ON SEPT. 1, 1969, Col. Muammar Qaddafi and nationalist officers led a bloodless coup that put an end to the ruling of a weak 79-year-old king, and marked the beginning of a troublesome four decades for the Libyan people. To a large degree, this period was shaped by Qaddafi's domestic and foreign policies, including the leader's brutal iron fist ruling, murderous acts against his own people, economic sanctions from the United Nations, failing diplomacy resulting in constrained relationships with the U.S. and the West, and his backing of contested governments and movements of national liberation such as the Colombian FARC, the IRA in Northern Ireland, and the Palestinian PLO. In October, this era came to an end with a rebel's bullet to the Colonel's head.
Since the beginning of the fighting in February, many in the international policy arena have shared insights concerning what the future holds for Libya and the Middle East. Stimulating debates have been generated around topics such as the composition of Libyan society, the future role of the rebels in Libya's politics, implications of the NATO air strikes, U.S. aid, and the proper reconstruction process. Furthermore, extensive analysis has been addressing future dynamics of the region, including the strengthening of political Islam as a result of the long ruling of corrupt and dictatorial elites, the potential involvement of NATO and the U.S. in other parts of the region, and the implications of such involvement on the area's dynamics. In general, there seems to be a clear sense among policymakers of the appropriate next steps.
However, recent events have taught us profound lessons about the necessity to break through the limitations of conventional thinking. The complex issues facing this part of the world offer the possibility for a thoughtful engagement, not founded in the mere assertion of knowledge and expertise on the region as the basis for shaping domestic and foreign policy, but rather in integrating humility that acknowledges the unpredictability and potential possibilities of complex systems such as those in the Middle East.
There are those who will default along the conventional split lines of pessimists and optimists--some will dream and work towards a dynamic and prosperous Middle East, while others believe that, no matter what, it is doomed to be a stagnant, failing region. E Scott Fitzgerald, one of America's freest novelists, argued that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas at the same time and still retain the ability to function. In the same spirit, those of us who wish Libya and its neighbors well must realize that things either could go extremely well or terribly wrong--and that both possibilities must be addressed.
In the meantime, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of Libya's interim government, has been assuring citizens that the new Libya will be tolerant, free from extremism, and open to all to take part in shaping a common future. In detailing the upcoming process, Sohail Nakhoody, the leader of the Tripoli Taskforce, notes that Iraq serves as a kind of anti- template, especially on questions of how to treat elements of the previous regime, and that there will be no de-Baathification In Libya. …