The Libyan people have paid a heavy price to bring about this day of euphoria since their uprising began in mid-February. Tens of thousands of Libyans are dead and wounded, or homeless. Most of Libya's cities abutting the Mediterranean between Tripoli and Benghazi have been destroyed. The country is awash in militias, self-anointed revolutionaries, and a population thirsting for justice and a better life in a free society. All tall orders for Libya's triumphant governing Transitional National Council (TNC).
Libya's celebration will be fleeting unless the TNC can transform this popular anti-Gaddafi force into a "pro-Libya" force which marshals the goodwill of all Libyans to prevent an Egyptian-like post Mubarak slide into dissension and instability. And it will be a major test of endurance for Libyans to find the patience to give the TNC's leaders the time they need to turn from war to find a durable path to peace.
I have carefully followed the deliberations of the TNC, and its leadership has done a commendable job allocating responsibilities and tasks to subcommittees composed of very capable individuals in anticipation of this day. What is set forth below is really less my own list of priorities than a summary of what the TNC's goals and objectives will be in the weeks and months to come.
What will be the TNC's immediate priorities?
- Consolidating national provisional government control over a nation that has never enjoyed an inclusive, participatory civil society. That is harder than it sounds in a country where no one ever had power except the Gaddafi family and its sycophants.
- Convincing Libyans to refrain from the understandable temptation of seeking retribution against Gaddafi loyalists by swiftly establishing an impartial, transparent judicial process to bring those who deserve justice to justice.
- Regime change takes time. The TNC will surely lay out a public timetable leading to national elections that is first and foremost reasonable, embraceable and understandable -- walking Libyans through chronological milestones that they can understand and support. Libyans will be turning to the UN and other nations for ideas and support to help them create political party structures, electoral systems, and voter lists.
- Among the many humanitarian challenges the TNC faces is the need to heal the wounded of war. One of the greatest threats to Libya's immediate instability is the fear I have that the wounded will not receive quick, adequate medical assistance and turn against the TNC. Veterans of the revolution require urgent medical attention, including prosthetic devices, since so many Libyans lost limbs from land mines. Libya's hospitals are overloaded and understaffed. Field hospitals to tend to the civilian and military casualties are urgently needed. Secretary of State Clinton was just in Libya three days ago promising U.S. medical and relief assistance. However, non-governmental organizations and the U.S. private medical sector need to lend a hand, as well to help the TNC meet this most urgent of humanitarian needs.
- Landmine clearance is essential. Gaddafi's forces booby-trapped roads, homes, and civilian installations. There is a great danger that young Libyans will die unless a comprehensive, foreign-supported landmine clearance program is initiated. Thousand of Libyans also will need gainful employment and financial support until the oil riches begin trickling down. The TNC will surely need to replicate a "New Deal" type of civilian construction corps; and we Americans have some experience in helping the Libyans rebuild their shattered infrastructure and train young Libyans to help find gainful vocational employment in the reconstruction effort.
- Rebuilding an impartial, fair civilian police force answerable to the TNC is surely a high priority. Restoring the rule of law by serving as credible humanitarian "first responders" to open and supervise humanitarian relief corridors will build credibility and confidence in a new national police force.
- The threat of the Islamist bogeyman is Libya tends to be exaggerated in western media. While the TNC is indeed composed of some well-known Islamists (as well as some hard-core former members of the Libya Fighting Group) the TNC leadership is overwhelmingly secular and most of these Islamists are not hard-core extremists. Libyans by and large are more conservative than their Egyptian or Tunisian brethren insofar as their embrace of Islamic virtues and traditions is concerned. Western governments should give the TNC sufficient space to accommodate Islamists by integrating them into a new ruling structure without driving them underground to resist the TNC.
- Preventing duplicitous Libyans from engaging in power grabs is not going to be easy. There are senior militia and rebel commanders who oppose the TNC leadership. Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil is emerging as a consensus leader of the revolution, and he has earned the right to be legitimated by support and by embrace from the international community -- not only to show appreciation for his leadership, but also to send the all-important symbolic message that the international community has a strong stake in his success.
- Bringing Libya's all important oil exports back on-line is essential to enabling the TNC to begin purchasing the commodities it needs to redress urgent and medium-term humanitarian needs. Libya exports "Cadillac crude" -- an oil much in demand due to its purity and low sulfur content.
- Finally, and most importantly, the end of Gaddafi does not mean the end of the Gaddafi family, the remnants of which had fled earlier last month to Niger and Burkina Fasso. Do any of Gaddafi's remaining children remain a threat to the new Libyan government? I just do not know. Will any of Gaddafi's dead-enders go underground to further threaten the nascent government? Unlikely, but it cannot be ruled out. That is why one of the highest priorities of the TNC is to recapture the stockpiles of weapons, missiles and ammunition that may have been secretly and not-so-secretly hidden throughout Libya's vast Saharan desert territory. Here, too, the U.S. and NATO advisers are working side-by-side with Libyan counterparts to apprehend arms-dealers and smugglers looking to make a fast buck off of the sophisticated weaponry that Gaddafi had horded.
The TNC has many other priorities in addition to those listed above. The fact that Gaddafi is now dead instead of being seized for trial in some way makes the TNC's job harder. Temporary euphoria will more quickly give way to popular demands that are no longer focused on the prior regime. The Libyan chapter of the Arab Spring now enters a new, uncertain and in some ways more challenging period. The Obama administration has truly earned a great deal of gratitude from Libyans for its role in championing Gaddafi's departure from the time of the Benghazi uprising.
While we may not have an overt-front line role in the NATO military mission, Libyan leaders are, by nature, pro-American and eager for our help, as long as it is on their terms and now ours.
We may not have had it all together right in the beginning, but we had it right in the end. And Secretary of State Clinton and her able ambassador in Tripoli remained commendably engaged in each difficult chapter from beginning to end to decipher the elements of the TNC, slowly embrace and support it, and then help marshal the international community to legitimate it. Yet, the hard work has really just begun to ensure that Libya emerges as a stable nation from its 40 year nightmare.