Center for American Progress

Obama Administration Must Take Steps to Support Libyan Transition
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Obama Administration Must Take Steps to Support Libyan Transition

The challenge in the days ahead will be to address the ongoing violence in Libya while creating the space to help secure a viable political transition instead of a regional crisis once Qaddafi steps down.

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The international community is taking welcomed steps to stop the escalating violence in Libya. It recently passed a strongly worded U.N. Security Council resolution while many countries have also called for Libyan leader Moammad Qaddafi to step down. Additional punitive measures are still under discussion. The fighting rages on but Qaddafi’s days can only be numbered. Once he’s gone Libya will stand at an important crossroads. If the Obama administration does not take steps now to help support that enormous transition, there is the potential for more bloodshed and a regional crisis of epic proportions.

Qaddafi’s loyalists have pushed into areas previously held by the opposition. The rebels, worried that they may be overpowered, have started calling for direct international support in the form of airstrikes and military equipment. But while the international community scrambles to consider its response to the ongoing violence, it is lost on no one that the real work begins the day Qaddafi falls. Forty years of absolute tyranny means Libya has virtually no opposition movements, no functional judicial process, no civil society, and no military that could help play a stabilizing role while a new civilian authority is established.

Overcoming nearly half a century of Qaddafi’s divide-and-rule tactics requires a societal and political rebirth that will be unwieldy and chaotic, and it will require the long-term assistance of the international community. Political fragmentation is a real possibility—whether due to historic tensions between tribes or competing claims to an interim authority that have already begun to emerge. There is also potential for conflict due to the complicated politics of oil.

In sum, a post-Qaddafi Libya could erupt given the very real prospects for political discord combined with the hundreds of thousands of refugees already streaming out of the country. Once the battle to oust Qaddafi is won, a much greater fight could lurk close behind.

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