Libya falls off the rehab wagon

Amid state violence against its own citizens, out of the window goes the 12-step plan for Libya’s international rehabilitation. Hazy reports of mercenaries, fighter pilots directed to bomb civilian protestors, and a mounting death toll point to one thing: even if Gaddafi manages to hold on to power, his hopes for Libya’s slow but gradual return to international respectability will be in tatters.

In a post last year, I was struck by the path Libya was attempting to travel, from “rogue” state to being considered part of “civilized” international society:

“Libya is a fascinating case of how a country suddenly decides to try to rehabilitate itself into the international community – settling compensation for victims of the Lockerbie bombing, declaring an end to any intention to acquire weapons of mass destruction, trying to take a leading role in the African Union – in the hope that its oil reserves will draw in the sorely-needed expertise and investment of Western companies. In short, a wish to be treated as a ‘normal’ state and not as a pariah (and one that was surely not all that far down an axis of evil list).”

The medium/long-term plan, of that wish to be treated as a normal state, has been forgone as Gaddafi’s government, with its backs against the wall, turns to the short-term exigencies of regime survival. I was interested in that previous post on the visible elements of Libyan foreign policy over the past decade, but the standards of international respectability still demand certain elements in the conduct of one’s own domestic affairs.

The use of military violence against its own people is very rapidly pushing it beyond the pale of being a “civilized” member of the international community – being seen to be part of this “civilized” club is a mark of social status, but one with very real and significant consequences for trade, foreign investment and diplomatic allies. Good, civilized states don’t send planes to bomb its own civilians, among other things. Libya has been trying to conform to the various standards of appropriate conduct – and now, dramatically failing.

A post at Foreign Policy highlights another element of Libya’s attempts to change how the world sees it, through its apparent success, trumpeted to the world, in deradicalizing al-Qaeda militants – with the author also pointing to how the ongoing violence has put paid to these efforts, no matter how shallow they may have been to begin with:

“The ostensible purpose of the trip was a conference on the terrorist deradicalization and rehabilitation program the foundation runs for imprisoned members of an al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group…

“The centerpiece of the trip was a daylong meeting with militants and officials responsible for Libya’s religious militant rehabilitation program, which Qaddafi’s son has taken on as a personal project. While the presentations gave me the impression that the militants that went through the program hadn’t given up their radical views in any meaningful sense (they evaded questions about whether it was permissible to fight foreign troops in Afghanistan or Iraq), they had struck some sort of deal with the Libyan government not to engage in violence against the Qaddafi regime…

“The bloody scenes being played out on the streets of Libya’s major cities are proof of the fundamental inability of the regime to change its ways. All the efforts made over the last eight years to convince the world that Libya has changed have all been for naught thanks to the hundreds of dead Libyans and the defiant posture of the Qaddafi family.”

In the short-term, Gaddafi may be able to cling on to power by sheer coercive force. And whatever that might mean for the future governance of Libya itself (coercion being rather expensive in the longer run), a return to international reclusiveness may be all that remains for it on the international stage.

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