By DeWayne Wickham
Now that the U.S.-led air war has failed to produce a quick collapse of Moammar Gadhafi’s government, and his forces are beating back the advances of Libya’s feckless rebels, the word “exile” is being bandied about as something Gadhafi is seriously considering.
Uganda says it will give him exile. Italy is contemplating it, too, for Gadhafi and his family. Even Hillary Clinton, secretary of State, and Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have said allowing Gadhafi to go off into exile might be necessary to stop the bloodshed.
But nobody is saying exile will guarantee Gadhafi immunity from prosecution. And without an assurance that he won’t end up like former Liberian president Charles Taylor, whose three-year war crimes trial just ended, it’s a good bet Gadhafi will fight on until the bitter end. Taylor went into exile in 2003 as part of a deal to end Liberia’s 14-year-old civil war.
But three years later, he was handed over to a special international court for prosecution for his support of the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone, which borders Liberia. Taylor faces the possibility of life in prison, a fate he didn’t contemplate when he agreed to go into exile in Nigeria.
Gadhafi, who many people think is delusional, would have to be out of his mind to accept an exile offer that leaves open the possibility that he, too, will be hauled before an international tribunal. But that’s exactly what the U.S. seems to want in the not-so-small print of any exile deal.
“Exile may be an option that he looks at, and obviously that’s not one t hat we would rule out,” Rice told CBS News last month. “But very importantly, from the point of view of the United States and the international community, is accountability and justice for the crimes he and those closest to him have committed,” she quickly added.
If that doublespeak is meant to lure Gadhafi out of Libya and into the docket of an international court, it probably won’t work with the Libyan leader. And worse, it will make many of the world’s other dictators work harder to suppress dissent, rather than give in to it.
Nobody knows this better than Charles Stith, the former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, who now heads the African Presidential Archives and Research Center at Boston University, which studies democracy movements in Africa.
“One of the difficulties in negotiating any settlement to get (Gadhafi) to leave voluntarily has to be viewed against the backdrop of what happened to Charles Taylor,” Stith told me. “Unless these guys have a way to transition out that doesn’t amount to suicide, you don’t have a way to talk them into giving up power without a struggle.”
Put another way, the international community has to decide whether holding out for an exile agreement that gives it the chance to eventually lock up Gadhafi for the rest of his life is worth it while the fighting — and dying — continues in Libya. It has to determine whether demanding that Gadhafi succumb to such a deal will make it easier, or harder, for it to dislodge despots in other countries where the humanitarian crisis is greater than what the people of Libya face.
Short of a decision — which the U.S. and its allies have disavowed — to try to kill Gadhafi, something must be done quickly to end the carnage in Libya. And as hard as it is for many to swallow, an offer of exile that includes immunity from prosecution for Gadhafi could be what it takes.