall street. 9/11 was done as an inside job so we can be brainwashed and cheer for this kind of madness.

    October 21, 2011 at 11:55 am | Reply
    • Meki60

      yuo are correct but no one will listen

      October 21, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Reply
    • closetiguana

      You need to let the world's media in on your inside knowledge on 9/11. You can't keep this a secret any longer!!!!

      Idiot.

      October 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  13. JOE

    What's next for NATO? Crawford ranch!

    October 21, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  14. Lardeau

    Libya-Libya-Libya-Libya-Libya. Gadafhi-Gadafhi-Gadafhi-Gadafhi. Close the book now. That Chapter is over. What about the problems in America ??? Let's get down to business in our own back yard. I just found Technocracy. Now those people have some great new ideas.

    October 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  15. Meki60

    just wait til Sharia law takes over, that will wipe the smiles off their faces.

    October 21, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  16. jorge washinsen

    Iraqi desenters are still causing trouble because of the 24 hour liberal news coverage they get for their bad deeds. Good deeds that our soldiers have done is hidden in the ether. Does not get presidents elected for a second term to brag on our soldiers.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  17. jorge washinsen

    The cover up is already going on about how and why Kaddddddafy was killed after the battle.Heck a way to start a Democracy.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Reply
    • Meki60

      It will not be a democracy, Sharia law will end that.

      October 21, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  18. closetiguana

    How many revolutions aren't bloody? How many people died in the American revolution? Give it time. They sort things out.

    October 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Reply
  19. TowelHeadsAreMorons

    The greatest challenge is ISLAME. Backwards, vile, and violent!

    October 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Reply
    • Blackwater Bob the Privatized Military Contractor

      Don't worry ! We're revving them up real good!
      Business is good and we have all sorts of drones and stuff.
      If they attack ? Then Cha Ching ! Private Contractors are the real hero's who are immune to war crimes will keep you safe! For a price! But how much is your life worth?Your television will let you know! Either way we win because we can walk away and go work for the other side!

      October 21, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  20. closetiguana

    Not in all cases. Indonesia is peaceful and Islamic. Not mention their economy is doing better than most of the west.

    October 21, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  21. rightospeak

    Sad times-barbarism and lies. You , Fareed are spreading the lies.

    October 22, 2011 at 10:55 am | Reply
  22. Brian

    The National Transitional Council have got off to a bad start. Firstly by allowing the undignified general viewing of the bodies instead of quickly arranging a secret burial and secondly announcing that Sharia Law would be the law of the land and that polyigamy be once again permitted. This is a care-taker government which should refrain from making any radical changes which could inflame civil commotion especially with so much weaponry in the country.

    October 24, 2011 at 3:41 am | Reply

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