Gaddafi’s Dead. Now What?

The post-Gaddafi era has been made permanent. What comes next?

In my New Atlanticist essay “Post-Gaddafi Era Made Permanent,” I take a look at the unanswered questions left now that a certain Libyan strongman with Michael Jackson’s fashion sense has assumed room temperature.

1. Who killed Gaddafi? It’s almost certainly the case that NATO took out his convoy but it’s not at all clear at this juncture how Gaddafi sustained the wounds seen at capture. Were they sustained in the air attack? By a guard, as claimed? NATO clearly doesn’t want the credit.

2. Did Gaddafi die from his wounds or from post-capture abuse? We don’t know yet. But he was certainly alive at capture, which raises troubling questions about the rule of law in post-transition Libya.

3. What now for NATO? Every indication is that NATO is going to pull the plug on the mission, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. How long the transition will take or what form it will take is as of now unclear. The Pentagon estimates that as of September 30, the US military mission in Libya has cost $1.1 billion. Given the economic and political situation, this alone is powerful incentive to wrap things up quickly.

Most importantly:

4. What’s next for Libya?

Obviously, it’s still to soon to say. Reports over the last several months have made it clear that there was little appetite in NATO capitols–or anywhere else, for that matter–for post-regime-change stability operations. So Libya may well be left to its own devices.

Many of us have drawn parallels to Iraq, where the capture of Saddam Hussein turned out not to end things but actually led to the escalation of a civil war. There’s little reason to think this will be the case in Libya, in that regime change was initiated by local action rather than foreign invasion and we’re not going to see power turn from a hated religious minority to a bitter majority.

On the other hand, Iraq had strong institutions and Libya has none. It remains to be seen how well the National Transitional Council manages to set up viable elections, what constitutional structures will emerge, and how well a new government manages a delicate situation.

The safe bet, though, is that whatever emerges will be better than what was permanently left behind by today’s actions.

There’s a hell of a lot more uncertainly in all of this than I’d prefer. But that’s the nature of this sort of undertaking.

Photo credit: Reuters

FILED UNDER: Middle East, World Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rob in CT says:

    It’s usually the “now what” that worries me. Thankfully, the scope of the question is rather different in Libya than it was, say, in Iraq or Afghanistan. So, leaving aside whether the intervention was just & proper, I’m a lot less freaked out about “what now” than I was in 2003.

  2. ponce says:

    I sure hope Libya stabilizes enough that I can take my family to see Leptis Magna.

    It’s on my bucket list.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    Whatever “now what” becomes…it will be decided by the Libyan people and not someone like Ghadaffi…that good buddy of Bush and McCain.

  4. EddieInCA says:

    Hmmm…

    Gahadaffi gone without one lost American life in the process.

    Bin Laden taken out by a Seal Team without one lost American life in the process.

    Al-Alawaki taken out by a drone without one lost American life.

    Hmmmm….

    Not bad for a Soshulist, Keenyan born, seekret Mooslim, anti-Murkin, Marksist, Fashist, anti-captalist, un-qualified liberal.

    Just sayin’….

  5. Moosebreath says:

    “Not bad for a Soshulist, Keenyan born, seekret Mooslim, anti-Murkin, Marksist, Fashist, anti-captalist, un-qualified liberal.”

    Shows what can be accomplished by leading from behind.

  6. jan says:

    What’s next for Libya?

    Another overseas location for OWS to go, perhaps?

  7. michael reynolds says:

    What now for Libya? Let’s hope for the best.

    What now for Syria, Algeria,Yemen and even Iran, that’s more interesting. As I’ve said before, this fact, that we can use air power with almost no risk to American lives, in concert with local ground forces — as we did in the early rounds in Afghanistan and now Libya — is a game changer. Add it to our Predator (and soon other delivery systems) capacity and you begin to see a very interesting world.

    We’ve just created a new version of superpower projection. Essentially, any population that can field a credible ground force can now (in theory at least) acquire the world’s most potent air force. We can knock off governments almost at will. And we can do it with something close to zero risk to US forces.

    There’s an old original Star Trek where a parellel universe “evil” Kirk has a kill button. All he has to do is push the button and his enemies disappear. We aren’t quite there, but we are damned close. And I’ll tell you what: every little tinpot dictator on earth is noting this new reality.

    I’m just hoping we don’t link the drones to Skynet.

  8. CB says:

    @jan:

    if the NTC doesnt rapidly and effectively bring together all the factions in play, you might not be far from the truth there…

    the test is seeing how their polished presentation translates into action.

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    @Rob in CT: Rob, I think it’s more like Afghanistan than you might think. A tribal society within artificial borders.

  10. Jay Tea says:

    The safe bet, though, is that whatever emerges will be better than what was permanently left behind by today’s actions.

    For the Libyan people, more than likely. For the rest of the world, though, I have my doubts. K-Daffy had pretty much kept his nose clean in other nations’ affairs for the past 8 years, but now the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist militants have to see this as an opportunity, like in Egypt…

    J.

  11. I think the main unknown is whether “New Libya” is going to end up being France, China, or Iran’s puppet.

  12. anjin-san says:

    @ Michael Reynolds

    I remember that episode – Mirror, Mirror. In that universe, Jay was smart, bithead was interesting and Jan was charming.

  13. G.A.Phillips says:

    “Not bad for a Soshulist, Keenyan born, seekret Mooslim, anti-Murkin, Marksist, Fashist, anti-captalist, un-qualified liberal.”

    You forgot half white devil, Sith lord, greater mummy,teleposer,puppet, and smug prick…..

  14. An Interested Party says:

    …but now the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist militants have to see this as an opportunity, like in Egypt…

    Oh yes, of course, because the scary Islamist menace is always lurking…a reason for us to support tinpot dictators, eh? It’s just like the Cold War…we just had to support so many despots to keep the Communists at bay…

    You forgot half white devil, Sith lord, greater mummy,teleposer,puppet, and smug prick…

    Stop being a dope, some of those apply to Cheney rather than the President…get your caricatures straight…

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @anjin-san:
    Heh heh.

  16. jan says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Whatever “now what” becomes…it will be decided by the Libyan people and not someone like Ghadaffi…that good buddy of Bush and McCain.

    Ghadaffi had a lot of ‘buddies.” Back in April of 2010, there was an article citing this:Gaddafi: Barakeh Obama is friend. Friendships do come and go………but, most presidents engage dictators when it suits their purposes.

  17. Jay Tea says:

    @michael reynolds: We’ve just created a new version of superpower projection. Essentially, any population that can field a credible ground force can now (in theory at least) acquire the world’s most potent air force. We can knock off governments almost at will. And we can do it with something close to zero risk to US forces.

    And if that thought doesn’t give you the slightest chills, let me make it a wee bit clearer: won’t it be a grand world when that power is placed in the hands of President Bachmann?

    J.

  18. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Jay Tea:

    Hehe. I don’t normally agree with you…ever actually…but that thought does give me chills, and your example illustrates it beautifully.

  19. Jay Tea says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Sometimes you gotta know your audience, Neil. I’m no fan of hers, either, but I’m nowhere near as freaked out by her as “your side” is.

    J.

  20. steve says:

    “, which raises troubling questions about the rule of law in post-transition Libya.”

    Not really. These were non-professional troops and still in battle mode. If he had an accident in a jail a week later, that would be more worrisome.

    Steve

  21. David M says:

    @Jay Tea:

    And if that thought doesn’t give you the slightest chills, let me make it a wee bit clearer: won’t it be a grand world when that power is placed in the hands of any President?

    FIFY

    I’m not sure that kind of power will end up being a good thing regardless of who is in charge.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    Ghadaffi had a lot of ‘buddies.” Back in April of 2010, there was an article citing this:Gaddafi: Barakeh Obama is friend. Friendships do come and go………but, most presidents engage dictators when it suits their purposes.

    It appears that you have a distorted view of friendship…Gaddafi saying some nice things about the President hardly makes them friends or “buddies”, to say nothing of engaging a dictator…

    I’m no fan of hers, either, but I’m nowhere near as freaked out by her as “your side” is.

    No, it’s the “Obama/Holder Justice Department” that freaks you out…

  23. Jay Tea says:

    @David M: Not much of a fix. I wanted to specifically include the current candidate most likely to freak michael out. Genericizing the statement kinda took the point away.

    J.

  24. ponce says:

    I wanted to specifically include the current candidate most likely to freak michael out.

    Hehe, poor wingnuts.

    Obama supporters would welcome any of the current Republican candidates winning the nomination.

  25. anjin-san says:

    Ghadaffi had a lot of ‘buddies.” Back in April of 2010, there was an article citing this:Gaddafi: Barakeh Obama is friend

    Ghadaffi thought Obama was a friend? Guess he had that one wrong.

  26. Jay says:

    @EddieInCA: I imagine you aren’t totally serious, but I’m never sure what pro-Obama people are hoping to accomplish with these arguments. The more frequent and successful his military interventions become, the less the Dems are the party of “no more war”.

  27. anjin-san says:

    It’s worth noting that Red State has a post today about how they don’t like Obama’s use of pronouns, but nothing about Kaddafi’s death.

  28. Dazedandconfused says:

    Libya was a tragedy. The soft take-down was in place, massive investment was getting the oil flowing. There were over 100,000 Chinese workers in there, and Moammar fed cash into the early rounds of EU bailouts. The old man would have croaked soon enough…

    Then, the Arab Spring came to town. The people had been brutalized for so long, they couldn’t help themselves. They moved. Moammar started to do his Linda Blair imitation again. This was too much for a widely diverse set of folks, who had suffered from that side of the man for many years. For all in that group the thought of going through that crap again was intolerable. Militarily, it doesn’t get much easier than Libya, as it was.

    Now, we wonder “what will happen?”. Well we should. But I’m not sure that we could help them by stepping in and setting up their government even if we wished to. Does our system assure comity between competing factions or something? No, certainly not in Iraq, and certainly not even for ourselves. They have earned the right to be free of our good intentions in that regard.

    They have a lot of cash and a small population to spread it among. That is good. They have a nearly uniform religious framework (Sunni), and that is also good. The tribes have a pretty fair history of working out their differences with minimal bloodshed. They fought along side each other, and bled together. I’m not sure it gets much better than this, as far as post revolution scenarios go, FWIW. Wish them luck.

  29. 2. Did Gaddafi die from his wounds or from post-capture abuse? We don’t know yet. But he was certainly alive at capture, which raises troubling questions about the rule of law in post-transition Libya.

    Um, seriously? Did we care when someone decided to shoot Mussolini and hang his dead body from a meathook?

  30. ponce says:

    Um, seriously? Did we care when…

    We bombed his convoy?

  31. Ben Wolf says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    Um, seriously? Did we care when someone decided to shoot Mussolini and hang his dead body from a meathook?

    By this logic, since there was a time few people would care about lynching a black man in the streets, we have no reason to care if it happens now.

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I take a look at the unanswered questions left now that a certain Libyan strongman with Michael Jackson’s fashion sense has assumed room temperature.

    It is sentences like this that keep me coming back! Well said, JJ.

  33. Graham says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Al-Alawaki taken out by a drone without one lost American life.

    There were two American lives lost in that drone strike.

  34. mantis says:

    By this logic, since there was a time few people would care about lynching a black man in the streets, we have no reason to care if it happens now.

    That analogy might apply if said black man were a ruthless dictator and those doing the lynching were the people he oppressed. Otherwise, it’s just dumb.

  35. mantis says:

    The more frequent and successful his military interventions become, the less the Dems are the party of “no more war”.

    You must be referring to the “Dems” in some other country, because our Democratic Party is anything but “no more war.”

  36. mattb says:

    @jan:

    Ghadaffi had a lot of ‘buddies.” Back in April of 2010, there was an article citing this:Gaddafi: Barakeh Obama is friend.

    *sigh* Really Jan?

    The article — which is pulled from a Jewish newspaper — only quotes what Ghadaffi said in a speech — and if you accept is statement that Obama is his friend (note that no one from the US is cited in the article — then you also must accept his analysis that the Palestinians are the new “Jews” in that the are, quote Gaddafi:
    “dispersed in exile and persecuted. Now the Palestinians are at a point where they deserve to have the United States on their side and not on the side of the Israelis.”

    Friendships do come and go………but, most presidents engage dictators when it suits their purposes.

    This is entirely true, but the link you provide does rather little to prove it.

  37. mantis says:

    Jan is friends with terrorists.

    There, I said it so it must be true. Right, Jan?

  38. jan says:

    @mattb:

    The article — which is pulled from a Jewish newspaper — only quotes what Ghadaffi said in a speech

    Oh please…people here make assumptions about Republican politician’s ties to people who have become unsavory, all day long, and that is perfectly acceptable. However, when a link from a Jewish (oh my!) publication is made, dealing with Obama, then it is ‘suspect’ and proves little.. Well, guess what, I wasn’t trying to make a court case, just a point to add doubt to Obama’s relationship with Gadaffi, as not being so benign.

    After all, remember Obama’s 20 year spiritual mentor, Rev. Wright? Wright was very close to Gadaffi, and even alluded to the fact that such a relationship might prove troublesome for Obama in securing the Jewish vote in 2008. Now, if Chaney or Bush had a spiritual mentor for 20 years who had fond ties with a dictator, don’t you think that ‘detail’ would be underlined a thousand times here?

    There’s also lots of innuendos saying that one of the possible reasons Obama vacillated so long in engaging in a no-fly zone was because of these past cross threads with Wright, himself and also Farrakhan. Even today, people, while pleased that Gadaffi is dead, say if Obama had immediately done the no-fly-zone (like everyone was calling for) the conflict would have ended much sooner than the 6 months it took, there would have been far fewer civilian deaths, and less military cost to the U.S. The question that remains unanswered is was some of this hesitation due to Obama’s past ties with these people who openly supported Gadaffi’s regime?

    That’s why I made the general statement that “most presidents engage (I would add now, and/or tolerate) dictators when it suits their purposes.”

  39. anjin-san says:

    Gaddafi’s Dead. Now What?

    Now what? Now Jan, Jay Tea & bithead flail about desperately for spin.

  40. ponce says:

    if Obama had immediately done the no-fly-zone (like everyone was calling for) the conflict would have ended much sooner than the 6 months it took,

    A wingnut complaining about that Libya…TOOK TOO LONG?

    Jan, we’re gonna have to buy a new irony meter just for you.

  41. anjin-san says:

    Jan likes terrorists.

    You know Jan, more and more people are saying this about you. It must be true. Why do you hate America?

  42. john personna says:

    I’m just glad Gaddafi didn’t leave his wife and kids for a peaceful protest on Wall Street. That would have been despicable.

  43. michael reynolds says:

    Jan supports terrorists? So, she’s a secret Muslim. Ah. I thought there was a certain Kenya quality to the background on her avatar.

  44. Eric Florack says:

    The safe bet, though, is that whatever emerges will be better than what was permanently left behind by today’s actions.

    I recall similar comments following the Shah of Iran’s departure at the hands of Jimmy Carter whose policies are remarkably similar in result..
    How’d that one with the Shah work out?

    Hint; QuackDaffy being dead of itself won’t start a constitutional republic. Yet, there’s a vacuum in leadership at the moment. A ripe opportunity for the radical Islamists to step in. Don’t be shocked when that happens, folks.

  45. anjin-san says:

    @ bithead

    It’s pretty obvious you are rooting for a bad outcome. A small price to pay if it makes Obama look bad, eh?

  46. An Interested Party says:

    Oh please…people here make assumptions about Republican politician’s ties to people who have become unsavory, all day long, and that is perfectly acceptable.

    If you are going to make such a claim, you need to provide some evidence…even so, that is not the same thing as your ridiculous claim that the President and Gaddafi were “buddies”…

    I recall similar comments following the Shah of Iran’s departure at the hands of Jimmy Carter whose policies are remarkably similar in result..
    How’d that one with the Shah work out?

    Such a pathetic claim…how exactly did Carter single-handedly force the Shah from power?

    It’s pretty obvious you are rooting for a bad outcome. A small price to pay if it makes Obama look bad, eh?

    It’s rather amusing that the same people who have been bitching about Gaddafi for years are now lamenting that something worse could follow his death…it’s so obvious that these people are trying to push this meme simply because of who is currently in the White House…

  47. An Interested Party says:

    Some of the people around here who seem to be troubled by what the future holds for Libya seem to echo this

    Oh goodie another country handed over to the Muslim Brotherhood by Barry Soetoro! When can they have the USA?

  48. Eric Florack says:

    It’s pretty obvious you are rooting for a bad outcome. A small price to pay if it makes Obama look bad, eh?

    I’m simply pointing out that history has a tendency to repeat itself, particulalry when the same elements are in place.

    @An Interested Party: This way

    And you may want to, for some perspective, read this as well.

  49. An Interested Party says:

    This way

    Umm, sorry but I’m really not going to take someone seriously who tells us that Jimmy Carter contacted the KGB to help him defeat Ronald Reagan…that may play well in Wingnut Land, but back in here in the realm of reality. not so much…as for your second link…

    A broad coalition of liberal human rights activists, genuine social democrats, old Nasserites, and Muslim Brotherhood advocates are supporting the spontaneous but politically inchoate street uprisings across the country. It was a similar coalition of secular liberals and religiously inspired political activists that brought down the Shah in February 1979.

  50. Rob in CT says:

    I recall similar comments following the Shah of Iran’s departure at the hands of Jimmy Carter

    Hahahahahahaha!

  51. Eric Florack says:

    @An Interested Party: Wellll let’s see.
    You keep playing like I’m some kind of nut. I suppose anyone to the right of Castro gets such labeling these days. (And the right is supposed to be so… radical…) Anyway… how’s THIS play in your Nickelodeon??

    In his statement marking the death of Muhammar Gaddafi last week, President Obama inserted a mystifying passage: “[T]he Libyan people now have a great responsibility — to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Qaddafi’s dictatorship….”

    “An inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya.” Can we mull that over with a glass of wine at the faculty club?

    […]

    No sooner had Obama read his statement than Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council and de facto president, announced that Libyan laws would have Sharia as their “basic source.” Just to get the ball rolling, he immediately lifted one law from Gaddafi’s era that he said was in conflict with Sharia — the law banning polygamy. Happy days are here again.

    Don’t say I didn’t level the warning.

  52. An Interested Party says:

    You keep playing like I’m some kind of nut. I suppose anyone to the right of Castro gets such labeling these days.

    Quit projecting…what you describe there is how you treat anyone to the left of Sarah Palin…

    By the way, keep telling us how horrible it is now that Gaddafi is gone…your reasoning is the same that gave cover to dictators like Pinochet and the Somozas, among many others…