Thursday, August 25, 2011

Libya, The Climax

Saif-al-Islam Qaddafi
I wrote about my time in Libya, and of the country's serious potential, back in February, just as the uprising started. I am not sure there is anything to add, except to caution against all the analysis that emphasizes the country's tribal divisions and lack of a functioning government--as if we are dealing with another Somalia. Libya is a country with only 6-7 million people and about 40 billion barrels of oil, as much as two million pumped each day.

Which means that Libya has been host to tens of thousands of ex-pat managers from France and Italy and elsewhere over the years, people who have in turn engendered a domestic professional and business class of considerable heft: managers running engineering and logistics companies, tourism businesses, cellular infrastructure businesses, and so forth. The latter are the centripetal force around which a state apparatus promises to function; it will get off the ground with considerable resources.

It is widely believed, as I wrote in February, that Qaddafi has stashed away more than $150 billion; most of this will turn up. The country's transportation infrastructure, though inconsistent, is nevertheless as impressive as, say, Jordan's during the 1980s and 90s: the ports, roads and airport are certainly good enough to build on. Tourist sites and beaches are magnificent, assuming they can be cleaned of trash. The educational and health systems are in terrible shape; but Tunisian counterparts are better and close by. Finally, it seems unlikely that Qaddafi, or his surviving retainers, will lead an insurgency. He did not command an ideological movement, though he postured as an intellectual. And thanks to President Obama's and NATO's good sense, there is no foreign invader to rally against.

There are reports that Qaddafi and his sons are surrounded. I confess that I feel a certain sadness for Saif-al-Islam's tragic fate. During the early 2000s he tried to lead his father, hence, his country, into something like a liberal and globalist reform, studying classical liberal texts at LSE, and hiring well-respected strategy consultants, including the Harvard Business School's Michael Porter, to set up an economic planning commission: a kind of shadow prime minister's office, that would slowly grow into a functioning state, and displace, or render redundant, the pervasive security apparatus. The current head of the rebel government, Mahmoud Jibril, was to be its first head.

The son failed to move things fast enough to preempt the counter-moves against reform by the security apparatus, or failed to move his father against others in the family, or was perhaps faking it from the start. If he was faking it, he was a very good actor. Actually, I suspect he was a kind of Michael Corleone character, eager to make his family "legitimate," drawn to a kind of Western normal, but finally sucked into the regime's violence and muck out of sheer love for his father, or at least his honorable sense of loyalty. As I write, he may well be contemplating his speech to the International Criminal Court or, indeed, his last hours on earth. To say that he deserves what he will get is true. It is also to want a prettier world than the one we have.