Take it slow. Because of Qaddafi's evisceration of all political and social institutions, Libya will be severely lacking in even the basic understandings of how modern, representative governments work. The natural impulse of Westerners will be to insist on elections, as soon as possible. But elections without the prerequisites for a modern democracy in place -- and here Libya will be found profoundly deficient -- are hollow and counterproductive. Thoughtful Libyans are unlikely to be impressed with calls for early elections in a country where even the most basic checks and balances to make a democratic system work are not yet in place. Better to take things slowly. And with its vast experience of political capacity-building through a large number of government agencies, the United States is in a unique position to help create a sustainable network of civil, social, and political institutions that could help build the foundations of a democratic Libya.
Human rights matter... The United States should obviously support all humanitarian efforts the international community organizes on behalf of Libya, as well as all multilateral efforts to hold the Qaddafi regime responsible and accountable for the crimes it has committed against its own citizens. The military airlift of refugees currently underway is a positive sign, as is the International Criminal Court's involvement. But the United States could go further and advocate the early establishment of a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the country once Qaddafi is gone. Libya is a tribal society. Such societies have long memories, and 40 years of Qaddafi's rule made some collaboration with the regime virtually unavoidable for almost everyone. In thinking about helping to rebuild Libya, any actor who can help prevent the settling of scores will be seen as a valuable interlocutor.
... and so does oil. The economic reconstruction of Libya's economy after four decades of inefficient state management and cronyism could provide a final focus for U.S. expertise. Almost 95 percent of Libya's current income is derived from oil (and natural gas). Oil, and how the proceeds from oil sales are distributed, will be crucial for all sides, no matter how Libya is rebuilt. This will require a number of creative solutions to keep the country unified. The United States could be helpful in mediating and suggesting a number of ways out of the conundrums Libya will encounter in this regard -- perhaps by suggesting a federal formula that provides incentives for the different provinces and tribes to work together, rather than go their own way.
For the first time since independence in 1951, Libyans at the end of their war of attrition will be asked to create a modern state, one that provides checks and balances between its citizens and those who rule over them. Four decades of fragmentation of the country's society and the competition for the country's massive oil reserves will make a consensus around such a creation exceedingly difficult. The United States can help immensely by providing wise council and expertise. Anything beyond that will eventually be seen by most Libyans as self-interested, no matter how selfless or in the greater interest of Libyans the United States may attempt to portray it.