The Malta Independent 25 June 2017, Sunday

Peace as a by-product of free, and prudent, democratic elections

Douglas W. Kmiec Sunday, 11 June 2017, 08:41 Last update: about 14 days ago

My fondness for all things Maltese is unabated and well-known. Sometimes I feel as if I should sign on with tenor Joseph Calleja and break out in song on random Air Malta flights: "O sole mio...". (By the way, Joseph continues to dominate the world stage, performing just a few weeks ago outside Los Angeles, where I and hundreds of my neighbors enjoyed his magnificent performance in memory of Mario Lanza.)

You have just held a general election. It is not for me to comment on the issues that have arisen among the people of Malta. I am confident that you have voted wisely in the best interests of the Republic, and that you did so in numbers of registered voters that remain the envy of democracies around the globe. That said, I do wish to emphasise that in the times in which we live, no nation is an island unto itself, and the choices that are made will most definitely contribute either to peace or instability in the world order.

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As you know, the current president of the United States has articulated a theme of 'America first', so I realise the temerity of an American reminding you of the interconnectedness of our life on this planet. At the risk of causing offence when none is intended, let me just briefly mention how a nation in turmoil, lying roughly 200 navigable miles south of Grand Harbour, will likely be profoundly affected by the election choice you have made.

I write, of course, of Libya. As noted in these pages by my former diplomatic colleague Ambassador Suayeh, the Libyan situation is complex. So much is obvious, and yet what may not be apparent is that the efforts that have sustained any momentum towards peace since the Arab Spring dissolved into chaos have largely been facilitated over the past few years by the civic-minded efforts of private citizens in Malta and those of one or two other European places that I am not presently at liberty to identify.

In particular, the fair-minded or so-called 'track 2' (non-governmental) efforts of Ivan Grech Mintoff have sought to build on the human rights tradition of the UN charter. At one point, on Good Friday, the Mintoff peace plan called for the warring factions in Tripoli to finally accept the UN-backed government by some careful amendment of the UN framework, power-sharing among key constituencies that cuts across prior allegiances and, most prominently, the affirmation that military power is under the rule of law and civilian direction at all times.

Unfortunately, the skies darkened on Good Friday and the anxieties separating one or two Libyan factions stalled the effort. As a consequence, those exercising political power in Egypt have found it necessary to resort to military measures to keep sectarian hatreds that are provoked and abetted by ISIS from spilling across Libyan borders, killing Coptic Christians on their way to church or murdering teenagers enjoying a music concert in Manchester. The Egyptians have asked for assistance in this effort to push back, and my president has agreed in general terms to supply such assistance if it advances the worldwide defence against radical fundamentalist belief.

What should not be lost sight of, however, is that while the highest levels of government are transfixed on a military response, the efforts of those seeking peace on the ground like Mr Mintoff and his counterparts in other European countries, allows for less violence and, thus, somewhat greater optimism. Indeed, were a prominent human rights personage such as Ireland's Mary Robinson also take the matter under her wing, as some in that country predict, the situation may be far closer to agreement than meets the eye.

With relatively minor amendment to the UN-established framework adjusting the size of the presidential council, all warring military factions seem poised to now back the LPA, the unity government. Perhaps because the Mintoff efforts have allowed me to keep the State Department's Libyan desk up-to-date, President Trump has refused to meet Libyan factions, insisting that the military force exercised by General Haftar and everyone else be unified under the direction of civilian government, and focused in the near term on the eradication of terror.

Going forward, it would be helpful if Gen. Haftar avoids conducting a separate foreign policy with, say, Russia, Egypt or the UAE and in keeping with the tradition of military leaders at the foundation of democracy, stepping aside after a fixed term, not unlike our own Gen. George Washington. The legacy that endures is the one that prepares future generations for responsibility and then steps aside to let them exercise it.

My astute diplomatic colleague Ambassador Suayeh supplied in his Times essay a complementary timetable for new elections, building on the framework of the LPA as well as the updating of the 1951 Constitution. Together these pieces should result in a secular state that allows religious freedom for any sect that does not use violence as a means of authority. These interlocking measures can at long last supply civil order not at the murderous hand of a strongman, but the reasoned votes of fully participating Libyan citizens.

As I said at the beginning, it is not for me to judge which of your parties currently with seats in the parliament, or parties desiring such, should have prevailed. Nevertheless, because of its importance to peace in the Mediterranean, it can be hoped that the citizens of Malta will have chosen a policy course that will uphold arms embargoes and make trade and natural resources agreements with the unity government in Libya that provide for the proper remittance of consideration into the civilian treasury and not into the pockets of a favoured few.

 

Mr Kmiec is a former US Ambassador to Malta


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