The Great Debate

Obama’s bold gamble on Iraq

By L Paul Bremer, III
The opinions expressed are his own.

In announcing that all American troops will be out of Iraq by year’s end, President Obama has placed a big bet on the future of Iraq and on America’s position in a restive Middle East. While the initial public response to his decision, in America and in Iraq, may be positive, this will not shield him from the consequences if his bet goes sour.

The single most salient lesson in countries emerging from tyranny is the importance of providing security for the population.  This is not just one of many tasks that must be addressed: security is the essential prerequisite to progress in the other two foreseeable challenges—in Iraq, Egypt and now Libya: beginning a process of political reform and starting economic reconstruction.

The American government learned this lesson the hard way in Iraq.  For several years after Saddam was thrown out, we lacked the comprehensive counter insurgency strategy and sufficient forces needed to provide security to the Iraqi people.  Predictably, security deteriorated as an unholy alliance of Sunni and Shia terrorists, the first backed by al Qaeda, the other by Iran, took advantage the situation.  The deficiencies in strategy and troops while Iraq’s own national security forces were still in training produced a bloody and chaotic year in 2006.

There were two game-changers in Iraq.

1. President Bush’s courageous decision to change strategy and to surge forces.  Contrary to widespread skepticism in the American political class, these decisions gradually brought the security under much better control.

2. The almost unimaginable stoicism of the Iraqi people. In many individual months in 2006 and early 2007, Iraqi casualties from terrorism were greater, as a percent of the country’s population, than the casualties America experienced on 9/11.  Fortunately by the summer of 2011, violence had fallen against both Americans and Iraqis.

Libya’s democracy has a real chance

By Daniel Serwer
The views expressed are his own.

Libyans will be getting up late tomorrow morning, having enjoyed a spectacular celebration tonight.  “The Wizard of Oz” comes to mind:  “The witch is dead, the wicked witch is dead!”

Now begins the hard work of building a more open and democratic society with some distinct advantages, and Libya has vast resources—not only the oil and gas in the ground, but also cash in foreign bank accounts.  Qaddafi’s ironic legacy is that his ill-gotten gains will fund Libya’s reconstruction.

The population is small (about 6.5 million) and more or less homogenous.  There are tribal and geographic distinctions, there are Berbers as well as Arabs, there are blacker people and whiter people and there are rich and poor.  But none of these differences has yet emerged as a source of widespread violence.

Day 1 of the Libyan experiment

By Kyle Scott
The opinions expressed are his own.

The U.S. has avoided some of the mistakes it made in Iraq and Afghanistan in its dealings with Egypt and Libya. While the context of the Arab Spring is entirely different from that of the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan, the thought that democracy could be forced upon a nation has been avoided by the Obama administration in a post-Mubarak Egypt and a post-Gaddafi Libya. With Gaddafi’s death today, the challenge now is to continue taking this view while helping Libya move toward democracy. Working towards a successful transition requires adherence to two rules: A bottom-up system will be much more successful than a top-down one. The system that works in the U.S. may not work in these countries.

Top-down systems require coercion and manipulation to get things done. Bottom-up systems govern through consent. One works on domination and the other on cooperation. The uprising in Egypt was certainly bottom-up, but the government that has supplanted Mubarak is decidedly top-down. The prospect for Egypt looks bleak if the goal is to establish a representative system of government in which the majority retains the right to rule but the rights of the minority are safeguarded. It is not only because dissident voices are being quieted and religious minorities are being persecuted that the future looks bleak, it’s because once power is gained, particularly in a top-down centralized regime, reform is difficult as power tends to entrench itself as the Egyptian people know all too well.

Libya is fertile ground for an individual or group to seize power, or for a foreign nation to come in and impose its style of government on the people of Libya. Moreover, the disparate ethnic and tribal factions that have a history of violence towards one another makes a political power grab seem likely. A bottom-up system, or federalism, can secure a peaceful transition. A federal arrangement is flexible enough to incorporate all groups into the government which gives them voice and access. Rather than a unitary system that is governed only by a nationwide majority which can ignore the interests and needs of a minority, a federal system grants a geographically concentrated ethnic or religious group the authority to govern itself under the coordination of a central regime in which it also has representation.

A new beginning for Libya

By Stefan Wolff
The views expressed are his own.

The fall of Sirte and the death of Colonel Gaddafi today most likely represents the finishing blow for the remnants of the old regime in Libya. They are a highly valuable prize that the National Transitional Council (NTC) fought hard to obtain and that should trigger the formal transition period that Libya’s now widely recognized government has envisaged to lead to democratic elections and a new constitution. Comparable only to the fall of Tripoli in late August, today marks a momentous achievement for a popular movement that twelve months ago was hardly conceivable, let alone in existence. For all intents and purposes, Libya’s is the only successful uprising of the Arab Spring to date.

Though Libyans and their allies across the world are right to celebrate, we must not ignore the challenges ahead. Building a new and legitimate state in Libya remains a difficult task. Gaddafi’s death may well take the sting out of any loyalist resistance for now. The question of what the NTC will do with Gaddafi – try him in Libya or extradite him to the International Criminal Court – no longer exists, but there are others from his inner circle that will have to be dealt with in the future. Both trials at home, like Saddam Hussein’s, and trials abroad, like those handled by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, have their different problems and neither option is likely to avoid a sense of victors’ (in-) justice among Gaddafi loyalists.

There might now be fewer Gaddafi supporters, but those that remain will be no less determined and might find a new leader in any of Gaddafi’s inner circle that is still at large, initially most likely in his son Saif al-Islam. In other words, the security threat is likely to diminish, but will almost certainly not evaporate completely or quickly. At the same time, NTC forces must resist the temptation of vengeful retribution. The fierce fighting in Sirte in particular was highly costly, but as much as the NTC benefitted from a UN Security Council Resolution that mandated a military operation to protect civilians, as much does it now have a responsibility to make sure that crimes are prosecuted through the courts, not by lynch mobs.