By Emadeddin Zahri Muntasser
Founding Board Member, Libyan American Public Affairs Council
As a businessman, it is really no surprise that President-elect Trump wants to do the international relations equivalent of letting the market right itself in preferring stable governments in lieu of struggling democracies. However, if Mr. Trump is to rely on that kind of thinking, it is also imperative for him to recognize the opportunities that present themselves when a market is being disrupted. Just like New York real estate in the 1980s or tech stocks today, being able to successfully navigate a disrupted market is vital for success in either business or Trump’s foreign policy.
Just such a disruption is going on today in Libya. Finally freed of the long reign of Qaddafi, Libya is at a crossroads. Without the intervention of an eleventh-hour investor in the form of American attention, the sad truth is that all of Libya’s growth will find its way to ISIL or to Russian pockets.
Currently, many are poised to support Khalifa Haftar in his bid for power in Libya. The fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is one of Haftar’s most steadfast supporters may not be enough to dissuade Mr. Trump, nor are the facts that Haftar has a questionable leadership record including being investigated by international bodies for war crimes, he has accused the United States of supporting terrorists, and routinely attacks pro-democracy forces that oppose him.
Therefore, Mr. Trump should look to the Libya that a Haftar in power would create. For a man who craves stability over all else in his foreign policy, the mobilization of Russian military assets into the central Mediterranean would be a complete disruption of NATO doctrine, as well as place Russian ships along the shipping lanes from the Persian Gulf via the Suez Canal. Additionally, those forces that oppose Haftar are not going to give up the fight easily – a continued and bloody civil war would rage on just a few hundred miles from Europe.
Put simply, the status quo offers no stability, and the longer that Mr. Trump waits, the more his options dwindle. If Mr. Trump wants long-term stability in Libya, with the promise of denying ISIL a major base as well as access to some of the world’s most economically-viable oil fields, he will have to act. Luckily for Libyans, the best way forward for stability in their country involves a healthy dose of democracy, though not the one that they have been reluctantly pushed through by the UN. Libya today has three non-functioning but competing governments: The General National Congress in Tripoli, The House of Representatives in Tobruk, and the Government of National Accord also huddled in Tripoli.
For many, the current Government of National Accord (GNA) has fatal structural, legal, and political defects that will eventually cause it to collapse. Recognizing its imminent collapse, the GNA should be disbanded. The House of Representatives and the General National Congress would be offered a face-saving task of “facilitating” new rolling elections in areas under their control. Rolling elections are indeed practiced in several countries including in the US presidential primaries.
The existing and well-respected Libyan High National Elections Commission will be in charge of the process and will have final say in all procedural aspects. Elections will be conducted in regions deemed to be secure enough to hold elections. As regions elect new representatives, a new House of Representative is formed in a phased process. As evidenced by the fact that it derives its power from the people, the new House of Representatives (even with only a few districts voting) possess sovereignty and will be responsible for administering all resources, especially military aid and petroleum receipts.
In exchange for conducting fair and free elections, regions would receive additional funding, allowing them to set up the essential services for the population that allows a stable society to be formed. As none of this is happening in Libya right now, and none of it is likely to happen under a Haftar or a GNA administration, these steps guarantee further stability in the country all the while ensuing democracy. Of course, in order to limit in-fighting among factions within Libya, the criteria of ‘fair and free’ would be policed by strict international oversight. The prospect of receiving full budgets would motivate regions to quickly conform to the process and conduct elections. Many (if not most) Libyans are becoming desperate. The man in the street will exert pressure on GNC and HoR officials to make certain that clean elections are conducted. No official will be able to obstruct the process in the face of this pressure. As towns and cities receive full budgets and international aid, neighboring districts will race to catch up and become part of the new HoR. This is the perfect carrot and stick plan that will work in today’s Libya.
Finally, to further make sure that the voices of the people are being met and not those of demagogues with links to the Qaddafi regime or to present day oligarchy, there would be limits to the financial resources that candidates are allowed to use in their bids for office, as well as a prohibition on candidacy for those who have held high leadership positions in the last several years. Those who fail to adhere to these rules, or attempt to incite instability through unrest or petroleum manipulation, would find themselves not only responsible to Libyan authorities, but also to international tribunals.
This process will give the Libyan people a chance to drain their own swamp, move closer to a functioning democracy, restore security, and be ready to do business with the outside world. This is exactly the Art of the Deal that both Libyans and Mr. Trump will want.
While this model may seem a bit cumbersome to Mr. Trump, it is really quite in line with the qualities that he campaigned upon: an outsider who is freed from external restraints and is eager to clean up town. In any event, by restricting the resources available to those playing political tug of war in Libya and at the same time offer rolling elections, Mr. Trump’s desired outcome of increased stability and doing business comes about much quicker.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Libya Observer