I tend to wait for the last moment before I write anything about Qaddafi, because Qaddafi has always had the uncanny ability to stay on the top, regardless of how difficult the situation is. I did want to write something about Libya today, but to be honest, the rapid advance of the rebels of the past few days really caught me off guard. Still, let me try to catch up, with the risk that by the time I publish this post, everything that I have written will have already been out of date.
So what's happened in the past few days? The rebels seemed to get their act together, and with NATO's help, managed to break through Qaddafi's lines of defense (and at the time of this writing, they were in Tripoli and managed to arrest two of Qaddafi's sons.) It's also seems that the complete reorganization of the rebels' cabinet managed to stave off the political fallout from the death General Abdel Fatah Younes.
Still, this does not mean that Libya will have a smooth transition to a democratic government. At this point, the rebels are united thanks to their common disgust to the Qaddafi's regime. Even though the rebels have been trying admirably to minimize misconducts such as by distributing guide books on how to behave in accordance with international law, many of them still not behaved professionally, which isn't a surprise since they are not professional soldiers. Many of them are just teenagers, who joined the war for the excitement or various other reasons. When the war is over, it will take a while to sort them out, to reintegrate them into to civilian life, and it won't be easy, especially with lack of jobs and with really high hopes of prosperity in post-Qaddafi Libya.
But even before that, there is no guarantee that the rebels' unity will last. The assassination of General Younes was just a tip of the iceberg. While the reshuffling of the cabinet did help, the reshuffling was influenced more by the desire to demonstrate to NATO that the rebels' unity was still intact and the fear of Qaddafi's resurgence and revenge. Once Qaddafi is gone and NATO is no longer needed, then all bets are off. Libya may end up in a civil war, unless the leaders effectively manage the different tribes, interests, and so on in play.
That will require international pressure and American leadership, which at this time is still lacking. Regardless of the enormous reservoir of goodwill for the U.S. in Libya when the war started, as Iraq showed, such goodwill can evaporate very quickly when things go south. Plus, should the tribes start fighting each other, the stronger ones, the ones with the biggest guns, may not be that willing to compromise, even though it might destroy the country back to the stone age. Anybody doubting that should ask Mr. Mohamed Farrah Aidid of Somalia.
Moreover, Obama's decision to "lead from behind" will come home to roost: if during the war, Obama is unwilling to lead from front, what gives him the right and credibility to impose order on post-war Libya? As I noted in a previous post, Obama's unwillingness to invoke the "War Power Act" to some degree emboldened Qaddafi to stay put and minimized the defections among his officials. I'd hazard to argue that the war would have ended sooner had Obama been willing to bring this to the Congress.
This "leading from behind" doctrine brings into question America's commitment to the rebels in Libya, and Obama's belated support of the Syrian dissidents doesn't do much to help his credibility either.
This does not mean that the U.S. will not have a voice in shaping the future of Libya. The U.S. remains the most important country in the world and the new Libyan government will try to curry favor with it. This, however, requires an active U.S. foreign policy with a clear defined mission and this time Obama cannot afford not to lead.