Tony Karon reports on the great success that is post-Gaddafi Libya:
“I fear this looks like a civil war”, one Libyan rebel commander from Misrata told the Associated Press, in the wake of a fierce firefight between rival militia factions using heavy weapons in broad daylight in Tripoli on Tuesday. Four fighters were reportedly killed and five wounded in the clash ignited by the attempts of a Misrata-based militia to free a comrade detained by the Tripoli Military Council on suspicion of theft. But such clashes have become increasingly common in the Libyan capital over the past two months, as rival militias stake out turf in the power vacuum caused by the collapse of the Gaddafi regime. And while leaders on both sides of Tuesday’s clash were eventually able to broker a cease-fire, the deep fissures of tribe, region, ideology and sometimes even neighborhood that divide rival armed groups persist —and there’s no sign yet of the emergence of a central political authority with the military muscle to enforce its writ.
Fortunately, the U.S.-led war for regime change that destroyed the existing government in a fractious country with no tradition of democratic self-governance and helped bring about these conditions has nothing at all in common with the invasion of Iraq.
Thus the downside of intervention lite: It’s a lot easier to take down a regime, as the U.S. learned in Iraq, than it is to establish a new order. And yet in Libya, the forces trying to establish that new order are far weaker, in security terms, than the U.S. had been in Iraq, even if some of their leaders —most notably NTC President Mustafa Abul Jalil—enjoy the advantage of a legitimacy never accorded to the U.S. in Iraq. Given the mounting threat of chaos, Jalil’s authority may not be enough. Just as those Bush Administration Kool Aid merchants who insisted that most of the U.S. forces sent into Iraq could be brought home almost immediately suffered a nasty rebuke from reality, so might the advocates of Libya-style intervention-lite find themselves forced to reconsider their prescriptions in the months ahead.
Of course, the U.S. and our European allies washed our hands of post-war Libya well before Gaddafi’s regime collapsed. No one wanted the responsibility to rebuild then, and no one is going to want it in the future. Interventionists worried that there might be a Somalia on the Mediterranean, and then proceeded to bring about that outcome.