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Political strategy in Libya: US and others must recognize a rebel government

The US, Western, and Arab allies must recognize and support Libya's newly formed provisional, rebel government: the National Council. Doing so is key to a plan that will help avoid the most-feared scenarios, remove Qaddafi, and enable a more stable transition to democracy in Libya.

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President Obama wants to see Muammar Qaddafi gone and Libya stabilized, which raises an obvious question: Do the United States and its allies have a political plan or endgame to match a military strategy?

Mr. Qaddafi may or may not fall in the coming weeks. Without a political plan, we could face a prolonged war in Libya. Or, if Qaddafi is removed, Libya could turn into a chaotic, Somalia-like country. It’s also hard to rule out an ongoing civil war among competing tribes, militias, democratic voices, and military elements. Nor is it impossible that radical jihadists could gain some influence or that a new secular autocrat could arise to replace Qaddafi in a “Back to the Future” sequel. These are bad outcomes for Libya, the Middle East, and the West.

Prolonged instability in Libya could also drive oil prices higher, especially if a rebounding global economy leads to higher oil demand and greater pressure on oil supply. High oil prices always hurt the poor more than the rich around the world.

Here’s a political plan that will help avoid these scenarios, remove Qaddafi, and enable a more stable Libya.

Not nation-building, but supporting

Nation-building in Libya is not the job of America and its allies, but they should join France in recognizing Libya’s provisional, rebel government – now called the Libyan National Council. Established on March 5 in Benghazi, it is composed of 31 members who represent different Libyan regions and cities. The council has already appointed officers for foreign affairs, military affairs, and even to govern Libya’s oil sector.

It’s true that we cannot predict what the council will do if it comes to power, but that’s hard to do in any case. Reflecting council views, former Libyan diplomat Mansour Saif al Nasr, the council’s European Union spokesman, stated recently that once Libyan territory is “liberated,” a constituent assembly will be formed to draft a constitution, establishing a democratic, secular state.

The council should re-affirm this goal formally as a precondition for greater recognition. Its announced members are experienced, even if not exactly Thomas Jeffersons. For example, the council’s leader is Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a judge from the eastern town of al-Bayida who resigned as justice minister after the uprising began. Another member is Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya’s former deputy UN ambassador, who broke with Qaddafi last month and shifted to represent the rebels.

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