I grew up in a place where we had enough land to raise a few animals. Raising animals is valuable because it teaches lessons of life and death. There were also object lessons of self-reliance and of care taking.
We raised chickens and one of the most beautiful parts of that was watching a hen dutifully sit on her eggs until they would hatch into soft fuzzy chicks. It was a momentous occasion to watch that little chick peck its way out of the shell.
As a young child, my impatience would set in, and the impulse to help the chick escape the confines of the shell was practically overwhelming. An older wiser parent would tell me that if I helped it, it would kill the chick in the process. Apparently the process of escaping the egg is necessary for the chick to develop the strength needed to survive on the outside.
Nevertheless, there were things that we did to help assure the successful hatching of the eggs. My parents built a coop to protect the chickens from roaming coyotes and provided a shed with boxes where the hens could incubate the eggs without being disturbed.
Watching the liberation of Libya from Muammar Gaddafi’s mercurial reign has reinforced this lesson. NATO provided a safer environment for the rebels to do their work by providing air and satellite intelligence support, but left the rebels to do the heavy handed work on the ground, hatching their own government if you will, thereby establishing themselves as the rightful leaders of the country.
Now, contrast the NATO efforts in Libya with those of the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq and the lesson becomes even clearer. U.S. policy in those countries was to do all the heavy lifting of deposing corrupt governments and then install a democratic government of our choosing. We were like little children trying to hatch a chick by doing the work for them. After a decade in Afghanistan the strife and divisions that occur are because we did not give the people of those countries the chance to earn their way out of the shell of dictatorship. U.S. installed governments are now too weak to survive on their own without being propped up by American forces.
President Obama’s policy of limited intervention is a departure from previous US policy, and surely a democratic government of Libya will take several years to be truly established, but hopefully his policy will result in a real grass roots Libyan democracy. The rebels and their officially recognized transition government have earned the right to call themselves rulers of the country. The US and NATO can now continue to help providing a good environment for democracy to grow and strengthen in a country that has only known dictatorship for over forty years. But providing a nurturing environment is much better than being an occupying force. It is more democratic and more respectful of the sovereignty of Libya, giving reform a better chance of growing from within.
There is an old saying.
Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.
US Policy with Libya has been more teaching than giving, and that is why it will be successful.