Libya is under threat:
Libya is now in the throes of an extreme political crisis. If the conditions remain unchallenged and, hence, unchanged, it will turn into another Syria or Iraq.
While ISIL has managed to capture the attention of the international media with its powerful propaganda and its violent tactics, the world’s has ignored the equally threatening Islamist groups and movements that have prospered in North Africa in the post-Arab Spring vacuum. Nowhere is this threat more profound than with the rise of radical Islam in Libya.
We overthrew the dictator by supporting locals and refused to put Western troops on the ground on the theory that it is the presence of Western troops that provoke jihadis.
This is an evolution of the theory that refusing to overthrow the dictator by sending in US troops would prevent Syria from getting worse, when in fact jihadis have thrived in the chaos. And now we are trying the Libya model of air-only intervention to solve the problem.
Which is an evolution over the theory that overthrowing a dictator and putting Western troops on the ground to build a new state in Iraq caused jihadis to rise up in that country. Iraq is two examples in one in that it is also a Libya model where US absence allowed jihadis to rise since 2011. Perhaps it is a fourth model, too, in that we are helping an existing--if weak--government to contain the jihadis. Yemen could be in this category, too, really.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Long war is at its heart a struggle to reform the Arab Moslem world to control the jihadi impulses that lead young men to believe killing is the proper solution to their many internal problems.
Military means are absolutely necessary to contain the problem away from our shores as much as possible, but in the end military means can only set the conditions to attack the real problem, which is the lack of democracy (and rule of law) in the Arab Moslem world.
We need a real alternative to autocrats of Islamists to run these states. This is why I hoped Iraq--in the heart of the Arab Islamic world--could set an example, however imperfectly, of how the path to democracy and rule of law is superior to the traditional governance models.
I still have that hope and I'm grateful that the Obama administration has belatedly re-entered the struggle for Iraq.
And it is why I still have hope that the Arab Spring started something that will in time lead to democracy and rule of law.
The Arab Spring at least witnessed people calling for something other than Islamism to replace autocracy. The people calling for democracy didn't fully understand what "democracy" meant, but they did reject Islamism and autocracy in theory.
I wanted the West to engage to help them set up institutions that could survive votes for bad men and avoid mere voting as a one-time legitimizing tool for new autocrats or Islamists.
Islamists have exploited the fall of autocrats, making it impossible for the Arab Spring to have a rapid effect. But Islamists given the chance to show their true colors are showing that they are not the alternative to autocracy.
Autocracy has reclaimed governance in Egypt. It has endured in the monarchies. And too many here think that supporting new autocrats is the best way to achieve stability in the Middle East.
But if we don't support democracy and rule of law, those new stabilizing autocracies will simply pave the way for discontent and the revival of Islamism as the alternative to autocracy.
Islamists are strong enemies who keep rising up in different places despite different approaches to addressing the autocracies in the Arab world, as Iraq, Syria, and Libya show.
I firmly believe that democracy and rule of law are necessary to defang the Islamist impulse that keeps forcing us to use military power to contain the bloody anger that erupts from that impulse.
As the technology of WMD gets pushed down from state-level to sub-state or even individual levels, Islamists who now use chlorine gas will eventually get much worse. Let's defeat the jihadi urge before it gets to that stage.
UPDATE: Austin Bay on Tunisia which remains a hopeful test case of the Arab Spring, although it sadly may have unique factors that help its progress. Perhaps Carthage was not destroyed, after all.