We’re back in Libya, with US warplanes bombing targets in the city of Sirte, on a mission that, according to the Pentagon, has “no endpoint at this particular moment.” And that statement sums up perfectly the Sisyphean task that presented itself to US policymakers when the Terrible Triumvirate – Hillary Clinton, national security honchette Susan Rice, and UN ambassadress Samantha Power – prevailed on President Obama to overthrow the regime of Libyan despot Moammar Ghaddafi.
Take a look at what we’re getting ourselves into: with no less than three governments, lawless Libya is a perfect example of Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum that “government is the problem, not the solution.” Yes, that’s right, the former domain of Ghaddafi has three rival “governments.” Go ahead and count ‘em:
- The General National Congress (GNC), headquartered in Tripoli, is controlled by Islamist militias and backed by Turkey, Qatar, and Sudan.
- The Council of Deputies, located in Tobruk, is basically the instrument of Gen. Khalifa Hiftar, a known CIA asset who used to live a few miles from the Agency’s headquarters.
- The UN-appointed “government of national unity,” which was never elected by anyone and had to be shipped into the country by boat because the Tripoli authorities wouldn’t let their plane land.
While the ostensible reason for the US air strikes is the elimination of ISIS from the country, there is no escaping the “nation-building” aspect of Washington’s mission. For the logic of the mission means ISIS must be replaced with something, and that something is bound to be the UN-approved “government.” Yet this is likely to provoke further conflict, as the Islamists in Tripoli and the followers of Gen. Hiftar in the east are not likely to be pushed aside so easily.
The divisions that ensure a future of perpetual conflict are rooted in the history of a country that isn’t really a country at all.
The fiction that is the nation-state of “Libya” was only maintained by the brute force of Ghaddafi’s military: when that was defeated and dissolved, the “Libyans” rallied around what have always been their authentic allegiances: tribe and faith. Indeed, “Libya” has only existed since the end of World War II, when the UN moved in and forcibly joined together three regions that had no common history or culture:Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and the southern Fezzan area, a desert mostly inhabited by Tuareg and Tebu tribes. The UN was merely replicating the plan carried out by Mussolini, and his Italian predecessors, who colonized the region and sought to abolish tribal boundaries. When King Idris I, installed by the UN, protested that he didn’t want to rule over Tripolitania, and preferred to extend his domain only over Cyrenaica, he was ignored. With the fall of Ghaddafi, the country has reverted to its natural state – and now, once again, the UN is coming in to “fix” the ‘problem.”
The age-old scam of governments creating problems that they then use as an excuse to increase their powers so they can “solve” them is on full display in Libya – and Syria, and Iraq. All these countries had secular governments where not a trace of Islamist radicalism could be found. Their “liberation” by the Western powers, who launched regime change operations in the name of “democracy,” gave rise to ISIS – and created the rationale for yet more destructive intervention.
All three disasters can be properly laid at Hillary Clinton’s doorstep, but GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is no rational alternative. While rightly averring that Western meddling created the Libyan miasma in the first place, he wrongly says “We have no choice” but to intervene once again. This is arrant nonsense: we are sliding down a slippery slope in Libya, and soon will be faced with the problem of how to prevent ISIS from popping up once again. Trump says he’s against “nation-building” but you can’t just drop bombs and then fly away – once you intervene, then you own the country, like it or not.
Do we want to own Libya?