Pitt grad assisting Libyan rebels

By Andrew Shull

Libya native Mahmoud Jibril might have become the most important Pitt graduate in the world of… Libya native Mahmoud Jibril might have become the most important Pitt graduate in the world of politics.

Jibril, who earned a doctorate in political science from Pitt in 1985, has garnered international media attention over the past few weeks for his work with the Interim National Council of Libya — a rebel group based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi that is currently locked in a bloody power struggle with longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Jibril has functioned as the council’s main international diplomat. Many of the political science professors who knew Jibril at Pitt said he is an excellent fit for the job.

“If Libya can ever become a democratic society, this is the kind of guy they need,” said Bert Rockman, a former political science professor at Pitt.

Rockman, who now heads the political science department at Purdue University, pointed to Jibril’s intelligence, foreign policy expertise, western background and eloquence as qualifications for his role as the face of the Gadhafi opposition abroad.

Jibril has met with world leaders including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the month since the rebellion began. He could not be reached for comment and does not appear to have conducted any widely published interviews since starting his work with the Council.

Jibril’s doctoral dissertation, which examined the United States’ foreign policy toward Gadhafi’s regime, was turned into a book published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 1988.

Alberta Sbragia, the vice provost of graduate students and former political science professor who knew Jibril during his time at Pitt, said that having a dissertation turned into a book is a good indication that his dissertation was particularly strong.

Another Pitt professor who knew Jibril was Charles Gochman, an expert on world politics, international relations and conflict studies. Gochman said that he remembers having Jibril in class but thought that his experience after leaving the University was much more relevant to his new role than any classroom work.

Rockman said that after graduation, Jibril pursued business dealings abroad before returning to Libya in 2007 to work to bring reforms to the country. Jibril left the business field in 2009.

Media reports say Jibril taught a class called Strategic Planning at Pitt, although the political science department could find no record of that. Sbragia said she could not recall strategic planning ever being taught at Pitt, and believes those reports to be mistaken.

The current state of the Libyan rebel army is tenuous. Reports from the country have indicated that the rebel force is under-equipped and under-trained to fight an all-out war against the Gadhafi-loyal military. Still, the rebels have been aided by NATO air and missile strikes aimed at protecting the country’s civilian population.

Gochman said that this conflict is unique because it was a popular uprising against an authoritarian regime that turned into a military conflict. He said that rebels were “civilians with no skills to fight.” He predicted that the conflict could last for months or years.

To achieve a satisfactory end to the conflict, Gochman said, there needs to be a change in strategy. He said that sustained international pressure to oust Gadhafi would be a much more effective option than the air strikes that NATO has launched since March.

He suggested the possibility of a stalemate, a possibility that Sbragia also recognized.

Gochman suggested that unless the U.S. and the international community is willing to “put boots on the ground,” something he didn’t think there was enough political will for, this conflict could be drawn out for a very long time.