Regardless of when the fighting stops, it has become increasingly clear that the political solution demanded by NATO will involve some form of interim power-sharing between rebels and elements of the old regime, rather than installing the Benghazi-based rebel leadership the new rulers in Tripoli. On one hand, that’s the inevitable consequence of the regime’s survival of NATO’s air war, and he fact that the alliance has no intention of launching a ground invasion. But it may actually be viewed in Western capitals as the more desirable outcome so as to avoid repeating the mistakes of the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The British government effectively said as much in in a document presented to the rebel Transitional National Council leadership in Benghazi, calling for a “politically inclusive settlement” to avoid repeating mistakes made by the U.S. in Iraq. Britain’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell this week stressed “the importance of using to the maximum possible extent existing structures” when it comes to security in a post-conflict Libya. In other words, he made clear, don’t expect a wholesale dismantling of the old regime police and army: “One of the first things that should happen once Tripoli falls is that someone should get on the phone to the former Tripoli chief of police and tell him he’s got a job and he needs to ensure the safety and security of the people of Tripoli,” Mitchell said Tuesday at a press conference announcing the recommendations his government had made to Benghazi. He also made clear that the U.K. and its partners would have major input into decision making, given their central role in the war effort. The rebels are simply unable to topple Gaddafi and set up an alternative regime without Western backing, which means the Western powers are in a stronger position to set limits on the rebels’ ambitions.