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Amid Chaos, ‘Libya Needs to Start on a Process of State Building’

October 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
As Libya struggles for stability, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged its transitional government to commit to a democratic path forward without reprisals. Margret Warner discusses what has and hasn't been accomplished in creating a new state with Dartmouth College's Dirk Vandewalle, appearing from London.
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MARGARET WARNER: And for more on how Libya is faring in its struggle for stability, we turn to Dirk Vandewalle, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. He served as a political adviser to the United Nations on Libya last summer. And he joins us tonight from London.

And, Professor, thank you for joining us.

How far along is Libya today on the path to building some sort of stable democracy?

DIRK VANDEWALLE, Dartmouth College: Well, I think there is still a long ways to go, Margaret.

Certainly, the interim council has made major steps forward. Certainly, the fall of Tripoli and the attempt to come up with a new government is a step in the right direction. But there is still an enormous amount of chaos in the streets of Tripoli. There are still different militias.

There is still a lot of misunderstanding of what precisely that new vision for Libya should be. And my hunch is that that will probably continue for a while longer. The interim council is waiting for the fighting to be over completely and for Sirte to fall. And then the long path toward a constitution, toward a parliament, that long path toward democracy will begin, and there will undoubtedly be several parties who do not want to be a part of that path toward democracy.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Secretary Clinton did harp on that quite a bit today, the need for all the militias to come together and join some sort of a national military, the need for all the factions to be included.

How difficult is that proving? I mean, they all fought for the same cause.

DIRK VANDEWALLE: Yes, and indeed they did.

But, of course, in the euphoria that existed until literally the fall of Tripoli, a lot of the disagreements were forgotten. And it really — we shouldn’t forget that Libya, for all practical purposes, has never truly had a unified military, for example, the way neighboring Egypt and Tunisia had.

And so, in a sense, Libya needs to start on a process of state building. And one of those — one of the most important elements of state building here will be to come up with a military and a security force that truly represents the country of a whole, and not these different militias that are still in cities like Tripoli.

This will be a very difficult process, I think, and it certainly will need an enormous amount of leadership from the interim council to come up with a solution that can include all the different parties that we now still find in Libya and that undoubtedly, as Libya becomes more free, as Libya becomes more open, will find all kinds of opportunities to voice their opinions and make it perhaps more difficult to really find a unified solution for the kind of political problems and the security problems that Libya now needs to face.

MARGARET WARNER: Is the big hurdle here to just getting on that path, is it that the government has said they can’t start the timetable until Sirte falls? I mean, in retrospect, was that a mistake?

DIRK VANDEWALLE: Well, certainly, that was part of the issue here.

The interim council, when it was still in Benghazi, consistently said all along that the timetable toward a constitution, toward elections would start once the country was unified. And on the one hand, I think that was a good decision to make.

On the other hand of course, the longer that process takes, the longer it takes to truly start that process of unification, precisely the more, the greater the opportunities are of these groups that do not necessarily share in that vision of the interim council and to really step in and make their voices heard. And in the chaos that still exists to some extent in Libya, that kind of voice is not always very comfortable and, indeed, can be very disruptive to the interim council.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, she also warned against reprisals, but there are reports of bloody reprisals done by both sides. How hard will that be to contain?

DIRK VANDEWALLE: I think that will be one of the most difficult issues that Libya will face, because Libya has been a dictatorship for 42 years.

And that means that everyone who wanted to achieve anything during the reign of Moammar Gadhafi, whether it was to have a family, a job, no matter what, to some extent had to collaborate with the regime. And so the real big difficulty is, how do you separate those that are clearly beyond the pale from those that simply collaborated because they had to?

That is the very difficult decision that the interim council will have to take. It has thought through some of these issues, but perhaps not enough. But on the other hand, lots of bilateral partners and multilateral partners are also urging them to really look at this very, very hard and come up with a solution and get this whole notion of collaboration, whether it be through a truth and reconciliation council or whatever mechanisms they want to create to simply get it behind them, because that is really the only way that Libya can really look forward and the different parties can look forward to achieve the kind of united and free Libya that all parties now want.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, much to unfold.

Professor Dirk Vandewalle, thank you so much for joining us.

DIRK VANDEWALLE: My pleasure.