Monday, August 22, 2011

Libya: What has NATO accomplished?

As Libyan rebels consolidated their hold on Tripoli, President Obama attempted to put his stamp of approval on matters by telling the world what it already knew: That Moammar Gadhafi should step down for the good of his people.

No kidding. For the good of humanity Gadhafi should have been overthrown decades ago, or, better yet, never allowed to come to power. Like all dictators (especially dictators with oil-derived wealth), he is not a nice man.

So, for the good of the Libyan people, Gadhafi should bow to fate and surrender to the rebel Transitional National Council, who will of course be far more benign in their rule.

Or will they? Consider for a moment who makes up this group: Their chairman, Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil, has been Gadhafi's Minister of Justice since 2007, having been a judge in the Libyan judicial system since 1978--the system Gahdafi has controlled since seizing power in 1969. While Human Rights Watch did have some kind words for him for his stance on wrongful detention in 2010, he can hardly be called a dissident in the mold of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's Nobel Peace laureate and staunch pro-democracy advocate. The other members of the council have all served in various government positions under Gadhafi.

The council members have not been elected by the Libyan people--indeed, their legitimacy seems largely derived from the willingness of other nations to recognize them and not Gadhafi as the "legitimate" government of Libya, and therefore entitled to received arms and other assistance in fighting the Libyan forces loyal to Gadhafi. What historical commitment to democracy and the rule of law do these men actually have?

An even better question might be to ask what history the council has; it did not exist in any form before this past March, when the council, its web site, domain, and Twitter account all magically appeared (is it a real revolution if it isn't "facebook official"?).

While the civilized world may plausibly persuade itself that removing Gadhafi from power is by itself an advancement of freedom in the world, thus far there is little practical proof that those who aim to replace him will be much better--that they were willing to be part of his regime for the better part of their respective careers can hardly be counted as a ringing endorsement of their commitment to democratic government.

Obama says Gadhafi must leave for the sake of the Libyan people. For the sake of the Libyan people, I hope he's right.