This superb-and long-needed-analysis of Libya's internal political, ideological, religious and economic dynamics would be even better if it did not stray in the final chapter onto the tricky ground of Muammar Qadhafi's motives and intentions. But that is a relatively small complaint, one that is easily remedied by substituting the objective summation of the Introduction, which is fully supported by the next nine chapters, for the inescapably subjective interpretation of Chapter 10, which seems to ignore the analysis that precedes it.
Dirk Vandewalle has done an outstanding job of tasking, coordinating, editing and even translating a diverse group of international contributors: Francois Burgat, Taoufik Monastici, Hanspeter Mattes and Ann Elizabeth Mayer, among others. As a result, this book strikes just the right balance between brevity and comprehensiveness, scholarly documentation and readability, detachment and trenchant candor. It is a must for serious students of a sadly troubled country and perhaps, as the editor suggests, for political scientists focused more broadly on the challenges faced by oil-rich rentier states; however, it deserves attention far beyond the halls of academe.
Although (with the exception noted above) the book assiduously (and usefully!) avoids discussion of the foreign adventures that have made Qadhafi a subject of critical international attention during much of the past 26 years, it will nonetheless be of great value to policymakers, intelligence analysts. legislators, journalists and politicians who must still grapple with the unresolved dispute over the American charge that Qadhafi's intelligence operatives bombed Pan Am 103 in December 1988, still the worst terrorist attack ever targeted against the United States.
While long-time observers may reasonably disagree about how and why the Libyan-U.S. relationship could deteriorate to the point that such a charge could be officially, publicly and credibly leveled, the fact is that it has been. Moreover, for the families of the 270 innocent victims (two-thirds American) and for their elected representatives in Congress and the White House, that Libyan-U.S. relationship begins on December 21, 1988, not before. Since their unsatisfied quest for justice will not disappear from the national agenda, the policy community will ultimately have to explore the difficult issues of accountability and appropriate response.
That exploration will involve many factual questions that are authoritatively. if perhaps unintentionally, answered by this thoroughly documented analysis of the situation inside Libya. Who makes the country's important decisions? Is Qadhafi a philosophical "guide of the revolution" or a hands-on head of state? Where is responsibility for security functions lodged? Who appoints and controls the revolutionary-committee/security-service operatives? Was the political climate so permissive in December 1988 that Libya's External Security Organization could launch a rogue operation against an American passenger plane? Do the accused intelligence operatives enjoy Libyan constitutional protection against surrender to the United States? Has Qadhafi's core hostility to Israel, Arab monarchies and their American support changed in recent years? Is there any evidence that he has abandoned terrorism and efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction? Would reintegration of Libya into the world community prompt Qadhafi to pursue more liberal and democratic policies? Does his long survival attest to popular support or clever maneuvering? Has Qadhafi succeeded in "brainwashing" the huge portion of the population that has never known anything except his rule? Do oil revenues constitute Qadhafi's Achilles heel? If denial of oil revenues sparked the end of his rule, who would be most likely to take over? Which of the antagonists, Qadhafi or his Islamic opponents, represents the mainstream of moderate Islamic thought?
While those responsible for developing America policy options are strongly urged to read this book in its entirety, perhaps a few excerpts and page references will pique that interest:
Important political directives in Libya are still made almost exclusively by Qadhafi and a small group of advisers (37).
The most far-reaching impact of revolutionary committees was related to a transfer of power affecting the country's security and legal systems... bestowed upon them by Qadhafi...on 2-3 February 1980 (101).
...the measure that received most attention among the delegates [to a March 1988 meeting of the General People's Congress] was the order [from Qadhafi] to impose stricter controls on the revolutionary committees and to curtail their functions [vis-a-vis security] (107).
Qadhafi has never distanced himself from his 1985 pronouncement that "the revolution knows no law and no constitution" (109).
Although Qadhafi's actions and doctrines have often been marked by important changes of mind and tactical turnabouts, there remains a certain logic...that converges...upon two central themes or objectives: ( l) reunification of the Arab community and (2) creation of the conditions necessary to make this unification possible" (48).
Circumstances today, after 26 years of revolution, make further revolutionary measures and actions difficult, but they have not been renounced and could, at a moment's notice and when circumstances demand and permit, surface (109).
Real political and institutional change and a transition toward a form of democracy seem unlikely...(60).
Libya's universities [serve] as a catalyst for opposition to the Libyan regime...[and] the revolutionary press continued to criticize university students [almost 40,000 in 1988] for their lack of zeal (172).
In a rentier economy like Libya's, the longevity of the revolution has depended, in part, on the regime's capacity to "buy" cooperation (34).
In all likelihood,...the group most capable of mounting a replacement. Will be the country's Islamists,...[who] distance themselves from the use of violence and portray themselves as the heirs to the nationalist dynamics...(61).
Qadhafi's attack on the Prophet Muhammad [in an authored, or at least authorized, February 1990 article]-the most revered figure of Islamic history-is hardly surprising even if it means that as a result he and his country stand condemned by the rest of the Muslim world (152).
Since the vast bulk of the book deserves the highest possible accolades, there is no reason to dwell on the shortcomings of Chapter 10. Suffice to say that nothing in Chapters 1-9 supports this final contributor s conclusion that post-Qadhafi Libya will "fracture along tribal lines"(230); that Qadhafi's "patronage networks...seemed likely to outlast the regime that spawned them" (231); that he showed an "evident willingness to negotiate the surrender of Libyan suspects [in the bombing of Pan Am 1031" (232) if his maneuvering room had not been limited by "the networks of interest, the constituencies and the clienteles that had developed in and around the institutions of the Jamahiriyya" (233); or, perhaps most incredibly, in the penultimate sentence: '' ...after 26 years, few observers questioned the personal integrity of the Libyan leader or his commitment to the well-being of his compatriots(236).
Fortunately, that author's peers in this otherwise excellent book have preferred to document their opinions with Qadhafi's own words and other factual support.