Jackson Diehl, the Washington Post’s resident foreign policy hawk, warns today that the Libyan rebellion is in deep trouble as the result of infighting among the rebels in Benghazi. “Until last Thursday, Libya was beginning to look like the relative good news in the troubled summer that has followed the Arab Spring,” writes Diehl. But Diehl notes that the assassination of the rebels’ top military commander, Abdul Fattah Younis, by his colleagues—in still unexplained circumstances—is a sign of serious trouble. “The murder plunged the new government and its capital into turmoil, and raised urgent questions in NATO capitals about whether the TNC or its ragtag army were in danger of crumbling,” writes Diehl.
Of course, Diehl is still unrepentant about the need for the US/NATO war against Muammar Qaddafi, and he urges Washington and NATO to stand firm. Fact is, however, the battle for Libya has been stalemated for a long time, Qaddafi seems determined to hold on to power and the UN resolution authorizing the war expires in September. It’s time for a negotiated deal. It’s clear that Qaddafi is hanging on not because he believes that he can survive as before but because he’s trying to get the best deal he can for himself and his family. That might involve a deal to remain in Libya, while relinquishing power, or he might choose exile, as long as he’s not hauled before the world court in The Hague. The European powers, including France and the UK, are suddenly leaning toward a deal that would allow Qaddafi to remain in Libya, and it seems they’re trying to convince the fractious rebels, led by the Transitional National Council, to go along with that idea. Unless, of course, the TNC commits suicide first.
As the Times points out, Younes was killed—by whom exactly, it isn’t clear—by his own allies, but there are contradictions, misinformation and lies galore:
“The leadership of the Libyan rebels acknowledged late Friday that a group of their own soldiers had killed their top military commander, contradicting statements made a day earlier as the rebels scrambled to avoid tribal revenge attacks that could divide their ranks.”
Meanwhile, firefights have broken out among different factions of the Libyan rebels, with an eight-hour battle yesterday against a “so-called fifth column” force. There are literally dozens of armed factions in and around Benghazi, and no one seems to know who’s who. This is the ragtag collection that the United States and NATO want to give access to Libya’s billions of dollars? And heavy weapons?
The Wall Street Journal is similarly pessimistic:
“On Thursday events in Libya took a turn for the worse with the killing of opposition army chief Abdel Fatah Younis. Not only have the Libyan rebels lost one of their most experienced military leaders, but the murky circumstances surrounding his death now threaten to provoke a war within rebel-controlled territories—to start another Libyan war before the current one has ended.”
And it concludes:
“There is also the possibility that opposition figures themselves will encourage further factionalism and violence as they seek to protect themselves and secure their futures. Younis’ death may be only the beginning of a new period of Libyan instability. Expect worse things to come.”
The Russians, the African Union and others are trying to broker a deal to end the war. There are hopes that the Obama administratioin will support such a deal. Let’s hope so.