History Department
History Department

Historian interviewed by Wisconsin Public Radio & blogs on Libya's liberation over the weekend

Sat, August 20, 2011
Historian interviewed by Wisconsin Public Radio & blogs on Libya's liberation over the weekend
Prof. Jeremi Suri

BLOG POST — Jeremi Suri has posted an update on his blog Global Briefs about the most recent events in Libya, Aug. 21, since this interview last Thursday. "The downfall of Moammar Gadhafi’s repressive, corrupt, and terroristic regime in Libya is worthy of celebration. For forty-two years this man and his family held the people of Libya hostage...."

INTERVIEW ON AUG. 18, 2011 — John Munson sat in for Ben Merens to interview Professor Suri on Libya. Suri is the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas.

Munson asked, “How long will Mr. Gaddafi be able to maintain his hold on Libya and what happens after he’s gone? How has he been able to hold onto power so long?”

“One of the biggest problems we have as Americans is that we assume we’re smart and everybody else is dumb,” Suri said, “Muammar Gaddafi is a remarkably savvy political operator. He’s been in power since 1969…and he still has some support in the tribal areas.”

But, Suri continued, he has definitely exposed his enemies on all sides now too though. And while NATO has for all practical purposes been the rebels’ air force and its protection from the air, the NATO allies are not in agreement on exactly what should happen next and how involved they should be.

So the questions of what happens next in Libya and who controls the continued functioning of the oil refineries and running of the country are of utmost importance. Suri pointed out that the rebels might have actually been strengthened by having to work and fight together this long.

This is something Suri describes in detail in his forthcoming book, Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama (Simon and Schuster, September 2011). In it, he argues that when wars are more protracted, it actually gives the people more time to forge relationships and build a more cohesive community and for leaders to emerge. And this in turn could help avoid a civil war when the fighting stops once the rebels have achieved their common goal of removing Gaddafi from power in Libya.

Some other key questions asked by Munson were, “Who is the professional class in Libya, the people who run the current government, the folks who keep the lights on, the mailed delivered, the phone system running and so forth? Where are they in this conflict?”

Suri said, “That’s a great question…. The professional classes in any society are the key to whether you can actually govern.” They are the ones with business experience that the rebels will have to work with to keep the country running and it is important that the rebels get them on their side he said.

Iraq was discussed as an example when no one from the former government is allowed to stay, and the result effectively shuts the country down. So the rebels will very much need to get this professional class of the population on their side to work together to keep the country running and the refinery’s operating, revenues coming in.

In response to a caller’s question about what kinds of jobs these newly politically democratized citizens are going to have, Suri said, “Democracies evolve over time…the jobs in these countries that are blessed with oil is investing that revenue…in producing an educated work force that can also then get involved in some of the productive parts of the world economy.… The people of that region are as talented as any other region. They are held back by bad government, they are not held back by bad genetics,” he said.

To listen to the entire interview, visit this link to download to any MP3 Player:

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