News / Middle East

France, Not US, Takes Lead in Libya Democracy Building

Abdul Basr, 45, center, chats with his neighbor as he sits in front of his damaged pizzeria on Tripoli street in Misrata, Libya, September 2, 2011.
Abdul Basr, 45, center, chats with his neighbor as he sits in front of his damaged pizzeria on Tripoli street in Misrata, Libya, September 2, 2011.
David Arnold

As Congress prepares to address a federal deficit of historic proportions and decide how much to spend on foreign affairs in 2012, U.S. lawmakers will also look at the cost of re-building Iraq and Afghanistan after over the past decade and consider what to do in Libya.

The costs in those two wars were high: $1.28 trillion for both and subsequent national reconstruction over the past decade, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.  Nation building was a portion of the overall price tag.  But given the United States’ fiscal restraints looking forward, the Obama administration is unlikely to commit to buttressing a third nation any time soon.

Fortunately, France and the United Kingdom have expressed willingness to step into the breach to help the new Libya get on its feet since the U.S. is preoccupied with other engagements.  As a leader of the NATO air campaign to support the rebels, the U.S. is still a major player.

“I think we have gotten involved,” said Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon days before Libyan rebels succeeded in penetrating and taking over the capital city Tripoli., “So the question is, do we consider whether we put boots on the ground as far as a peacekeeping force or a stabilization force if and when there is a moment when that’s appropriate. That’s different from the way we got involved in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Of course, the cost of Libya’s reconstruction is not yet known. In February, the European Union initially offered six billion Euros to aid democratic reform movements in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and others observing an Arab Spring. As the United States’ engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate, estimated reconstruction costs have a tendency to balloon far beyond initial projections. O’Hanlon estimates the U.S. has spent $50 billion each for Iraq and Afghanistan in nation building alone.  

“If we indeed we’re going to do another invasion operation in the Middle East,” said O’Hanlon, “even if we were part of a broad coalition, you just have to be braced for, say, even if it goes pretty well, a half trillion dollars in costs and probably a thousand or more dead Americans. And I don’t think anybody is in the mood for that.”

Learning from the United States costly experiments in trying to rehabilitate Iraq and Afghanistan, other governments apparently willing to try their hand of re-building a country they did not invade by proceeding cautiously.

As the conflict in Libya narrowed to Gadhafi’s tribal stronghold of Sirte and other communities, France was one of the European nations that stepped forward. The ties between the two countries have been strong if not always constructive:  Under Gadhafi, France has hosted thousands of refugees; the two countries maintained robust trade relations; and France, which is the world’s eighth-biggest consumer or oil, depends on nearby Libya for some of those imports.

A crater, which the Libyan government said was caused by coalition air strikes, is seen at an area in Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli, April 23, 2011 (picture taken on guided government)
A crater, which the Libyan government said was caused by coalition air strikes, is seen at an area in Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli, April 23, 2011 (picture taken on guided government)

France finally responds to a Middle East revolution

“From Washington, the enthusiasm of the French for intervention in Libya is seen with a mixture of relief and puzzlement,” wrote Dominique Moisi, a founder and senior advisor to the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, when European powers began supporting rebels in eastern Libya.

“Americans do not want the job and are happy that someone else does,” Moisi wrote. He described the United States’ dilemma over calling for direct action against Moammar Gadhafi and President Barack Obama’s inclination to restraint. “President Nicolas Sarkozy’s willingness to intervene, with the aid of British Prime Minister David Cameron, helped close a dangerous gap” for the world’s leader in state-building.

France re-opened its embassy in Tripoli by the end of August. The government hosted a September 1 Friends of Libya conference on the question of reconstruction and the French foreign minister urged the European Union to send observers to Libya to assess the need for reconstruction. President Nicolas Sarkozy took the lead in marshalling global forces to help Libyans building the institutions that will sustain a new democratic country. So one could argue France’s interest in Libya’s rehabilitation has begun in earnest already.

A Libyan worker chats with two rebels in a vehicle as they patrol an oil refinery controlled by anti Gadhafi forces on the western outskirt of Zawiya city, Libya, August 19, 2011
A Libyan worker chats with two rebels in a vehicle as they patrol an oil refinery controlled by anti Gadhafi forces on the western outskirt of Zawiya city, Libya, August 19, 2011

Why did France volunteer?

France stepped forward for many reasons. Oil is certainly one of them, because Libya is a significant supplier of oil to Europe, France in particular. According to estimates published last week in the Guardian, Libya was producing approximately 1.6 billion barrels per day when the civil war halted production. Moisi assumes Libya’s revenues from those exports can repay the donors and developers helping with its reconstruction. “It is a rich self-sufficient country that needs help but that help will be repaid,” Moisi argues

Repairing France’s brand in the Middle East was another reason Sarkozy has led by example, said Moisi in an interview with VOA. “Of course, there were political reasons for France, one of them being the fact that France had been caught by surprise by the events in Tunisia and Egypt and initial reaction to the two events was quite negative.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy greets Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, December 12, 2007.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy greets Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, December 12, 2007.

The French government, like many western powers including the United States, has supported authoritarian regimes in the past, Gadhafi in particular. Gadhafi and his entourage pitched their Bedouin tents on the grounds of the Elysee Palace in 2007.

When the uprisings began in Tunisia, France offered riot control assistance to President Zine el-Abadine Ben Ali. It wasn’t until the success of the movement in Tunisia and Egypt became assured that France decided it was on the wrong side of history in the Middle East. And also, perhaps, it was time for France to take a pro-humanitarian stance in the region.

“And France clearly wanted to compensate Libya for what she had failed to do in Tunisia and Egypt,” Moisi said. “But humanitarian reasons played a major role in our intervention in Benghazi and later on altogether in Libya. At the time Benghazi was about to fall to Libyan forces led by Colonel Gadhafi, we started on a humanitarian basis.”  

Learning from America’s mistakes

As France, the United Kingdom and other European powers discuss a course of action with the United States, they will study what happened on Iraq and Afghanistan, said Moisi. “There are many scenarios, many alternatives. We are trying to learn from the negative lessons of Iraq.”

The first lesson learned in the last decade that has sunk in as a guidance for the future is this: to take on a nation on your own is costly and can prove unpopular. Go go multilateral. “You can’t go alone without an international resolution, without some kind of Arab support and Arab involvement,” Moisi said. “And once victory is achieved, you don’t disband immediately all the security apparatus of the country you have liberated.”

France’s approach may vary from the United States where leveraging existing political and economic assets may prove more fruitful than a wholesale dismantling of the past regime.

 

 

فرنسا تأخذ زمام المبادرة في الجهود الرامية إلى المساعدة في إعادة بناء ليبيا تواجه الولايات المتحدة القيود المالية يتطلع. ولذلك، فإن دولا أخرى مثل فرنسا المرجح أن تأخذ زمام المبادرة في بناء الدولة في ليبيا.

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid