What happens in Libya in the coming months (and years) will test the assumption that aiding the anti-Gadhafi forces to come to power will bring benefits to the U.S.
Post-Gadhafi Libya is set to become the next major test of two competing approaches to international affairs -- the "gratitude doctrine" of the Western alliance pitted against the "strict neutrality" practiced by Beijing.
The "gratitude doctrine," in short, is the West's assumption that providing assistance to those seeking to overthrow a repressive regime -- especially in the form of timely military aid to counterbalance the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by the forces of the dictator -- will produce a successor government that will be more receptive to U.S. and European influence and more responsive to their interests and concerns. The doctrine's record in the past has been mixed. NATO intervention in Kosovo, for instance, produced a strongly pro-Western regime in Pristina, but expectations that a post-Saddam Iraq would embrace a variety of U.S. positions, including recognizing Israel, were often not realized. Indeed, China, which opposed the 2003 invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein, has now emerged as one of the major players in the country's oil industry, leading some to conclude that China has reaped the most benefit from the Iraq war. ...
In the short term, the "gratitude doctrine" may win out. This was the assessment of Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of the Russian Duma's International Affairs Committee, who complained that when it comes to lucrative opportunities in Libya, "Neither China, nor Russia nor South Africa nor any other country that did not participate in this 'humanitarian operation' will be able to compete with the NATO countries on equal terms."
But over time, gratitude gives way to resentment, especially if the Western powers are seen as playing too heavy handed a role in a post-Gadhafi Libya, or if more evidence comes to light of Western collaboration with Gadhafi in the years following his "rehabilitation" from pariah status. Moreover, Western aid comes with conditionalities that the National Transitional Council in Libya may agree with in principle but be reluctant to implement in practice.
Depending on how the transition fares in the coming weeks and months, a post-Gadhafi government could turn to Beijing for the same reasons that have led so many other states in Africa and Latin America to do so in the recent past: China's no-strings attached aid and development policies.