As the western powers and some of their allies in the Middle East impose a no-fly zone over Libya in an effort to protect civilians from Moammar Gaddafi’s armies, many questions have been raised about the campaign and its long-term implications.
IB Times spoke to Dilshod Achilov, a professor of political science at East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, Tenn., about Libya.
IBT: What do you think will be the near-term outcome of the Western air strikes on Libya? Can Gaddafi really hold out under the constant bombardment or will he have to give up at some point?
ACHILOV: In the near-term, I think the opposition rebels will be able to solidify their positions and regain momentum while the tactical abilities of Gaddafi will be substantially constrained. Libya is in a position of “no-return” to old status quo. If Gaddafi succeeds to stay on and fight, then the situation may exacerbate into more chaos, bloodshed and possible a civil war.
At this time, there is really no alternative but to force Gaddafi to step down. Gaddafi may survive the bombardment if the air strikes are not directed at him personally. At this time, letting Gaddafi (and his family) continue to rule will be very dangerous. Only maintaining the “no-fly zone” (which is necessary) but allowing Gaddafi to rule will increase the chances for a possible civil war. Current “no-fly” zone alone will not warrant a solution to the current crisis. A possible civil-war must be pre-empted as all costs.
The United Nations and international community should continue to work hard to brainstorm alternative, long –term solutions to force Gaddafi out via peaceful means, to the extent possible.
While near-term outcomes will be largely transitional, a long-term “what is next” question will be more important.
IBT: Who in Libya supports Gaddafi now? Is it the army and business elite? Why would the ordinary Libyan support him any longer?
ACHILOV: We need to keep in mind that Libya is a tribal society -- and the tribes are geographically organized. The circles (and tribes) who enjoyed a “good life” via extended benefits, protection and extra incentives from Gaddafi will be more likely to support Gaddafi as much (and as long) as possible, because the departure of Gaddafi will mean “trouble” to these circles of tribal allies and other loyalist elites. Said otherwise, the current elites within the Gaddafi regime realize that they will not be appreciated, in fact will be prosecuted, by any future Libyan government.
According to “Authoritarianism 101,” staff loyalty is the most important quality that a dictator seeks to consolidate his power structures. Appointing sons or brothers to key posts are quite common in autocratic regimes.
For instance, members of Gaddafi's own tribe - the Gadhadfa - occupy key positions in the Libyan security apparatus, the military and other administrative branches. Most military and security elites have blood on their hands (that go back years) and thus remain committed to protect the regime.
And everybody knows that when the boss is gone, the loyalists may be held responsible for their boss’ atrocities. Consequently, these circles (and tribes) loyal to Gaddafi realize that it can be “very expensive” to lose their long-term caretaker/dictator. There are other tribes, however, who are supporting Gaddafi right now. But there is still a possibility that tribes who had pledged support for Gaddafi may reconsider and eventually defect.
IBT: Does Gaddafi have any friends or allies left in the world (i.e., where he might seek exile in)? I know the president of Venezuela has expressed his support.
ACHILOV: Gaddafi had numerous allies before January, 2011. But the situation is far more complex now. For example, I don’t think Saudi Arabia would have taken the Tunisian president if it knew what would be happening now – a wide scale uprising in the entire region. I would bet that the Saudi King is sorry now for offering a refuge for Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last January. Likewise, it is highly unlikely that old friends will take him in at the cost of ruining their global political reputation. Any country to host Gaddafi would be under a barrage of criticism and pressure.
However, there are reports that Hilary Clinton is in contact with Gaddafi’s regime to negotiate a possible safe exit from Libya. I think we should not exclude the possibility of a US-backed exit opportunity for Gaddafi. Yet, it will be hard to predict Gaddafi’s aspirations given his unstable, unpredictable and somewhat delusional character.
IBT: Does the fact that Germany and Russia abstained from voting on the UN resolution to establish a no-fly zone over Libya weaken the West’s resolve against Libya?
ACHILOV: I don’t think it will weaken the coalition forces significantly. A “no-fly” zone was necessary beyond a doubt (as it was in Bosnia after the massacre of 8,000 Bosnians by the Serbian army in 1995), but it is far from sufficient to resolve the current crisis. We may be on the brink of long civil war.
It is expected that Russia will always oppose any military operations in the region, particularly by NATO. But the future success of coalition forces will heavily depend on following factors: a) setting clear and attainable goals to prevent civil war, b) involve more Arab League states in the process, c) transferring the operational coordination to multi-party (e.g., NATO) international body, d) minimize civilian casualties, e) clear strategy to oust the Gaddafi regime as soon as possible, f) maintain all diplomatic efforts in the meantime.
IBT: Libya has (or had) extensive financial relationships with many European and US entities. Does this make Western leaders more reluctant to remove Gaddafi from power (thereby exposing these relationships)?
ACHILOV: European and US entities have long had “interesting” and unorthodox financial relationships with Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries. While the possible exposure of old relationships could be a concern, a delusional character like Gaddafi will make his claims less credible.
I don’t think this will be a deterrent factor for Western leaders in removing him. Most likely, Gaddafi will try to expose them anyway to embarrass the west (recall Gaddafi’s son – Saif Gaddafi’s remarks about paying the French President Nicolas Sarkozy for his election campaign.)
IBT: Why do you think France has taken such an aggressive role against Libya?
ACHILOV: I view it as an “investment.” Libya has always been strategically important to France. Let’s recall the old good days of 2007 when Sarkozy threw a five-day lavish reception to Gaddafi in France. France was always interested in economic and financial markets, in addition to the oil, of Libya.
Now, when the balance of power started to shift in the Middle East, France had to make a choice between Gaddafi or pro-democratic opposition (who could, at the time, potentially overthrow Gaddafi given the pace of recent successful uprisings in the region).
I think France calculated that, in the long-run, opposition will prevail and therefore made an early investment to secure its place (as a key regional ally) in the future Libyan government. And once France announced that it stands with the opposition, not with Gaddafi, it could not simply afford to watch Gaddafi quell the opposition and re-consolidate his power.
I think France rushed to utilize this golden window of opportunity to secure its long term geo-strategic interests both in Libya and greater northern Africa.
IBT: The British Prime Minister Cameron has warned that if Gaddafi survives this crisis, he will launch terrorist attacks against western targets. Is he (Cameron) correct?
ACHILOV: I agree with Cameron greatly. Gaddafi has a history of helping terrorist organizations. It is immature and naive to expect Gaddafi to sit quietly and do nothing (in terms of plotting a deadly response to the West) as long as he remains in power. He may extend financial and weapons assistance to terrorist organization.
I fear that he may even develop ties with Al-Qaeda to coordinate possible attacks on the West. At a minimum, if he survives, he will not hesitate to launch deadly attacks on his own people in Misrata and/or Benghazi.
IBT: Generally, what kind of society is modern Libya. Despite its vast oil wealth, does it have the same kinds of poverty and unemployment that other Arab nations have. Also, is Gaddafi anymore repressive than other Arab leaders?
ACHILOV: Libya is a tribal society highlighted with societal-differences. It is one of the youngest countries in the world with 60 percent of its population under the age of 25. Even though Libyan oil wealth output is not adequately distributed, it does contribute to the country’s modernization, development and infrastructure.
Nonetheless, the unemployment rate is unusually high at 20 percent while one-third of Libyans live under the poverty line. In the context of the region, Libyan standards of living are significantly higher than Egypt, Yemen and Syria. Libya has successfully managed to attract many international investors recently.
It is not a country embroiled in high poverty (compared to other regional states). Yet, with Libyan potential, the economic standards could have been a lot higher.Gaddafi is notorious for his repressive policies. In fact, he is probably the most repressive and brutal leader in the region – one who has sponsored countless crackdowns on anyone who was critical of his regime in the past.