Libya: Talk of Intervention Continues, While Others Look at What May Follow Gaddafi

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Massimo Calabresi summarizes President Obama’s thinking on Libya:

Obama clarified the U.S. position today, saying that he wanted to make sure “the United States has full capacity to act — potentially rapidly — if the situation deteriorated in such a way that you had a humanitarian crisis on our hands or a situation in which civilians were — defenseless civilians were finding themselves trapped and in great danger.” He said that capacity to act included: possible military action in concert with other countries; opening humanitarian corridors into Libya to provide food or other supplies; and delivering aid outside the country. He announced that he had authorized U.S. military planes to carry non-Libyan refugees who have fled to Egypt and Tunisia back to their home countries.

Obama has the luxury of preparing rather than acting because Gaddafi has restrained himself in recent days. That is thanks to extensive behind the scenes diplomacy by countries like Turkey, and perhaps also the threat of international action. So for the time being, the U.S. will continue to prepare for the possibility of intervention should Gaddafi revert to killing large numbers of civilians, while quietly trying to squeeze Gaddafi out of power.

And an article on Foreign Affairs comprehensively sets the scene for what may follow — or at least what forces will be in play — after Gaddafi’s “inevitable fall.”  Some interesting nuggets after the jump.

On the role of the Libyan military:

In the near future, even with Qaddafi gone, the country may face a continued contest between the forces of a free Libya and the regime’s die-hard elements. In particular, Qaddafi’s sons — Saif al-Islam, Khamis, Al-Saadi, and Mutassim — and their affiliated militias may not go quietly into the night; the struggle to root them out may be violent and protracted (think, for example, of Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay). Saif al-Islam, who was known for years in the West as Libya’s supposed champion of reform, revealed his true character as a reactionary much like his father by promising a “bloodbath” in a televised speech last week. On the ground, many of the attacks against demonstrators and their suspected sympathizers are being ordered by Captain Khamis al-Qaddafi, who heads the 32nd Brigade, the regime’s best-trained and best-equipped force…

Over the years, the regular military’s infrastructure has become dilapidated and its budget so meager that generals and colonels wear civilian attire to preserve their uniforms. Some of the most senior officers — among them even those who supported Qaddafi in the 1969 coup — were forced into early retirement after the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings to prevent them from leading any opposition. Nevertheless, the officer corps, weak as it is, may be the only formal body capable of representing an impartial Libyan national interest in a post-Qaddafi era and, importantly, preventing an outbreak of revenge violence.

On the role of tribes:

Libya’s tribes will also be critical for governance and reconciliation. Qaddafi’s 1969 coup overturned the traditional dominance of the eastern coastal tribes in Cyrenaica in favor of those drawn from the west and the country’s interior. Although the Qaddafi regime was, at least in theory, opposed to tribal identity, its longevity depended in large measure on a shaky coalition among three principal tribes: the al-Qaddadfa, al-Magariha, and al-Warfalla…

In the post-Qaddafi era, the recently defected tribal bulwarks of the ancien régime — the al-Magariha and the al-Warfalla — will play a critical role in lending legitimacy and unity to a new government. That said, the weakness and fragmentation of the military and the tempting availability of oil resources highlight the very real threat of tribal warlordism.

Tribal clout, however, is tempered by other affiliations: a strong middle class and, increasingly, religion. Among Libya’s Islamists, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, has long attracted the attention of the West because of its association with al Qaeda. But after Qaddafi, the less visible, non-Salafi networks will matter more — namely, the Sufi orders and the Muslim Brotherhood. The revivalist Sanussiya Sufi order has featured prominently in the country’s collective memory. It provided the organizational base for the Libyan resistance to the Italian occupation and was the pillar of support for the monarchy under King Idris, who held sovereign power from 1951 until 1969.

On the role of geography:

All these influences are underpinned by a historic split along the Mediterranean seaboard that runs between Tripoli and the eastern province of Cyrenaica, the historic base of the Sanussi monarchy. The two regions are divided by linguistic and cultural differences, as well as a vast stretch of desert. The east shares tribal ties with Egypt and even the Arabian Peninsula rather than with the Maghreb. After toppling the monarchy, Qaddafi shifted political power and economic resources to Tripoli, which further exacerbated the regional divide.

In post-Qaddafi Libya, Cyrenaica will be tempted to reassert its historic primacy. For starters, the area produces the country’s oil wealth. It also bears the proud legacy of having led not one but two resistance struggles: the anti-Italian guerrilla campaign under the direction of the Sufi leader Omar al-Mukhtar and now the February 17 “Day of Rage,” which was christened by its organizers — not accidentally — as the Mukhtar Revolution.

The sparsely populated and ill-governed southern periphery will also contend for resources and influence in the new state. Non-Arab ethnic groups with transnational ties across the Sahel and Saharan belt — the Amazigh (Berbers), Tuareg, and Toubou — were marginalized under Qaddafi. They will undoubtedly now seek to redress this injustice, and they have the means to make their concerns felt. Immediately before the Benghazi unrest, activism among the Amazigh was Qaddafi’s primary security concern. The Tuareg waged a long-running rebellion that stretched across Algeria, Niger, and Mali, and the disaffected Toubou have staged periodic riots in southern towns. Going forward, strong but equitable administration will be essential to incorporate these peripheral groups and also prevent al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb from enjoying newfound maneuverability in the area by exploiting longstanding grievances.