“The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will." — John Adams
Today President Obama announced from his 28 acre retreat on Martha’s Vineyard that Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime is "coming to an end" but the fighting is "not over yet," as Libyan rebels brought Qaddafi's forces to the brink of collapse.
The president emerged from his vacation in Martha's Vineyard to publicly address the historic developments in Libya, where rebels moved with remarkable speed to capture control of most of Tripoli.
"The future of Libya is in the hands of its people," Obama said. "The celebrations that we've seen in the streets of Libya shows that the pursuit of human dignity is far stronger than any dictator."
Obama noted that there is still "fierce fighting" in some areas, and urged Qaddafi — whose location in unknown — to publicly give up power.
"Although it's clear that Qaddafi's rule is over, he still has the opportunity to reduce further bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya and calling for those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms for the sake of Libya," Obama said.
In addressing the developments, Obama paused to remember all the Americans killed by the regime "in acts of terror in the past." And he touted the combined efforts of the United States and its NATO allies in supporting the anti-Qaddafi rebel movement since March.
Well how important is this in Obama’s mind. After almost eight months of bombing, warfare, and spending well over one billion dollars this event was not important enough for Obama to leave his rich friends in the bastion of liberal elites to return to Washington to make the announcement. I guess he will now have another feather for his political cap — I got bin Laden and now I got Qaddafi.
But what does all of this mean? Who are the so called rebels? What are their fundamental principles? What positions will they take in the Middle East? These are questions for which we have no concrete answers. We have been waging a war against a man, not against a government or an ideology. When the man is gone how will the vacuum be filled? Will it be filled with a democracy, a tribal coalition or an Islamic dictatorship where Sharia rules?
“Islam is the Religion of the State, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia).”
Under this constitution, in other words, Islam is law. That makes other phrases such as “there shall be no crime or penalty except by virtue of the law” and “Judges shall be independent, subject to no other authority but law and conscience” a bit more ominous.
The Libyan Revolution, like all revolutions, is a three act play. Act One is the Fall of the Dictator. Act Two is the Rebels Turn. Act Three is It's a Fluid Situation with lots of players, and anything can happen. This was the story in Iraq and the ongoing story in Afghanistan. In both cases we are engaged in Act Three and it’s not going that well.
Act One: The Fall of the Dictator. Sometimes this act is quick, bloodless and easy, as it was in Egypt when President Mubarak was pushed aside. Libya has taken longer, six months of fighting, with a major and critical assist from NATO forces. In Iraq and Afghanistan it took much longer and cost the lives of thousands of American and coalition allies’ lives.
Act Two: The Rebels Rule. With the Dictator gone, it's the Rebels' turn to try their hand at governing. This is where everything starts to fall apart. The rebels, who had been united in their opposition to the hated Dictator and his gang, now start falling out amongst themselves. All the ancient animosities the Dictator had kept under wraps, are now unleashed in Act Two, as we saw in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia.
The Rebels have never had leadership roles, yet they're now expected to run the country.
In Libya, Qaddafi, his relatives and his tribe, had their hands on all the levers of power for forty years. Now those hands are gone. But can the rebels take their places, and quickly enough to restore order before chaos ensues? This was also the case with Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Act Two usually ends with everything up for grabs, and it's likely to be the same with Libya.
There no doubt will be fights between the various tribes over whose vision will be imposed on the Libyan people. I cannot resist using the closing scene in the film Lawrence of Arabia where once the united Arab tribes, under the leadership of T.E. Lawrence, had captured Damascus they immediately fell into factions fighting over old slights and insults as he British took control of the city. Who will fill the role of the British in Tripoli? Will it be NATO, the French, or the Muslim Brotherhood as they are doing in Egypt?
Act Three: Where Everything Gets Resolved. Either the rebels find a way to get their act together, unite the country and establish security and order, and get civil society going again.
If they can't, there is civil war, and the well-meaning reformers are thrust aside by the more ruthless, violent, committed group willing to do anything to gain power. That's what happened with Iranian revolution when the Shah of Iran fell in the late 1970. By 1980 the Ayatollahs were in charge and we all know how that turned out.
Today and for the next few days watch these main players in the Libyan drama. The next 72 hours will be crucial in whether this play is ultimately a drama, tragedy or farce. How they respond during the opening scenes of Act Two will determine how this play ends.
And, as the world watches this unfold, don't forget the players. Here's a look
The Rebels: Who are the rebels? Are they Islamists thirsting to establish a strict Sharia state? Are they western-educated secularists who want democracy and self-government? Are they bureaucrats who know how to run things? Are they warriors who love to fight, but don't have a clue what to do when the fighting stops? Or, as is more likely, all of the above?
Will the Rebels stay united? Can they govern? Will they break along tribal, ethnic, and religious fault lines? When things get difficult — and they will — do the rebels start blaming each other? Will they spend their energies settling scores with the remnants of the Qaddafi clan, pushing for justice for the men who murdered their families and friends? Or will they get on with the rather boring business of governing — making sure the streets are safe, the water is running and the electricity works?
In a recent poll on Fox News 81% of the respondents chose “No, there is a lot of tribalism among the rebel groups, this could easily get worse” as their response. Only 4% had an optimistic outlook for Libya.
Clan Qaddafi: Do the extended members of the Qaddafi clan flee or stay and fight? Do they flee abroad? If so, will they be granted a safe haven or be turned over to the International Criminal Court or arrested at home for trial and probable execution, Mubarak-style? Do they go underground, Saddam-style, and lead an insurgency? Do they regroup and come back to fight again, Taliban-style?
NATO: We helped deliver the Libyan rebels a revolution with our drone strikes and behind the scenes special forces. Will we stick around to help them form a government, or breathe a sigh of relief with the fall of Qaddafi and head for the exits?
The main problem of the National Transitional Council is that it’s an umbrella group that brings together several different groups of people, who really only have two things in common. They’re collectively referred to as the Libyan rebels, and they all share a desire to oust Moammar Qaddafi from power. The second you take that common mission away from them, you immediately open the door to in-fighting.
The Council has been based in Benghazi since February and has, for the entire time, professed a desire to relocate its political capital to Tripoli. This won’t be as easy as simply packing up their car and making a 12-hour drive west. When its leaders, almost all of whom have heavy ties to eastern Libya, which is historically distinct from other parts of the country, try to assert their power in the west, it will be met with resistance.
There are a lot of different fronts in the Libyan war manned by different groups from different parts the country. Each of these groups is now going to feel as if it is entitled to a certain share of political authority, economic reward and share of power in the new Libya (just like the Arabs in Lawrence of Arabia). Those who manned the front lines of Brega are the closest geographically to both Benghazi and the bulk of Libya’s oil fields. They will feel as if they were the vanguard of Libyan revolution. Those who staved off the Libyan army in Misurata for so many months feel as if they are the most hardened fighters and therefore worthy of a reward.
The Berbers in the Nafusa Mountains played a critical role in the final push to enter Tripoli, while the Arab rebels who joined them in Zawiya and Zabrata will argue that they actually entered the capital first and therefore drove the dagger into Qaddafi's heart. Finally there are the people of Tripoli itself, a city which makes up about a quarter of Libya’s overall population, who may not be very receptive to the idea of the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council taking the place of the previous regime for very long.
There are also known Islamist militias who’ve been participating in the fighting in the east and who have also been providing security in Benghazi itself. The presence of these militias has caused the National Transitional Council to worry that they may attempt to fill any potential power vacuum that is left by Qaddafi's departure. When you add all these factors together, it’s clear that the Council has a potential problem on its hand, and that, while the Libyan war seems to be nearing an end, it’s possible that the real battle has only just begun.
Will this be Iran redux, where the Carter administration helped push out the Shah but then failed to help the Iranian Revolutionaries form the post-Shah government — and ended up with an radical Islamist government far worse than the Shah's ever was in Iran. Or will NATO and the United States offer technical assistance as Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush did to Eastern Europe when the Iron Curtain came down, and see an entire region become pro-Western and self-governing?
Months ago the Arab spring opened to a sense of wonderment and euphoria. But once the opening night enthusiasms faded, the Arab Spring has had very mixed reviews. Egypt's revolution will likely end in the election of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
Bahrain's revolution is on hold for now, but Iran would like to see it play out again.
Morocco is turning out well so far, with a rapid transition to democratic government, but this is only at the beginning.
Syria is a simply a bloodbath with no real end in sight.
The Arab Spring started out to cheers that the Arab Muslim world was throwing off the shackles of dictatorship and oppression. But as the season has worn on, the initial enthusiasm has given way to a harsher reality. Will the Spring become the Winter of our Discontent? We'll have to stay in our seats 'til the end of the play to know how it turns out.
Will Obama stay the course and oversee the final act or will he become distracted and bored and walk away from the play? Perhaps he will get Hollywood to release a film called “The Fall of Tripoli” by next October. It can run as a double feature with the Killing of bin Laden at a theater in your neighborhood.