What's Next In Libya?

Rebels in Libya continue to prepare for a final push on Bani Walid, one of the last strongholds of ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi. As rebel forces continue to topple key cities, questions arise about what happens next. NPR foreign correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid and Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, discuss the rapidly evolving situation in Libya and the country's next steps.

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NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION, I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Rebels in Libya have surrounded the last few towns and cities still loyal to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. The former leader and two of his sons remain unaccounted for, but as the endgame plays out, the focus turns to the future of Libya.

Can the Transitional National Council restore basic services, restart the economy and establish order, or will splits emerge on regional and tribal lines as some seek to settle old scores and others seek power?

The U.S. and NATO played a key role in Libya. What's the American obligation now? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, the last Labor Day on the Opinion Page this week. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne will join us. But first, what's next in Libya? NPR foreign correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro left the capital, Tripoli, a couple of days ago and joins us now from Djerba in Tunisia. Nice to have you back.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you.

CONAN: And is it premature to say with Gadhafi and his sons still on the loose that it's really over?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I don't think so. I think this is basically the end. I mean, it's hard to see how Gadhafi and his sons could really mount an effective counteroffensive, if you will. At this point, if you walk around the streets of the capital, Tripoli, if you travel around the countryside, it is pretty much predominately in rebel control.

Of course, Gadhafi and his loyalists can still cause problems. They are causing problems already. We're seeing that play out in places in Sirte and Bani Walid, Two of the towns that he still holds, but it is a minority as opposed to the majority, and so we've really seen a substantial shift.

We've seen most of the world recognize the National Transitional Council, unleash funds so that they can get the country back up and running. And so these military operations, while they are the focus of a lot of media attention, quite frankly on the ground in places like Tripoli, that's not where people's focus is. Their focus is now on trying to get the country back up to where - back up and running.

CONAN: Also with us is New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, also recently returned from Tripoli. He's with us from his home in Boston. Nice to have you back, as well.

ANTHONY SHADID: My pleasure.

CONAN: And is - do you think that analysis is right, that we're on to the next phase?

SHADID: I think she's exactly right. In fact, I think if we see, you know, cleavages emerge down the road I don't think it's going to be cleavages that revolve around Moammar Gadhafi, it's going to be more regional differences, perhaps, you know, differences between extended clans.

Of course there is a task ahead for the government to divvy up the vast resources in the country, and that's an issue that we haven't really broached yet. But I think there could - there's absolutely the potential for problems down the road. It just doesn't seem like the problems are going to be encapsulated by Colonel Gadhafi.

CONAN: And as you look at that future, though, you wrote in a recent piece that he does still hold power for citizens who've never really known anybody else.

SHADID: Well, I think that aura or the shadow that Colonel Gadhafi cast, I mean, obviously he was the only ruler there for 40 years. Two-thirds of the people in Libya knew no other leader. There's going to be a coming-to-terms with that legacy. There's going to be, you know, I think a process of understanding what he meant for the country and what that means for the country's future. I think that's going to last a generation.

In terms of the real problems ahead, the concrete challenges of restoring basic services to Tripoli, for instance, of trying to bring about some kind of reconciliation between regions and clans and other cleavages within the country, I don't think Colonel Gadhafi is going to be at the center of that task ahead.

CONAN: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, that task of reconciliation, is that going to be easy given, well, there's an awful lot of grudges to be settled?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it ever? I think the answer is no. I mean, in any country that's seen conflict, and this has been a brutal, six-month conflict which has pitted Libyan against Libyan, and we've seen, you know, families torn asunder, people die in the most brutal, horrible ways, you know, there is going to be a reckoning, there's no doubt about that, and we're already seeing that, up to a certain point.

I mean, we've seen protests in the city of Misrata. You'll recall that was the city that was besieged for those many months that bore the brunt of the fighting. It's really been a city that's been destroyed. Everyone has paid a price in that place in blood.

And they are furious that the National Transitional Council is trying to incorporate some of the Gadhafi loyalists into sort of the new regime, if you will, the new government, and - because they feel that their revolution, as one person told me, is being hijacked. So we're already seeing these divisions play out.

We're already seeing people who have different ideas of what the country should look like and how it should be governed manifesting itself, and I think those will be, you know, made more evident as time goes on.

CONAN: Anthony Shadid, though, we also read about militia members, former rebels, I guess you could say, being groomed for positions in the police force, in part because the former members of the Gadhafi police force are not reporting back to duty, so there's some openings, but also to provide young men with guns something to do.

SHADID: Well, you know, Lulu may have a better take on this. I think she left after - I think I left before she did. But I have to say one of the more jarring experiences I had in Tripoli was just the number of men with guns. And it's that very dangerous constituency, young men in their teens and early 20s. You do have to wonder how they're going to be demobilized, how willingly they're going to be demobilized.

To me, it was one of the most striking differences between covering, let's say, Tripoli right now and Baghdad in April 2003, and I think at least superficially, there are similarities. But the one very distinct difference was just how many people had guns in the streets in Tripoli right now.

CONAN: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Absolutely. I think it's one of the big, big problems that they're going to be facing. And it's not only how many people have weapons but how many weapons have been unleashed into the general population. I mean, I was there the day Bab al-Aziziya, Gadhafi's compound, fell, and people were running out with 15, you know, guns under the hands with - you know, and newly packaged weapons. And you didn't think that they were taking them out there to give to some future Libyan army arsenal. They clearly were taking them into their own hands.

And as you know, weapons of that type, you know, are used in urban warfare, and they're very, very dangerous and very deadly. And I think after the dust settles, after everyone, the euphoria of their victory has faded, you're going to have a lot of young men who know how to use guns and have access to them.

CONAN: And describe - some say that Libya is a post-tribal state, that after 42 years of Gadhafi, these ties have weakened considerably. Others say no, this is the most tribal state in all of North Africa.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think it remains to be seen. It's hard to see - it's hard to know really what a post-Gadhafi state will look like. I mean, certainly my experience has been that it is extremely tribal, and I've seen that play out in a number of different ways. For example, if you recall the murder of Abdul Fateh Younis, the army chief of staff in Benghazi, that was a very big deal, and his tribe played a very large role in determining how that was going to play out.

They were immediately involved. His family brought the tribe in. The tribe was sort of negotiating directly with the National Transitional Council, and so that just goes to show you the level of tribal influence that there is.

Certainly in the major cities, in places like Tripoli and places like Benghazi up to a certain point, you know, the tribes don't play such a large role. But in the countryside and in other parts of the country, they do.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Given the role that the United States and NATO played in the change of government in Libya, what's our obligation now? We'll begin with Daniel, Daniel with us from Winchester in Virginia.

DANIEL: Hi, yes, thank you for taking my call. I have a question as to the necessity of keeping Libya together in the boundaries that we see it today. I see my own personal experience and my own understanding of history is that oftentimes, when you see these kinds of revolutions or civil wars as might be more appropriate in this case, I mean, there's this emphasis on keeping the country together when it might in some ways be more organic to just let people be self-governing within their own tribal regions, of course recognizing that there will probably have to be resource-sharing agreements amongst those many states.

And I kind of look at Iraq, and I wonder why wasn't that type of - why wasn't that kind of (unintelligible) to possibly avoid that situation like that. And might that be something that should be considered in Libya? And I'll take my answer off the air.

CONAN: All right, thank you, Daniel, and Anthony Shadid, that was a difficult phone line. Did you hear the question?

SHADID: I did. I mean, I have to say that, you know, the Europeans and the West tried to draw borders once before in the Middle East, about a century ago, after World War I, and we're still dealing with the traumas of that a century later, and it was utterly disastrous. And I think a lot of the history of the Middle East could be written about this idea of envisioning borders where people think borders might belong, and they actually don't.

I mean, I think if we've having any hope of trying to create a new order in the region, it's going to have to at least adhere to the old borders that have been established. I think the caller is right, though, that the regional differences that we're dealing with, in Libya and elsewhere for that matter, are going to be challenging.

There is a process afoot that's going to have to divvy up the resources of that country, and it's not going to be a simple process of going to the - you know, going to the polls and voting for a new order. It's going to be difficult, contested and potentially, you know, perilous.

CONAN: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, you already mentioned the militancy you've seen in Misrata, the city that was under siege. There are also going to be people in Benghazi who are saying we've been starved of resources that went to Tripoli for 40 years. It's our turn now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Absolutely. And, I mean, there's a long line of people with their hands out in Libya at the moment. Everyone feels that they deserve something. Everyone feels that they are - they should get something for what they've done. I mean, one of the interesting things about this uprising is that, you know, everyone kind of played their part, in a way, and so everyone now feels invested in the results, and that's a good thing because I think this idea - you know, Libyans really will determine their own future.

I mean, certainly NATO and the Western powers have had a great deal of influence and have been involved in this uprising, but they did it themselves, by and large, and so they're going to have to determine what comes next. But certainly there are these regional differences, and people really, now that this new order is going to be created, they are going to want to have a say, and people have very divergent visions of what that future should be.

CONAN: And we're going to go to a break shortly, but Anthony Shadid, at the beginning of this campaign of NATO airstrikes, we saw something most unusual: Arabs cheering American airstrikes. Is the United States going to have to be careful, though, not to overplay its hand in the coming months?

SHADID: Well, I think some Arabs cheering. I don't think we should overstate, you know, the degree of support for NATO intervention. I think in some ways, actually, Libya's revolution - I mean, it's interesting. Libya's revolution in some respects is perhaps the most sweeping of any revolt that has happened in the Arab world so far. We really are starting from scratch at this point in Libya.

At the same time, I think there was an asterisk to the revolt in much of the Arab world because of the presence of foreign intervention, of NATO intervention. This is a region that's allergic to foreign intervention historically, and I'm not sure we've actually come to terms with what it's going to represent in Libya.

CONAN: We're talking with Anthony Shadid, New York Times foreign correspondent. Also with us, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who reports for NPR's foreign desk. She's just back from Tripoli. She's on the line from Djerba in Tunisia. We'd like to hear from you, as well. What's the U.S. obligation now after the role that the United States and NATO played in the Libyan revolution? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. NATO's secretary-general said today attacks on Libya will continue even if Moammar Gadhafi is found until the transitional government in Tripoli can ensure security.

Security is just one of the many questions the country faces after the uprising; infrastructure, government, basic services all need to be restored. The deputy mayor of Tripoli today told the Associated Press that tap water is flowing again for the first time in two weeks.

We're talking today about what's next in Libya. The U.S. and NATO played key roles there. What's the American obligation now? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are NPR foreign correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, just back from Tripoli, and Anthony Shadid, the New York Times foreign correspondent. And let's see if we can go next to - this is Van(ph) and Van on the line from Syracuse.

VAN: Hi, thanks for taking my call. My question actually is for Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. First of all, I'd just like to say that your reporting has been really impressive in both Egypt and in Libya. And my question is: How do you see things playing out differently in the two countries based on the fact that Egypt was largely nonviolent versus Libya?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you. That's a really good question and a very tough one. I think - I think there were two - the revolutions basically took two different tracks very, very quickly. You know, Egypt's revolution was three weeks sort of start to finish, almost. Of course, there's a process that's continuing now. But it didn't have this long, drawn-out, bloody civil war that we've seen play out in Libya.

And I think what's more - the issue about Libya centrally is it's first of all the fact that people know how to fight, they're armed, and that could play out in the future, and that could be problematic in the future. And I also think in Libya, not to lessen what the people of Egypt went through, but certainly, you know, 42 years of Gadhafi left the country with no institutions.

This is not a country that had a huge civil service like you have in Egypt. This is not a country that has, you know, an enormous amount of infrastructure. This is a country that had sort of one-man rule, and his family, and anything else was deemed to be a threat.

So they're really starting from zero there. They have nothing to really build on, whereas Egypt really has, you know, a lot of stuff there that they're working with. And you just see that in the days after, you know, they got rid of their respective leaders. You know, in Egypt, immediately people were out, you know, talking about what should come next. There was a sort of flowering of politics and discussion and quite sophisticated discussion about, you know, what - where the country should go.

You know, I have to say in Libya, you're not seeing that. You know, you're not seeing sort of that yet because people really have no experience with democracy. It's been a very closed environment for 42 years. And so it's - two different experiences, I think.

CONAN: One thing - and Van, thanks very much for the call - one thing that is significantly different, Libya a much smaller - certainly in terms of population - country than Egypt, and it does have those considerable oil and gas resources.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Absolutely, six million people in Libya. It's a small country, and it's wealthy. And so that also could play into its hands. I mean, certainly the vast, you know, revenue that their oil wealth can generate is something that they believe can really catapult them out of the situation they find themselves in now. That is not the case in Egypt, obviously a great deal of poverty, and the economy is in tatters.

CONAN: Anthony Shadid, Van asked about the comparison between Libya and Egypt. You wrote in a recent piece that the comparison with Iraq is also inescapable.

SHADID: Yeah, it does strike me. I think there are some superficial similarities, the idea of, you know, a fugitive leader, the idea of trying to re-create an order of differences that may have been latent in the country. You made the point about, you know, is it a post-tribal or a tribal society. It could be both. It could be both post-tribal but re-tribalize as people look to different identities and, you know, different axes around which to mobilize in the future.

You know, it's - again Libya feels so much more remarkable to me, though, in a sense, as Lulu was pointing out, is that you're starting at ground zero. It could be, in a lot of respects, the most sweeping revolution because you are having to create a new order from scratch, whereas in Egypt, in some ways the revolution could be read as a contest between the old order and new order or the remnants of that old order and new order. There really isn't much of an old order left in Libya.

It was a state that never was much of a state in 42 years under Colonel Gadhafi, and now the challenge is how to actually build one.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Troy(ph) and Troy with us from Iowa City.

TROY: Yes, I was wondering what steps the United States is doing to make sure the assets that the U.N. has frozen get spent appropriately, like we'll just say make sure they don't go into a Swiss bank account or spent on palaces or not the way that people of Libya would spend this money.

CONAN: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, some of those resources have been released to the Transitional National Council. Is anybody monitoring how they're spending it?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wow, that's a good question, and that's certainly the question that many Libyans are now beginning to ask themselves. I mean, certainly there are certain things in place that - you know, they're not just sort of releasing the funds and putting in a Swiss bank account, and, you know, and you guys get to do whatever you want with it right away. You know, it is a process.

But, you know, the people are starting to ask. There's a lot of money going through now. You know, where is this money going to be used? How is it going to be used? For the past six months, a lot of money has also been coming through the National Transitional Council's hands, but of course they were in the middle of a civil war.

They were fighting, and it was all sort of done very secretively, through proxies, through ex-pat Libyans, through all sorts of different mechanisms to get the money to them to get them what they needed, be it humanitarian aid, be it weapons. And now they're going to have to, you know, face the scrutiny of not only the international community but Libyans themselves.

And people, as I mentioned, feel invested that this work because everyone gave something, somehow, to this revolution, to this uprising. And so people have already begun to talk to me about the money.

You know, just before I left, it was: Hey, this is great, aren't we happy that Colonel Gadhafi is gone. You know, we really have to make sure that the money is put in the right place. We really want, you know, our - the future of our children, that they want it to be secured. And so there's going to be a lot of scrutiny as to where those funds are going.

But the National Transitional Council is, you know, not a really cohesive body. It's not a government. It hasn't been elected. I mean these are - you know, these are all questions that have to be - they're not - you know, they haven't been totally legitimized. And so it's going to be very interesting to see how they deal with the question of funds.

CONAN: And Anthony Shadid, obviously we'll be looking at how that money is spent and how it's monitored, but another sign that you may be looking toward to see how things are going to be going next in Libya.

SHADID: Well, I tell you, if I were a Libyan revolutionary right now, I wonder if I wouldn't want those oil resources. It's - you know, the resources are going to create friction. As we saw in Iraq, the contest over resources has almost led to war between Kurdish and Arab regions. There's going to be a process of people trying to divide up what those resources represent. I think it may be more - obviously, well, think of just the revenue that it's going to bring and the potential, you know, what you could do to that country through those revenues.

But I think it's also a potential for conflict. You know, in addition to the conflict inside the country itself, you have to, you know, keep in mind that there is going to be a lot more foreign attention on Libya because it does have those resources, it does have those oil resources.

And I think foreign attention can be both good and bad. It's often been bad when it comes to oil. So I think it's going to be a rough road ahead. I mean, I think it would be - you shouldn't be overly pessimistic about what's ahead because Libya does have a chance to create something very new in the Arab world.

It doesn't have the baggage that places like Egypt and Tunisia have with the old state. At the same time, the task ahead is just unbelievably immense, and as Lulu pointed out, it's coming - it's going to have to be navigated by a leadership that's not all that cohesive, that hasn't completely moved to Tripoli yet and that is on unproven ground at...

CONAN: Anthony Shadid, thanks very much for your time today, we appreciate it. Anthony Shadid, a correspondent for the New York Times, joining us from his home in Boston. And Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, we can only echo the words of our caller: Great stuff, we appreciate it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you.

CONAN: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR foreign correspondent, with us on the line from Djerba in Tunisia.

Throughout the revolution in Libya, many comparisons were made to the fall of Saddam Hussein. In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami argued that the future of Libya will be very different and that, quote, "in stark contrast to the challenges faced by Iraq, fair winds attend this Libyan venture." Fouad Ajami is senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, with us now on the line from his home in New York. Nice to talk with you again.

FOUAD AJAMI: Thank you very much, Neal, good to be with you.

CONAN: And one of the differences you pointed out between Libya and Iraq, yes both oil rich, both going to have arguments about division of those resources, but they live in very different neighborhoods.

AJAMI: Absolutely. The neighborhood of Iraq couldn't be worse, when you consider the impossible neighborhood of the poor Iraqis, when you consider the schemes upon them by their Iranian neighbor to the east, when you consider the sabotage that the Syrians waged against Iraq, the thousands of jihadists they allowed across the Syria-Iraq frontier to come to Iraq to kill and fight Americans, to kill and fight Shia, when you consider the Saudis and the entire hostility of the Arab world to this new Iraqi project, when you consider the Turks with their schemes on Iraq, with their memory that they had once governed Iraq for several centuries, you can see that in fact the neighborhood of Iraq was very difficult. The neighborhood of Libya is very forgiving. You've got Egypt on one side. You've got Tunisia on another side, very favorable. You have African states like Niger and Chad, but they're not really players. So considering the neighborhoods of both countries, Libya and Iraq, I think we can be optimistic about what attends this Libyan venture.

CONAN: You also mentioned another word about the difficulties in Iraq, Shia, the Sunni-Shia split...

AJAMI: Yes.

CONAN: ...in Iraq. That does not replay in Libya?

AJAMI: You know, that's really amazing, Neal, because in fact I consider the Sunni-Shia schism the new poison of the Arab world, the new poison of the Islamic world, a primitive fight with no good outcome in sight. The discovery, if you will, the reduction of the Arab world, which had once yearned for modernity into a kind of Sunni-Shia issue. The Libyans don't have it. In Iraq, what you were doing is, you were creating a new Iraqi republic, but all the neighbors, the Sunni neighbors of Iraq, thought as a Shia republic and as a (unintelligible) for the Iranians. Lucky for the Libyans, they do not know that schism.

CONAN: And yet, Libya is going to have its problems. There are the tribal splits, the...

AJAMI: Yes.

CONAN: ...regional splits and the lack of society that was left in the anarchy that seems to have emerged since the fall of Gadhafi.

AJAMI: Well, you know, I don't worry about the Libyans. Maybe I just want - I don't want to be Pollyannaish about the Libyan venture. I don't want to be too optimistic about what the Libyans will have to do. But here's my, if you will, simple proposition about Libya. The people who endured the violence of Moammar Gadhafi, the violence of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the thievery of the Gadhafi boys, the violence of language and temperament of Gadhafi's daughter, Aisha, the greed of his wife, the greed of his retainers - the Libyans will be OK.

If they have endured that long night, 42 years of tyranny, they, you know, it used to be said that when the Libyans in 1969, when this revolution of Gadhafi and his semi-literate fellow officers took place, the Libyans used to say - and I'll say it in Arabic and translate it. It's a very simple expression. (Foreign language spoken) That is, the devil rather than King Idris. Well, they've got the devil, and they lived with the devil for 42 years. And then, luck came their way. NATO came to the rescue. Reluctantly, they came to the rescue, nonetheless, and functioned as the air force of this rebellion. They will be just fine.

CONAN: We're talking with Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, about his op-ed "From Baghdad to Tripoli," that ran recently in The Wall Street Journal. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And you talked about the U.S. and NATO's reluctant role as the air force. What's NATO and the United State's role now?

AJAMI: Well, I think we have to help the Libyans with this transition. And in fact, there is a nice balance between the self-help of the Libyans. They conquered Tripoli on their own. The foot soldiers, if you will, who did the work, there were no Western boots on the ground, but there was this enormous NATO effort, which really tipped the scales. Let's face it - and the Libyans know it - they are not too proud to say it. They know that had it not been for NATO, had it not been for the intervention on their side against the Gadhafi regime, Gadhafi would have swept into Benghazi and massacred tens of thousands of people.

So they're glad for the help. And they're not really - I mean, I hear a lot of people say, oh, you know, the Arabs don't want help. They don't want Western intervention. But any Libyan knows that without NATO, without Sarkozy, without Cameron and without a reluctant Barack Obama, there would have been a calamity for them. So we have to be there for them. They have enormous sums of money. We have to release this money. It's their money. It's the Libyan people's money stolen by this kleptocracy of Moammar Gadhafi and his children and his retainers.

And I think - and we allow the Libyans, if you will, the space to create their own country, to create their own political order without second-guessing them at every turn. People say will they be careful with their money? Look, the entire wealth of Libya was in the hands of Gadhafi and his sons, and all the great financial houses in New York City, where I live, whether it's Goldman Sachs, whether it's the Carlyle Group, they were circling that money because they want to invest Gadhafi's money.

Gadhafi and his son came to New York in 2009. They were treated like princes, courted by all the mighty in the city because they had money. Now, the wealth of Libya is overseen by a decent man, Ali Tarhouni, who was a professor at the University of Washington teaching economics. He's been away from his country, and he went back because he wanted to be of service to his country. There are many, many decent people in this transitional council, and they're not thieves. They're not crooks. They're not kleptocrats.

CONAN: I'm sure you saw the report in the paper this morning of retribution being taken against sub-Saharan Africans...

AJAMI: Sure.

CONAN: ...black Africans who are suspected without a lot of cause, it seems, of being mercenaries for Gadhafi. That is just one aspect of score settling. We could see a lot more of that.

AJAMI: Well, I think all revolutions, Neal. There's no revolution that we know of - every revolution in human history, every great upheaval in human history was attended by retribution - the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, et cetera. Any time you have these changes in any country, you will have these retributions. And let's be honest, there were mercenaries in Libya. People were getting paid $1,000 a day to fight for Moammar Gadhafi.

And some of these mercenaries came from Niger, came from Chad. There were some Algerians as well. So in fact, men are not angels. I know something about civil wars and the culture of civil wars from my own birthplace in Lebanon. It's unfortunate, but men do err. And retribution is part of human history. And I think, hopefully, that a line will be drawn between the mercenaries who were there and who is captured have to be tried and brought to justice and innocent workers who you just were caught up in this terrible storm.

CONAN: Just a few seconds, but an email question from Claire(ph) in Eugene, Oregon: What do the Libyans think about the U.S. in Libya now? My guess is they don't want us there, except for maybe NGO aid.

AJAMI: No, no. They want us there. This is this idea that Arabs are reflexively anti-Americans, and they don't want help. There have been all kinds of tributes paid to Barack Obama, even though he really wasn't the principal Western leader. If I were really to anoint one principal Western leader who came to the rescue of the Libyans, I would actually say it's French President Sarkozy. But the attitudes toward America and the West are very favorable in Libya today.

CONAN: Fouad Ajami, as always, thanks very much for your time.

AJAMI: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Fouad Ajami joined us from his home in New York. You can find a link to his Wall Street Journal piece "From Baghdad to Tripoli" at our website. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Coming up, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argues that we may still celebrate Labor Day, but our culture has given up on honoring workers as the real creators of wealth. Nobody, he says, tells the workers' story anymore. Well, if you're a worker, where do you hear your story being told? 800-989-8255. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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