The New York Times has a damning front-page account today about division and discord within the ranks of Libyan rebels. It’s a good thing the Times was not around in 1775 otherwise it would have been quick, no doubt, to write off the prospects of the disorganized and divided rebels who had the effrontery to attack the mighty British empire.
This week, lest we forget, is the 236th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which started the American Revolution. However valiant the Massachusetts Minutemen (i.e., militia) may have been in harassing a column of British regulars, there was scant cause to think in April of 1775 that thirteen isolated colonies could defeat the world’s most powerful empire. Nor did success become a real possibility for years afterward.
As the rebels struggled to organize themselves there was no end of discord among their political and military leaders. Just as in Libya today, there was a constant power struggle going within the ranks of the rebel leadership. Although George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief, there were many who doubted his leadership and openly supported other contenders, such as Horatio Gates and Charles Lee, who had prior British army experience which Washington lacked.
It took years to forge an effective and cohesive fighting force out of the raw materials provided by the states. And even then it is doubtful that the Revolution would have prevailed were it not for the support of the French who provided not only ships and supplies but regular soldiers to stiffen resistance against the British.
I am by no means suggesting that the rebels in Benghazi are in any way the equivalent of our Founding Fathers. In truth the generation of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Madison, et al. has had few if any equals not only in American history but world history. However, the Libyan rebels do face many of the same challenges that confronted the American rebels, and, like them, they will not easily or quickly transform civilians into effective soldiers.
To put the Libyans’ struggle in perspective, note that the rebellion is only two months old. With a little patience and a lot more outside support, the Libyan revolutionaries too can coalesce into an effective fighting force capable of toppling Colonel Qaddafi—who hardly has the power of Lord North at his beck and call. The real challenge will come later, after Qaddafi is gone, when the Libyan rebel leaders will be challenged to show a tenth of the wisdom and foresight displayed by our Founders in creating their own republic. On the other hand, the Libyans do have a crucial advantage that our Founding Fathers lacked: they can learn from the American experience, and the experience of many other countries that have been forced to design political systems from scratch over the last 236 years.