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How to avoid a replay of the long Balkan wars in Libya

Lessons from Sniper Alley in Sarajevo: It takes the military and resources to topple a dictator.

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I recently saw a picture of the main boulevard in Misurata, Libya, and I couldn't help thinking how much it looked like another such thoroughfare – Sniper Alley in Sarajevo, Bosnia. I have been in that movie, I thought. Sigh.

I have never been to Libya, but I lived in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo during the tumultuous, war-ravaged years of the 1990s. In Sarajevo, we did not have heat, water, electricity, a postal system, banks, garbage collection, functioning traffic lights, public transportation, or (thankfully) parking tickets.

And although the city is up in the mountains where snow is plentiful, I never saw a snow shovel, plow, salt truck, or bag of sand. We did, however, have snipers and rapists, executioners and warlords. I don't know what it looked like on CNN, but it was madness on the ground.

The wars in the former Yugoslavia dragged on for far too long at a tremendous cost in lives and sanity. If Libya is to avoid a similar fate, it is going to take more than NATO airstrikes and sluggish international diplomacy.

Keys to defeating a dictator

Defeating a dictator requires many things, but most important are military and financial resources. Many people credit American diplomacy with bringing peace to Bosnia. The truth is that the Serbs were not willing to cut a peace deal until their military forces began suffering major losses at the hands of Croatian and Bosnian-Muslim troops, reinvigorated with arms and training they wholly lacked at the start of the conflict.

So though NATO airstrikes are critical to ousting Muammar Qaddafi, the rebels, formally known as the Transitional National Council (TNC), must be able to challenge the regime's forces more convincingly on the battlefield. This will require money, which fortunately Libya has in the billions of dollars thanks to vast oil reserves.

Unfortunately for the TNC, these assets are frozen as a result of a United Nations resolution, which is eerily reminiscent of the resolution enforcing an arms embargo on "all sides" in the Bosnian war, including the victims.

History must not be allowed to repeat itself. The intention was to deprive Mr. Qaddafi of the funds, but the time has come for the United States and its allies to lobby for lifting the sanctions against the TNC. If it cannot be agreed to in the UN, it must be done anyway. US foreign policy must not be held hostage to those who would side with a dictator.

The TNC also can use these funds to pay government salaries, provide humanitarian and medical aid, begin rebuilding, and breathe life into the economy.


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