THE BASIS POINT

Not-A-War In Libya: Summary Of Key Issues

Even with today’s rebel victory, political chatter is red hot since the UN authorized a coalition of nations last week to bomb Libya in order to protect citizens there from their own leader. Should Western nations even be involved? Can you enforce the UN resolution without occupying the country long-term? Which coalition country should be in charge? And should the coalition take out Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, or leave it to local rebels?

Below is a clear analysis of these questions, excerpted from today’s full Economist lead story. And here’s their interactive chart describing each nation’s position on outsiders getting involved in Libya.

The difficult decision is whether Colonel Qaddafi’s removal, dead or alive, should be an explicit aim of the enforcers. The UN resolution makes no mention of such a thing, though many Western and Arab leaders have said they want the colonel to go. As commander-in-chief of security forces that have already killed hundreds of civilians since peaceful protests started a month ago, he is arguably a legitimate target. But it would be far better if his own people dealt with him, handed him over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or chased him into exile, rather than let him be singled out by his Western enemies for elimination.

Leaving the Libyans to do that unaided is admittedly a risk, but the odds are on the rebels’ side. Once Colonel Qaddafi cannot pound cities such as Benghazi with impunity, opposition across the country will grow again. Isolated and economically strangled, the colonel and his regime would be lucky to survive indefinitely. Even if Libya were temporarily partitioned, the West could keep up the no-fly zone with minimal effort. Gradually, the noose would tighten around the colonel, especially as the anti-Qaddafi east holds most of Libya’s oil.

Libya is not Iraq. The West has learned through bitter experience to avoid the grievous mistakes it made from the outset of that venture. For one thing, the current mission is indisputably legal. For another, it has, at least for now, the backing of Libya’s own people and—even allowing for some wobbles from Turkey and the Arab League—of most Arab and Muslim countries. Libya’s population is a quarter the size of Iraq’s, and the country should be easier to control: almost all its people, a more homogeneous lot albeit with sharp tribal loyalties, live along the Mediterranean coastal strip.

If Colonel Qaddafi’s state crumbles, the West should not seek to disband his army or the upper echelons of his administration, as it foolishly did in Iraq. The opposition’s interim national council contains secular liberals, Islamists, Muslim Brothers, tribal figures and recent defectors from the camp of Colonel Qaddafi. The West should recognise the council as a transitional government, provided that it promises to hold multiparty elections. Above all, there must be no military occupation by outsiders. It is tempting to put time-limits on such a venture, but that would be futile.

Success in Libya is not guaranteed—how could it be? It is a violent country that may well succumb to more violence, and will not become a democracy any time soon. But its people deserve to be spared the dictator’s gun and be given a chance of a better future.