Interesting public polling out this week shows the majority of us are concerned about the future of Libya. Personally, I’m more concerned about the future of this country but that’s another story. Or blog.
Seems about 70% of us think Libya is going to be a mess for a long time. Ya think? Really? If you had no other information than a 1962 movie from my all-time 10 Best List, you would know Libya is – and will be – a constant battleground until the second coming. The movie, of course, is “Lawrence of Arabia.”
A story popped up a few days ago that came directly from that script. Or, more precisely, from the history of the last 1,000 years or so on which that script was based. Seems now that the bad guy and his family are gone, those who fought the good fight are having a hard time agreeing on who gets what. Or who is responsible for what. Maybe they saw the movie nearly 50 years ago.
Libya is a tribal country. Dozens of tribes therein can trace their history back thousands of years. Nothing has changed in all those violent centuries and there is no reason to think it will now.
In fact, what is being reported in today’s news reminds me of one central scene in the film. Lawrence – British Capt. T.E. Lawrence – has led the tribes to Damascus. The city is captured and all the bad guys sent packing. The tribal chiefs convene to bask in victory. They gather in a large palace room devoid of furniture. All are seated in a large circle. All are armed.
Quickly, you discover the problem. Tribal divisions. One after another, the tribal chieftains stomp around, waving swords and other weapons as they castigate the other tribes for failing to run the power plant, making a mess of the water supply system, failing to organize the responsibilities each has claimed in the name of his tribe. It nearly comes to warfare.
Somewhere in Tripoli, as you read this, the same scene is likely being repeated. And will be again and again. It hasn’t – and won’t – change.
The biggest reason there hasn’t been such tribal violence in the last 40 years is because Moammar Gadhafi and his tribe made sure all the other tribes got their share of the spoils: adequate division of oil dollars and guaranteed tribal borders. And the fact that Gadhafi usually made short work of anyone who didn’t see things his way. Backed up, of course, by his tribe.
With him gone, about the only certainty is that Libya will be as divided and as territorial as it has been for centuries. None of the world’s technology will change that. There is fierce competition already to get tribal hands on major oil fields and the world’s oil companies have entered into negotiations with the ones they think will be the winners. While the old goals were control of trade routes and territorial expansion, the new goal is control of that black gold. And the sea ports.
With all of this unchanging history, the Obama administration and NATO need only have one goal: get out and stay out! While we – and the rest of the world – should assist with any humanitarian needs, that should be the only role. And only second-hand thru recognized relief agencies.
Libya is very much like Afghanistan and Iraq in one important way. All outsiders – ALL outsiders – have or will eventually leave the country in defeat. Impressed as we are in this nation with our just over 200 year old existence, we seem to have absolutely no understanding of other countries with their unchanging histories lasting over thousands of years.
T.E. Lawrence went to Arabia in 1916 with an outstanding record of service as a British soldier. He left three years later a broken and disillusioned man. The more he learned living among the Arabian tribes, the more he found the British – and indeed the rest of the world – really knew nothing about the countries and how Western culture was viewed.
As I read the latest news from Libya this week of rebel tribes disagreeing over the spoils of victory, visions of Lawrence racing across the desert astride a camel came vividly to mind. He took more understanding of the area to the grave with him than we have learned in the last 94 years. It’s a shame his experiences and what he learned died with him.
I’m not so much concerned about what happens now in Libya as I am about why we in this country seem to have so much trouble learning about how the rest of the world really is. And why – in most cases – we don’t leave it the Hell alone.