Why Libya Matters To The Middle East's Future

March 22, 2011

Allied forces carried out a third night of airstrikes in Libya Monday, enforcing the U.N. sanctioned no-fly zone to stop the advancement of forces loyal to Libyan leader Mohammar Gadhafi.

On today's Fresh Air, George Washington University political scientist Marc Lynch explains how the future of Libya has become a key part in the rapidly changing transformation of the Arab world — and why the United States and its allies decided to intervene.

"I think you see that an intervention ... could have really positive, region-wide effects — but if it goes wrong, it could actually bring all of this to a crashing halt," he says. "I think for the Arab world, you have one of these moments where there's a possibility of fundamental change."

In Egypt and Tunisia, the army's decision to not shoot on their own people emboldened the uprisings there, says Lynch. In Libya, where Gadhafi used brutal force in an attempt to quell dissent, the stakes are somewhat different.

"If Gadhafi survives, it sends a message to every dictator in the region that force pays — that the way to stay on the throne is to shoot your people if they protest and the international community really won't do anything about it," says Lynch. "And that sends a powerful message both to the dictators and to the people."

But even with an intervention, there are major risks, says Lynch, and the outcome may not necessarily be a good one.

"We're not in the realm of good choices. There are no good choices here," he says. "I think what we're seeing is an attempt to salvage something from a bad situation. But whether we intervene or don't intervene, it's going to be a bad situation."

Marc Lynch is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and the Middle East Studies program at George Washington University, where he teaches classes on the region's politics and international relations. He is also a non-senior resident at the Center for a New American Security and the author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Al-Jazeera, Iraq and Middle East Politics Today and State Interest and Public Spheres: The International Politics of Jordan's Identity. He blogs about the Middle East for Foreign Policy. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.