When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jets to Paris this week for a meeting of the Contact Group on Libya (e.g., France, Britain), no doubt there’ll be plenty of self-congratulations over the end of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year dictatorship.
Despite the distraction of Hurricane Irene from the historic events unfolding in Tripoli, the administration’s been pointing to Gadhafi’s fall as proof positive of President Barack Obama’s “lead from behind” doctrine.
While few will dispute that disposing of the still-to-be-captured Gadhafi to the dustbin of history is a good thing, the Paris attendees might not want to crack open those bottles of French bubbly just yet.
There’s no shortage of problems to be tackled in Libya.
First, the security situation is fragile. Gadhafi could have plans for a guerilla campaign up the sleeve of one of his signature flowing robes. Plus, with the large number of armed rebel groups, factionalism, revenge killings or violence are possible.
Libya will need to develop a trusted, capable police force, collect weapons from rebel forces after hostilities cease and demobilize them back into their civilian lives.
Efforts must also be made to secure the chemical weapons (an estimated 10 tons of mustard gas) and the SA-7 surface-to-air missiles Gadhafi’s forces were known to possess before they fall into the wrong hands such as those of al-Qaeda or its friends.
There’s plenty of concern about Islamist extremists or al-Qaeda cronies taking root in Libya. Ungoverned spaces or weak governments provide fertile soil for their growth.
Of course, now that the old regime is gone, the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) must form a government that can run the country from the port city of Benghazi in the east (its original stronghold) to the shores of Tripoli in the west.
The Libyans are currently euphoric about being unshackled from Gadhafi’s oppression, but calls for the provision of food, water, medicine, power and sanitation, which are reportedly in short supply, especially in Tripoli, will become increasingly shrill.
The Libyans will surely want to develop a new constitution to guide the country out of the Gadhafi era and the world will be watching closely to see how that develops, especially as it relates to the role of Islam in government.
If democracy is in Libya’s future as the TNC claims, then civil society will need to be developed before elections, including the granting of such basic freedoms as press, assembly and speech and the establishment of political parties.
And what about the economy? Getting oil flowing again from Libyan wells and onto the world market and putting people to work will be an important task for any new government.
It’s going to take a lot more than toppling Gadhafi to bring limping Libya in for a soft landing. Hopefully, the diplomats assembled in Paris this week will recognize that now is no time to take a victory lap.
Peter Brookes is Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs and Chung Ju-Yung Fellow for Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Family Security Matters