At this moment of spectacular triumph in Tripoli, even the fiercest advocates of the NATO intervention that helped topple Muammar al-Qaddafi have been sounding notes of trepidation and sober caution; nobody wants to get caught out being unduly optimistic. Advocates of intervention endured a terrible chastening in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's now obvious, if it wasn't before, that in post-conflict situations, things are much likelier to go wrong than right. And Libya is arguably more fraught than any of its recent predecessors.
Allow me, in what I'm sure is a spirit of a priori hopefulness, to offer some tiny grounds for optimism. For the last several months, I have been following the deliberations of the Tripoli Task Force. This body was established in April by the National Transitional Council (NTC), the rebel government based in Benghazi, in order to plan for the post-Qaddafi transition. One of the peculiar advantages of the military stalemate that lasted until this past weekend is that it gave the task force ample time to plan for Day One of the new government.
Over time, the group's core members moved from Benghazi to Dubai. By the time the Qaddafi regime fell, about 70 people were engaged fulltime in the task of planning. This group oversaw a network of hundreds of Libyans, mostly professionals, divided into 17 teams responsible for policing, water supply, fuel, schools, and the like. They made a point of studying precedent. According to Sohail Nakhoody, who served as chief of staff to Aref Ali Nayed, a Libyan businessman who headed the task force (and now serves as the new government's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates), "We had in front of us the experience of Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Somalia." Iraq served as a kind of anti-template, especially on questions like how to treat regime elements -- i.e., no "de-Baathification."
Let me pause for a moment to recall the absurdity of the George W. Bush administration's own planning process for Day One of a post-Saddam Iraq. Back in the summer of 2002, the U.S. State Department established the Future of Iraq Project, a study exercise that brought Iraqi exiles together with American academic experts and government officials. But once Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld persuaded Bush to transfer control of postwar Iraq to the Defense Department, the entire effort was scrapped. In The Assassins' Gate, journalist George Packer describes meeting an Iraqi-American lawyer in Baghdad desperately trying to interest the new authorities in the State Department's 250-page report on transitional justice, and finding no takers. The planning process was transferred to a group of retired military officers heading something called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), whose very name denoted the strict limits of its mandate. Security was outside ORHA's mandate; so were politics and governance. Those things were supposed to take care of themselves. As we know now, they didn't.
The Tripoli Task Force is staffed by Libyans, with a Libyan sense of reality. The goal, says Nakhoody, is to "secure the conditions for normal life and for democratic processes to happen." In recent weeks, the planning was expanded in order to produce a post-conflict plan for the whole country. Nakhoody says that task force members considered a series of disaster scenarios, especially after Russian diplomats passed along information that Qaddafi planned to devastate Tripoli. Fire brigades were organized, and a three-to-four-month supply of oil was stored in tankers in secure staging areas. These may still, of course, prove necessary. Nakhoody says that in recent days, task force members forged a "unified military command structure" among police brigades. He concedes, however, that it's not clear to what extent police commanders in Tripoli continued to fight alongside Qaddafi's troops and, thus, to what extent their loyalty can be counted on.