The Way Out of Libya

Turkey and South Africa need to push on their talks with Gaddafi in order to end the violence in Libya.

Whether referred to as indirect negotiations, unofficial peace overtures or feelers from the international community, Britain, France, the United States and their NATO partners are sending out signals to Muammar al-Gaddafi that diplomacy is increasingly an option for ending the conflict in his country.

For Gaddafi and what remains of his military force, talk of diplomacy from a NATO coalition that just weeks before predicted that his regime was ever closer to collapse is an encouraging development. Gaddafi’s loyalists may be equipped with old military equipment and cash may be running out, but they are obviously doing something right if the world’s strongest military alliance is having trouble turning the tide of the war to its advantage.

Indeed, what Gaddafi’s military has lacked in weaponry it has made up for in tactics — evolving from a conventional military force to an asymmetrical guerrilla movement fighting the rebels to a standstill. And with official soldiers difficult to pick out from regular civilians, the strike sorties that NATO has depended on to enforce its no-fly zone and help the Libyan opposition on the ground are jeopardized to a certain degree. The rebels’ shortage of weapons and, in some distinct cases, fundamental disagreements among the Transitional National Council’s (TNC) numerous tribes, has dampened their ability to progress on the battlefield.

It is this frustration on the frontlines, coupled with the rising impatience in Western capitals that Gaddafi is still hanging on, why the leading partners of NATO’s coalition are concentrating on a more civilized approach. With rebel positions stalled as the desert heat of summer continues to set in, NATO is undeniably hoping that a nice bribe will convince Gaddafi to step down from power and make way for a democratic transition. France, the most outspoken member of the anti-Gaddafi alliance to date, is voicing tepid support to such an alternative. The United States, a longtime Gaddafi adversary, is not necessarily opposed to the strongman remaining in Libya as long as he completely relinquishes power and ensures that he will not work behind the scenes to impede the transition.

Making peace with a tyrant who has the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians staining his hands is hard for any diplomat to stomach. Backpedaling on the military operation is also a tough thing for any military organization to do, since easing the bombing is basically an admission that the alliance has not been able to achieve its objectives through force alone. But conditions inside Libya today are not getting any better. The TNC, despite receiving international support and defections from Gaddafi ministers, is still not in control of the majority of the Libyan people. The prospects for negotiation get dimmer every time the rebel advance toward Tripoli is stalled. Finding an agreement that Gaddafi’s family will accept is therefore a course of action that should be considered.

In order to speed up the process and make a peace offer as credible as it can get, NATO would find it helpful to commission two countries that are seen as neutral players in the conflict.

Turkey and South Africa, one representing the Muslim world and the other representing the African Union, might be two acceptable choices for taking the lead in those talks. Gaddafi has enjoyed a good relationship with South Africa over the years, a country whose former president Nelson Mandela once referred to Gaddafi as a “brother leader.” Turkey, a rising star in the Muslim world and an actor that has championed the same Arab causes that Gaddafi has shown an interest in (the rights of Palestinians) could possibly sweeten the negotiating atmosphere. Russia, which holds considerable economic interests in Libya, could also be a trustworthy partner in the eyes of the Gaddafi regime — that is, if the Russian government is willing to concede further military action in Libya if the talks prove to be unsuccessful.

With the diplomatic chops of Turkey and South Africa and with the weight of Western nations to back them up, sweet talking Gaddafi and assuring the safety of himself and his family could be the quickest, and least bloody, mechanism to send him packing. Human rights organizations may not agree with the tactic but it will save the lives of thousands who would perish from more violence.