While it’s obviously debatable what role the United States played in the recent Egyptian revolution, it’s pretty clear that the way the US handled the ouster of a close ally was a pretty strong departure from previous policy towards the Middle East.
And now, after decades of wanting to get rid of Gaddafi (and then about a decade of appeasement), the Libyan people are making incredible sacrifices to do exactly what we failed to do – free themselves from one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world.
I’m not saying Obama can take credit for this development, but unlike previous presidents he certainly hasn’t been a barrier to it, either. What needs to be done now? There’s a few issues that need to be taken care of if this revolution is successful.
1. Immigration. Italy is the most obvious destination for those fleeing the chaos if Gaddafi falls, and it’s uncertain how they will react. The West needs to take a proactive role in ensuring that immigrants are settled humanely. This will not only ease a potential humanitarian crisis, but by making asylum a likelihood for potential refugees, the West can remove one huge incentive for supporters of the regime to take desperate measures to uphold it.
2. Post-revolution economic development. If in five years Libya, Egypt and Tunisia are worse off than they are now, the Democracy brand will be heavily tarnished. We in the West need to make the commercial concessions necessary to build these economies and show that Democracy does in fact pay dividends. Working now with Egypt and Tunisia to rebuild their economies will make Democracy seem far more palatable to those still on the fence.
3. Post-Colonial fears must be addressed. In what is becoming perhaps the most overplayed card in the developing world, Gaddafi warned his people that revolution means an invitation to imperialism, a motif used from Iran to Uganda when the West tries to support human rights. Thus, it is important that future engagement with Egypt and Tunisia be as equals, and economic growth not be dominated by foreign purchases of economic assets in the Maghreb.