SOURCE: Newsweek (4-17-11)
Vandewalle, a professor at Dartmouth College, is author of A History of Modern Libya, published by Cambridge University Press.
Reminiscent of World War II, when German and British forces battled each other in the Cyrenaican desert and coastal plains of Libya, forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and the country’s rebels have kept fighting over Ajdabiya, Ras Lanuf, and a string of small towns and hamlets along the country’s seashore. Despite the international coalition’s intervention on the side of the rebels, a stalemate has been reached. Gaddafi’s troops may be able to retake some territory in eastern Libya but are unlikely to reconquer it in its entirety. And the rebels, whose fortunes were dramatically reversed by the intervention of coalition forces in late March, seem incapable of pressing their initial momentum any further without additional (and more intense) international support.
There is an unobserved development in Libya, however, that augurs more ominously for the future of the country: the international coalition, which entered the fray on the side of the rebels, has now effectively become the arbiter over whether Libya slides into a full-scale civil war. By its support of the rebels’ cause and its willingness to help them press forward into the western part of the country, the coalition will determine whether the conflict turns into a war of attrition, and possibly a civil war, or whether the country remains divided between the two sides, raising the possibility of a full-fledged, permanent division later on....