Obama offers cautious optimism on Libya: “This is not over yet”
President Barack Obama said Monday that Libya is at a tipping point and the 42-year rule of Moammar Gadhafi is coming to an end. But he avoided any "Mission Accomplished" triumphalism during a press conference broadcast from his vacation rental farm in Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Obama cautioned that the fight for democracy in Libya has not ended.
"The situation is still very fluid, there remains a degree of uncertainty, and there are still regime elements who pose a threat," Obama said. "But this much is clear: the Gadhafi regime is coming to an end and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people."
"I want to emphasize that this is not over yet," Obama stressed, adding that "as the regime collapses, there is still fierce fighting in some areas and we have reports of regime elements threatening to continue fighting." He also urged Libya's opposition National Transition Council to avoid reprisal violence.
Post-conflict experts echoed the president's caution, warning that the surprisingly smooth entry of Libyan rebels into the capital of Tripoli overnight could be overshadowed quickly if the rebels are unable to restore law and order on the streets of Libya, as well as to provide unglamorous public services like trash collection, electricity and water.
"It is as if the Libyans have climbed the mountain--and now see a mountain range in front of them," analogized the former United Nations post-conflict expert Mark Quarterman in an interview with The Envoy on Monday. "The action that needs to be taken right away lays the groundwork, the foundation for political reconciliation," Quarterman said. "In the end, if people are turned off in the process--if the place seems lawless, if people running around with guns are able to get a foothold, the political deal Libyans have to make with a wide range of constituencies, regions and tribes, will be much harder to pull off."
Though the somewhat politically shaky National Transition Council has a sense of what it needs to do, it is still "not an entirely smoothing running entity," Quarterman said. "Whether they are capable of fulfilling [their promise] remains to be seen."
The international community will play only a supporting role in the reconstruction of Libya, Obama said on Monday.
"The United States will be a friend and a partner" to post-Gadhafi Libya, Obama said. The United States and its allies "will support" Libya's transitional authorities "with assets of the Gadhafi regime that were frozen earlier this year."
But he concluded, in remarks praising the courage of the Libyan people in their six-month struggle against Gadhafi: "Your revolution is your own and your sacrifices your own and through your extraordinary sacrifices, the Libya you deserve is within your reach."
"There are two pieces why the international community is playing a supportive role in Libya," Quarterman said. "One is because the [National Transition Council] wants it that way. Secondly, the international community is relieved to have it be that way. They don't have any money, and they certainly don't want to put any troops in."