Lessons Learned in Iraq, Afghanistan Dictate That NATO Accept a Compromise in Libya

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This from my Global Spin entry today:

As NATO’s war in Libya entered its 100th day on Monday, an end to the conflict may be in sight — but not necessarily a decisive one. Military and diplomatic signs point increasingly towards some measure of compromise by both sides in shaping an outcome that neither the regime nor the rebels would have countenanced when their struggle began. (Update: Monday’s announcement of war-crime indictments by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi will complicate efforts to negotiate a political solution, but won’t necessarily change the overall political-military calculus that points to such an outcome.)…

…Even if there are weeks of intense fighting ahead, NATO’s calendar and the shifting diplomatic terrain, as well as the regime’s resilience after more than three months of pummeling by the Western alliance, suggest that the endgame is afoot.

And while NATO clearly needs a rapid solution, it’s not only the haste prompted by the limits of Western military commitment to Libya that points towards a compromise outcome. The Western experience of regime-change in both Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that any solution that entirely excludes the old regime is a recipe for protracted instability, and possibly even failure.

The exclusion of the Ba’athists and the Sunni base of the old regime from the post-Saddam political order — and the summary dissolution of the old Iraqi army — made inevitable an insurgency that has tied down U.S. forces in Iraq for eight years. Those decisions left tens of thousands of men who had been vested in the old order, still well armed and organized, with plenty of incentive to destabilize the new one, in which they had no stake.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban were scattered by the U.S. invasion, but not destroyed. As reviled as they were by many in the society, they retained a base in the Pashtun south. And they were excluded from the creation of a new political order, heavily tilted in favor of the ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras of the Northern Alliance. The new arrangement, which installed India’s Afghan allies at the expense of Pakistan’s erstwhile proxy, also gave Islamabad an incentive to ensure its failure. And almost ten years later, some 100,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan facing an insurgency that has grown stronger over the past four years.

The lesson for Libya is obvious: Even if Gaddafi were killed in a Western air strike, or if he fled to the desert or abroad, the many thousands of Libyans who have fought for his regime would have to be incorporated in shaping a new political order in Libya. Indeed, bringing the war to an end by a negotiated settlement, as NATO clearly intends, all but guarantees that the outcome will not be a simple transfer of power from Gaddafi to the rebel leadership in Benghazi. The question of how much power the regime, even without the Colonel, maintains in the transition is one that will be settled not only in talks, but more importantly on the battlefield. Which is why the fighting is likely to be intense in the days and weeks ahead, in what may well be the Libya war’s final crescendo.