US intervention in Libya: the sequel

29 January 2016 12:29 pm

The US intervention in Libya was such a resounding success that they’re planning to do it all over again.

America’s secret war in Libya in 2011 saw the US spending $1 billion, helping NATO with everything from surveillance to aircraft. That included eavesdropping by US intelligence—some by aircraft, some by a listening post quietly established just outside Libya—giving NATO unparalleled knowledge of what Gaddafi’s military planned. The US was intimately involved in all decisions about how the Libyan rebels should be supported as they rolled up control of cities and oil refineries and marched toward the capital, Tripoli.

At the time, the New York Times ran a glowing piece saying that the Obama doctrine - an international effort against a brutal dictator and not a U.S. go-it-alone approach – was a model for other efforts.

Of course, the reality is that Libya has since then collapsed. It is a battlefield where armed militias attack each other with scant regard for any civilians who happen to get in their way, and a happy hunting ground for criminal gangs and people traffickers. In the aftermath of the intervention, those formerly loyal to Muammar Gaddafi have been politically and economically marginalised, which IS has exploited. While many IS fighters come from outside Libya, IS has also been able to recruit disenfranchised Libyans.

Also, Libya’s economy is on the verge of collapse. The war has cut into the production of oil, whose price has fallen anyway. The country is burning through its foreign reserves. Over a third of the population is in need of protection or humanitarian aid, according to the UN.

Clearly, the killing of Gaddafi and for that matter Saddam Hussein created the problem. The lesson out of Libya and Iraq is that when you use military force remove a tyrannical regime that has ruled for decades, you will get all sorts of chaos, violence, instability, and suffering.

And now US and its allies are planning to go into Libya again. Worried about a growing threat from the Islamic State in Libya, the United States and its allies are increasing reconnaissance flights and intelligence collecting there and preparing for possible airstrikes and commando raids.

The New York Times says the déjà vu with Libya is “deeply troubling” because it could spread to other nations. Even if the Pentagon and its allies were to manage to strike Islamic State targets successfully, the paper says, it remains uncertain that they would have a reliable ground force to hold the terrain. The problem is it doesn’t need approval from Congress.

Adam Hanieh, a senior lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London warns that it will only make it worse.

"Precisely because war and occupation have laid such a fertile ground for IS to grow … (western military intervention) will only worsen the situation. Indeed, in line with its strategy of polarisation, the recent IS attacks have been explicitly aimed towards this outcome, and to drawing more western intervention into the region as a means to deepen the sense of crisis and chaos," he says.