Militias: Ensuring Libya's Democratic Future; Regional Control of Armed Forces Would Prevent Centralized Tyranny

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 5, 2011 | Go to article overview

Militias: Ensuring Libya's Democratic Future; Regional Control of Armed Forces Would Prevent Centralized Tyranny


Byline: Matthew Mainen, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

With the end imminent, the status of Libya's armed forces will become a prominent topic of discussion. Following the assassination of Gen. Abdel Fattah Younes, talk grew of the future of Libya's rebel militias. National Transitional Council (NTC) Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil immediately called on them to disband and join the NTC army, and recently, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, the rebel commander in Tripoli, said the disparate forces would be unified.

Despite expected knee-jerk reactions, nothing could be more promising for Libya's democratic future than official, regional militias (more appropriately referred to as army reserves in modern times) under the authority of provincial governments. More than 200 years ago, America's Founding Fathers cogently argued that a powerful central leadership and standing armies were a combination destined for tyranny, as such armies are at a despot's bidding. Modern Arab history has proved them right.

Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, the founder of one of the world's least democratic regimes, recognized the importance of a powerful internal military for maintaining absolute authority. Not surprisingly, the Saudi National Guard functions as the king's private army and has crushed every large social-justice uprising since the 1956 Saudi Arabian Oil Co. strike and the 1979 Shia uprising. It has also since aided neighboring autocracies such as Bahrain thwart democracy.

In Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki's centralization of the military thwarted the promises of a democratic federal system championed by Vice President Joseph R. Biden. This despite the fact that Iraq's most stable region, Kurdistan, has its own independent militia and the Sunni Awakening councils defeated al Qaeda in Iraq. The centralized Iraqi military now faces serious charges of continued abuse.

Then there's Egypt, an Arab Spring success. The world's 10th-largest military, not the people, governs the country. It's been made clear that the most fundamental freedom, that of speech, will be highly restricted. Insulting the military is severely punished with prison sentences. Thousands await trial in unaccountable military courts for related and other offenses. If Egypt had a weak, decentralized military, it would not have a junta.

Alexander Hamilton's Federalist No. 29 proposes that there is only one solution to the problem of standing armies: local militias, under the control of their respective state governments, to be unified only in times of war. …

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