Libya in Libyan hands

U.S. should be prepared to help but otherwise leave Libya alone

Now that the Libyan rebels are close to toppling that tinpot dictator Moammar Gadhafi, President Obama’s decision to lend U.S. support to NATO’s air campaign in support of the insurgents seems to have paid off. The big question now is: What’s next?

Heretofore the rebels have been united by a common mission, overthrowing Gadhafi. With success, their internal differences are sure to emerge. The key to enabling the Libyan Transitional National Council to set the stage for creation of a functioning central government based on democratic principles will be containing the centrifugal forces that threaten to pull it apart along tribal or ideological lines.

So far, so good. The council has paid attention to local and tribal sensitivities, and it has called on its soldiers to practice restraint with captured Gadhafi loyalists. This spirit of nonviolence and reconciliation must be maintained if the country is to move toward democracy, the only form of government that can forestall future violence.

For its part, NATO should refrain from gloating or taking undue credit. Yes, its bombing helped greatly by destroying much of Gadhafi’s war-making capacity. But in the final analysis this was a homegrown and hugely courageous effort by a ragtag group of amateur soldiers whose hatred of the dictator and desire to remove him from power drove them to evolve into a sophisticated fighting force in less than six months. It’s their victory, not NATO’s.

Libya will need lots of help. The country is starting from scratch. During his four decades in power, Gadhafi effectively destroyed its major institutions. Britain, France and the United States and the other NATO countries must remain ready to assist however needed. Otherwise, though, they must recognize that Libya is now in Libyan hands.