Too Little, Not Yet Too Late

Western governments say they have limited options to stop Qaddafi's barbarous war on his own people. And that's true -- but they haven't even picked the low-hanging fruit yet.

Much of official Washington has greeted the evidence of an ongoing massacre in Libya with a helpless shrug. "We don't have personal relations at a high level," lamented David Mack, a former U.S. diplomat in North Africa, in a Washington Post article titled "U.S. struggles with little leverage to restrain Libyan government."

Numerous articles in recent days, clearly influenced by what U.S. officials are telling reporters on background, have stressed this theme: The United States doesn't have deep ties with the Libyan military, as it did with the Egyptian and Bahraini militaries; it does not provide large amounts of aid to the Qaddafi regime; U.S. diplomats don't have friends in the Libyan government to whom they can make reasoned arguments about the need to change their ways. Therefore, even as Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi deploys warplanes, helicopters, and troops to crush the growing challenge to his rule, it is assumed that there is nothing the United States can do about the catastrophe under way.

But wait a moment. The United States doesn't have any military or diplomatic ties with Iran either, but we don't hear U.S. diplomats whining about how they are unable to press Tehran to give up its nuclear program. Nor did they plead limited influence when the world was pressing Libya, through sanctions and other tools, to compensate the victims of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which was carried out by a Libyan intelligence officer. When an issue is important to Washington, U.S. officials figure out what leverage they have and use it as assertively and creatively as they can. They don't make excuses.

The U.S. military's connections to Egypt and Bahrain have unquestionably proved useful at key moments in the dramas that have unfolded there in recent weeks, allowing Pentagon officials to urge counterparts they knew well to show restraint. But those connections -- and the Pentagon's fear of losing them -- also held the United States back from pressuring those countries for reforms in years past. To say that deep military-military engagement is essential to having influence -- and an unvarnished good from the standpoint of promoting human rights -- is preposterous. Such ties can be helpful at key moments, but they can also reinforce the perception that the United States supports the status quo. In Egypt and Bahrain, they created popular mistrust of the United States that will take years to overcome.

The absence of close military and diplomatic relations can also free the United States to take more decisive steps to support democratic change and restrain repressive regimes such as Libya. Indeed, the international community has exercised such leverage effectively with Libya to pursue other goals in the past. Gaddafi was so eager for Western investment to develop his oil fields that he abandoned his nuclear program in 2003, ended his support for terrorist groups, agreed to a settlement on the Pan Am bombing, and in 2007 freed a group of Bulgarian nurses spuriously charged with spreading HIV among Libyan hospital patients. In each case, the West used the stick of sanctions and isolation and the carrot of closer economic and diplomatic ties to influence Libyan behavior.

There are numerous steps the United States and its allies can take today to affect the immediate calculations of the Qaddafi regime. Europe buys 85 percent of Libya's oil, after all. And the West largely controls the international financial system through which the Libyan leadership moves its money -- and could block transactions with one word from the Treasury Department or other finance ministries. And there's more: Western governments could say today that they will seek international investigations and prosecutions of Libyan officials who murder their people. And they could offer to provide humanitarian assistance to parts of Libya that have fallen to the opposition.

Qaddafi may rail endlessly about foreign meddling, but the reaction of Western governments clearly matters to his regime. Why else would it have gone to such lengths to hide what it is doing by shutting down the Internet and communications with the outside world?

We should be under no illusion that Qaddafi himself will give in to international pressure at this point. As his brutal tactics show, he is fighting for his life. But Libya's fate is not in Qaddafi's hands; it is in the hands of those who must decide, today and tomorrow, whether to follow his orders. Every psychological blow to Qaddafi's government -- whether it is a Libyan official who defects to the opposition or a forceful repudiation of his government by the international community -- gives them another reason to refuse to commit further outrages on their leader's behalf, for which they may be held accountable when the crisis is over.

"Our leverage is limited" is a phrase diplomats use to absolve themselves from responsibility. It is both true -- after all, U.S. influence is never unlimited -- and utterly irrelevant. The only question the United States and other countries should be asking now is how to use the leverage they have to bring the calamity unfolding in Libya to an end.



Morocco's Moderate Revolution

Unlike their Arab brothers and sisters in Tunisia and Egypt, Moroccan protesters are asking for modest amounts of change. For now.

When I was living in Morocco in 2007, I often noticed that foreign journalists were completely confounded by the country. And understandably so, because, depending on whom they talked to, the country was either on the verge of full democratization or about to have a Russian-style revolution. Elections were going to bring about an Islamist tsunami or the leftist coalition would surprise everyone by its strong showing. The recent family law reforms had brought in real change for women or it did not matter because the judges were not applying the new law anyway. The Equity and Reconciliation commission was proof that the infamous Years of Lead -- a period during the 1960s to 1980s characterized by widespread extralegal detentions and torture -- were being reckoned with or that the victims of abuse had been unwittingly co-opted by a wily government. The Francophone elite was fleecing the country or it was the country's only chance of moving forward in an era of globalization. The king's right-hand man had quit his post and run for a parliamentary seat because he had fallen out of favor in the palace or he had quit because he was going to be appointed prime minister.

The truth was, nobody knew.

Nobody could know, because no one who wanted to write these overview pieces was prepared for the simple truth, which is that it is not possible to summarize the incredible complexity of Morocco, a country of 31 million, in just one article. And yet they tried, and the result was usually an article that reiterated what was by then a well-established narrative: Morocco is a country "where modernity collides with religious traditions," where "tensions between feminists and conservatives" remain high, where national challenges include "poverty, illiteracy and corruption," but where the "reform-minded king" was working to keep it a "liberal beacon" in the Arab world. Women -- or, more accurately, their clothing choices -- always merited a mention. They wore "long, flowing headscarves" or they "would not look out of place in New York or Paris," and it was usually clear which ones had earned the writer's sympathies. These sentence fragments could be rearranged in any number of ways, like magnetic pieces on a refrigerator door, to produce newspaper or magazine articles about Morocco. And in all the time I've spent reading them, they made about as much sense to me as refrigerator poetry.

Now it is four years later, and the country is still confounding foreign analysts. The tide of change that has swept across the region -- bringing down Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak -- has begun to affect Morocco. Simultaneous marches took place in nearly all regions of the kingdom on Feb. 20, modeled on protests that have taken place elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East. Early estimates put the number of protesters at 37,000. But, in contrast with protesters in other countries, the Moroccans who started the Feb. 20 movement for change have not called for the king's overthrow. Instead, their focus has been on meaningful constitutional reform, which limits the powers of the king and affirms the independence of the legislative, judiciary, and executive branches. And, despite looting incidents that took place after the protests, the demonstrations throughout the country seem to have been generally peaceful and free of violent rhetoric.

There are three reasons why the movement for change is focusing on a parliamentary monarchy rather than a republic. One is that the institution of the monarchy is well established: Morocco has had native, hereditary rulers, of one sort or another, for nearly 1,200 years. Even when the French colonized the country, Muhammad V, then sultan of Morocco and grandfather of the present monarch, managed to hold on to his throne and, after a brief period of exile, return as a liberator. Since the era of independence, the monarchy has only consolidated more power in its hands. The constitution adopted in 1962, for instance, gave the king the power to act as head of state, appointing and dismissing government ministers at his discretion.

The second reason for these evolutionary -- rather than revolutionary -- demands is that King Muhammad, at 47, is relatively young. He has been in power for 12 years, which, in comparison with long-serving autocrats like Mubarak or Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi, makes him seem like a newcomer. Furthermore, he and his wife often grace the pages of society magazines and present, both to the country and to the outside world, a glamorous image that stands in sharp contrast to the gloomy one adopted by his father, King Hassan.

But the most important reason is that, over the last 12 years, King Muhammad has successfully co-opted many positive forces for change in Morocco. The family law reform, for instance, which was proposed by feminist activists, had been languishing in parliament for years until he threw his support behind it. The Equity and Reconciliation commission, established in 2004 to document thousands of cases of torture and abuse during the Years of Lead gave him an opportunity to distance himself from his father's brutal reign. And he regularly offers financial support, through one of his numerous charitable foundations, to civil-society projects that have acquired prominence and popularity, thus getting credit for some of their achievements. As a result, Moroccans often blame the rampant corruption in all state institutions on the cabinet, even though each and every member of it is appointed by and accountable to the king.

Still, many Moroccans are fully aware that the king's absolute power -- as stipulated in the current constitution -- has resulted in an unbalanced model of governance. Parliament's role is mainly to rubber-stamp royal decrees. Judges routinely hand down prison sentences against independent journalists who dare to even mildly criticize the king. WikiLeaks cables have shown that the Omnium Nord-Africain, a private financial and industrial group in which the king holds a large stake, is involved in nearly every major real estate project in Morocco. And, as a January 2005 cover story by Driss Ksikes and Khalid Trikti in Tel Quel magazine revealed, King Muhammad costs the Moroccan taxpayer $270 million per year, which is more than the queen of England costs the British taxpayer.

All this is why the Feb. 20 movement has made it clear that it wants a king who reigns, but does not rule. The reaction to these demands has been quite strong. Although the king remained silent, government ministers and their proxies tried to discredit the protesters by calling them foreign agents. (This trick has been used in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and now Libya.) The day before the protests, the official news agency of Morocco released a statement saying that they had been canceled -- an attempt to limit turnout.

Still, all the marches took place as scheduled, and the Feb. 20 protesters stayed on message: They want an evolution to a parliamentary monarchy. But, as we have seen in Bahrain, this does not mean that they will not ask for something more tomorrow --something more revolutionary. It is patently clear, based on the steadfastness of the protesters and the regime's virulent campaign against them, that both sides know this. Already, Moroccans of all walks of life are choosing between these two camps. It is now up to the king to make clear where he stands: change or status quo.

But, in a speech given Monday to announce his new Economic and Social Council, the king made no reference to the Feb. 20 movement or to the protests. Instead, he highlighted the need to "revamp the economy, boost competitiveness, promote productive investment, and encourage public involvement." He also stressed his desire to "forge ahead with the Moroccan model" in which "new reforms will shore up the current process, thus reflecting the deep, mutual understanding and cohesion between the throne and the loyal Moroccan people." Tellingly, however, the words "parliamentary monarchy" did not pass his lips.