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Toppling Qaddafi

"A flood of freedom, topple the idols of oppression, 42 years of repression and darkness, in four days the regime fell, toppling the human idols is a religious and national duty"

Who was that madman ranting about his hallucinations on Libyan TV, desperately in need of an anger management intervention? Oops, that’s the ruler of the country. He has gotten even more ridiculously scary since our last post.

A small group of young people who have taken drugs have attacked police station like mice … However there is a small group of sick people that has infiltrated in cities that are circulating drugs and money.

This bunch of greasy rats and cats.

Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world…I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents … I will die as a martyr at the end…to my last drop of blood. …You men and women who love Gaddafi … get out of your homes and fill the streets. Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs. They are taking your children and getting them drunk and sending them to death. For what? To destroy Libya, burn Libya. .. Forward, forward, forward!

Sympathies to the courageous Libyans fighting for their freedom against this crazed tyrant.

What can the rest of the world do? The usual “don’t just stand there, do something” could result in counter-productive actions. Any military intervention would play into Qaddafi’s hand, especially since there really is nobody that can be trusted to do a “neutral humanitarian” intervention.

Trade embargo not a good idea — why punish the Libyan people? Libya’s opening to tourism and trade with the West in the last few years has arguably made this current revolt more possible, not less possible.

(True confessions: I went to Libya myself for a trek in the Sahara over Christmas holiday. And I have to also confess that, even being extremely skeptical of “benevolent autocrats,” I too was deceived that “Qaddafi had changed.”)

Too many NOs for you? Well here’s some Constructive NOs: NO to any aid to Libya, NO to any caving in to Libyan government contract blackmail, NO to arms sales, NO to “colonial reparations.” NO to “slavish” courting of Qaddafi (Feel free to apply any of all of that to you, Prime Minister Berlusconi).

YES to freezing foreign assets of the Qaddafi family, which the FT reports to be substantial (OK, Swiss?)

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  1. Any reason why you’re against a trade embargo on the grounds that it would hurt the Libyan people, but are in favour of an aid embargo? Surely the same logic applies.

    If you’re worried about fungibility effects, you should be calling for directly administered aid or aid through responsible NGOs. If you’re still worried about propping up the economy of a despotic regime, then you should be in favour of a trade embargo as well.

    Seems inconsistent.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 12:49 am | Permalink
  2. Given the lengthy literature on “trade but not aid” I fail to see the inconsistency. Trade generally speaking involves mutual benefit: aid has no such presumption. Hence trade’s much, much better record than aid. You might argue that the regime is so totalitarian that even trade is a function of the regime: but that would just apply even more so to aid, without any presumption of benefit.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 4:52 am | Permalink
  3. The protests in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere remind me that challenging the bonds of poverty and oppression is not about economic indicators, but about extending to people the feeling that they matter. I am reminded that real big-“D”evelopment comes when people awaken from fear and they can look forward to a future in which they feel secure, valued, and honored.

    And that, ultimately, this must come from within.

    Therefore, to those of us in the aid industry I ask: Do we question the sources of power in “D”evelopment enough in our day-to-day work? Do we acknowledge and challenge the policies and practices that marginalize and demotivate people, especially local activists? In all of the seemingly mundane acts of planning, coordinating and monitoring development projects, do we acknowledge the deep and profound difference between social change and service delivery? And if the development industry, as a whole, remains divorced from this, are we missing the whole point?

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 7:51 am | Permalink
  4. david phillips wrote:

    you wrote a sensible paper in 2009 called “can the west save Africa?” (sensible because it realized that the West cannot “save” Africa – or anywhere else for that matter especially where it has a history of acting in its own imperial interests). By the same token the West cannot “save” the Middle East. A recent post in fact wisely advised the Secretary of State to “shut up” on Egypt. If these are genuine revolutionary movements in Libya and elsewhere then they have to take their course towards genuine freedom and democracy. No amount of pontificating, warning, yelling or manipulating by us, including condemning what we conceive are illegitimate leaders, will make any difference and they are more likely to damage the process. Lets simply say that we are hoping for the best for the people of these countries and leave it at that.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink
  5. Oussama Hayek wrote:

    1. There is a lot the world can do, such as a “no fly zone”, but let us be honest about this one: No one will do this before their nationals are safely out of Libya. Remember how Saddam took foreigners hostages in the first Gulf War?

    2. The Swiss have nothing to do with this one. Remember how he called on the UN to disband the country?

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  6. Jacob AG wrote:

    That’s what happens when you spend too much time in the desert listening to “Feelings”… makes you go a little crazy 😛

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink
  7. Jacob AG wrote:

    (…in reference to “I have to also confess that, even being extremely skeptical of “benevolent autocrats,” I too was deceived that “Qaddafi had changed.”… still haven’t figured out these danged HTML tags)

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink
  8. Jacob AG wrote:

    Tom Ashbrook is discussing the Libyan situation on On Point from now until 11am, maybe he could use a call from a development economics professor with recent travel experience in Libya..?

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink
  9. David Zetland wrote:

    The West can spend money broadcasting neutral news (Al Jezeera?) into Libyan radio and TV space, as well as facilitating networking for expat and internal Libyans. Hard from outside the country, I agree, but embassies can set up relay towers on roofs, etc…

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink
  10. sam wrote:

    Don’t fool yourself, trade has done plenty of damage, probably more than aid. What kept Mobutu in power for so long? Do you really think it was the aid payments??? What about all the bribes to Abacha in Nigeria by Halliburton, Shell, et al? Sure, it was that girls’ education project that gave 100 girls scholarships that kept Abacha going, I get it… Good lord, the stuff you people are selling on here is truly absurd. I’m sure Qadaffi has held on to power because of aid, right? Seeing as he has not gotten any for some time, that’s a very funny, funny thing to say, isn’t it? Could it be that the big oil companies scrambling to evacuate their workers might have, well maybe, just speculating here, played a small role in keeping Mr. Qadaffi in power for 40 odd years? Hmmmmm. Takes a minute to put the pieces together, doesn’t it?

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  11. Arthur Edelstein wrote:

    Hi Bill,

    I’m glad to see your message of sanity. A military intervention is not going to aid a nonviolent uprising. It could inadvertently prevent the mass defection of the army that the opposition so desperately needs. Rather, responsible governments should stop giving money to dictators. Now. Everywhere.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  12. Jacob AG wrote:

    @Ranil Dissanayake and @Lorenzo from Oz

    Ranil has a good question. Qaddafi’s regime depends on trade, not aid. Three quarters of Qaddafi’s income comes from oil exports. And to whom does he sell? (Hint:

    So Ranil, you have a good question: why does it make sense to cut off aid but not trade? Trade is reciprocal, sure Lorenzo, but how much does that matter? Exactly how much repression should we tolerate for a barrel of oil?

    Ranil, to answer your question, an embargo is a bad idea because a) sanctions don’t work (see Qaddafi, 1969 to 2006) and b) the Libyan people bear part of the brunt. Suspending aid wouldn’t topple Qaddafi’s regime either, of course, but the Libyan people probably wouldn’t mind.

    USAID explains: “U.S. foreign assistance programs in Libya are focused on bolstering Libya’s commitments to renouncing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), combating the rapidly growing terrorist threat posed by al Qaeda in the region, and promoting professional and effective law enforcement and military services that respect international norms and practices.”

    Yeah… how’s that going?

    Moreover, for FY2011 USAID suspended all aid to Libya for democracy, human rights, governance, health, education, social services, and “economic development.” All $850 million in American aid to Libya is payment to Qaddafi in exchange for “peace and security.”


    But that’s only USAID; Prof. Easterly, you know anything about other countries’ aid to Libya? Does anybody? Why is data so hard to come by??

    Ranil’s question about giving aid to local NGOs is another good one, but there are probably some serious political and logistical problems with that…

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  13. BPeterson wrote:

    I’ll reiterate Ranil’s question from above. I have often been curious about the distinction between trade and aid in this way. I am aware that for many decades much of aid was conducted via central governments. Aid for agriculture got filtered through corrupt agricultural ministries in developing countries, for instance, and largely wasted or used for nefarious purposes. A lot of other aid was similarly wasted.

    But my impression over the last 10 or 20 years was that a lot of that had changed–that program-level aid was being conducted independently of central governments (I know this is somewhat true in the ag. sector at least, and especially at USAID). I don’t expect you to respond in the comments, but it would be really nice if you would write a post at some point that addressed this question, because I think you probably have a unique view of aid having worked both in academia AND at the WB.

    Again, my impression of aid from reading academic work is that it is filtered through governments and should obviously be withheld in this circumstance as a result. But my impression from speaking with aid workers I know is that it is not filtered through governments as much any more, and so withholding it does not make a lot of sense. I sincerely wonder which one is right, or what shade of gray is correct.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  14. BPeterson wrote:

    Good call Jacob, that largely answers my question I think.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  15. terence wrote:

    So…in the medium term if the regime clings on: no trade embargoes or anything similar unless they directly impact on the Qaddafi family. And cease government to government aid, unless it’s unambiguously going directly to health and education services, while trying to replace it with aid to NGOs if possible.

    But what about in the short term? That’s when the tragedy seems most likely to unfold (i.e. if Qaddafi brutally cracks down on the opposition). Surely there’s something that could be done? Even if the trustworthiness of foreign powers is questionable.

    To my (admittedly non expert) mind that something could probably be:

    1. No fly zones.
    2. The threat of air strikes on Military locations and any locations associated with the Qaddafi regime. Make it clear to him that repression will have consequences.
    3. Refugee assistance and safe zones.

    All of this done after foreign nationals are out, of course.

    The track record of foreign interventions in conflicts isn’t great (the Balkans for example) but the track record of foreign disinterest is worse still (i.e. Rwanda).

    No doubt if we do something we will do it poorly but sometimes the only thing worse than doing something is doing nothing.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  16. terence wrote:


    Setting aside the particular case of Libya, a lot of ODA is given to governments (and there are reasonably good reasons for this). But there is also evidence that donors give less aid to governments in poorly governed countries and more aid through alternate mechanisms in these countries. See, for example, the following paper:

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink
  17. Marc wrote:

    I see the trade/aid debate rages on. Good. But ask yourself this question. What global set of actors has been utterly invisible since those first stirrings of revolt in Tunisia? None other than the aid industry. Often promoting themselves, usually somewhere near middle of crisis (or, at least, the discourse surrounding crisis), the global humanitarian community finds itself irrelevant as history turns in the ME. So I’m not sure how INGO-level aid will have an effect.

    Posted February 24, 2011 at 3:13 am | Permalink
  18. Kazi H. wrote:

    Woke up with a phone call this morning …… not sure who it was from ….finally the voice from other said…. Rwanda calling , Kosovo will you accept the call !!!!????!!!! No answer ; again the voice said ….Kosovo calling , Libya will you accept the call ….. ???!!!!???? Still waiting for answer…..

    Posted February 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  19. Graham Simmons wrote:

    The U.S., U.N., and other actors should “stand there and do nothing”. A military intervention would not play out well. Even imposing a “no-fly zone” would be a bad idea for several reasons. Coordinating would be an issue, by the time we could get a carrier in the area the revolt could be over or have changed directions. Intelligence would need to be gathered and it would be hard to avoid collateral damage if we were forced to shoot down a Libyan military aircraft. Why would we choose to intervene now when Qaddafi has commited autrocities in the past since this time he has resistence? A trade emargo would more than likely hurt the people than the regime but I agree aid should be cut. Freezing Qaddafi’s accounts would be a way to hurt him not the people of Libya, remember this is a movement against basically this one man not the majority of citizens. Simply this is not our fight and intervening, especially as the situation changes daily, could only end poorly for everyone.

    Posted March 1, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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