The United States should use its limited but growing influence in Libya to support growth in non-governmental sectors rather than implicitly endorsing the regime’s status quo, urges a new commentary on the eve of Secretary Rice’s visit to Libya. The regime remains opaque, unpredictable, and, buoyed by its petroleum wealth, is increasingly assertive in international negotiations.

Middle East expert Michele Dunne warns that, following recent diplomatic success in settling long-standing disputes, the United States risks falling into business-as-usual relations with Libya. The United States should set clear, strategic objectives aimed at helping the Libyan people and avoid merely putting more resources into the hands of regime insiders and crony capitalists. 

U.S. Policy Recommendations
• Be persistent in addressing human rights cases;
• Utilize institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy or the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative to promote the development of civil society organizations and a free press;
• Inspire Libya to undertake educational reform efforts similar to recent Gulf State initiatives in which American educational institutions have played major roles; and
• Encourage U.S. NGO-supported discussions with Libyan society on a written constitution.

Dunne advises:

“Although there have been clear changes in foreign policy, there is a great deal of uncertainty in Libya about where domestic policies are headed. Muammar al-Qaddafi and son Saif al-Islam have hinted recently at extensive new economic reforms, but such promises have proved disappointing in the past. The United States should think beyond the immediate business of reestablishing normal relations to explore how it can help Libya—and in particular the Libyan people as distinct from the government—to rejoin the world from which they have long been cut off and to reorient the country in a constructive direction.”