As I point out in a new National Interest Online article, a multi‐sided struggle for power in Libya continues to fester more than eight years after the United States led an air war to help rebels oust longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Libya joins Iraq and Syria as a classic example of the failed U.S. regime‐change strategy.
Fighting between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s so‐called Libyan National Army (LNA) and the even more misnamed Government of National Accord (GNA) has intensified in and around the capital, Tripoli. The LNA boasted on September 11 that its forces had routed troops of the Sarraj militia, a GNA ally, killing some 200 of them. That claim may be exaggerated, but there is no doubt that the situation has become increasingly violent and chaotic in Tripoli and other portions of Libya, with innocent civilians bearing the brunt of the suffering. Throughout the years of chaos, more than a million Libyans have become refugees, many of them trying to flee across the Mediterranean in fragile, overcrowded boats and perishing in the process.
The country has become the plaything not only of rival domestic factions but major Middle East powers, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Those regimes are waging a ruthless geopolitical competition, providing arms and in some cases even launching airstrikes on behalf of their respective clients.
Given the appalling aftermath of the original U.S.-led intervention, one might hope that advocates of an activist policy would be chastened, but that is not the case. The latest confirmation of continuing arrogance can be found in the new book by Samantha Power, an influential NSC staffer in 2011 and later U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Power’s response to the Libya horror the Obama administration created is shocking flippant. “We could hardly expect to have a crystal ball when it came to accurately predicting outcomes in places where the culture was not our own,” she contends. American Conservative analyst Daniel Larison excoriates her argument. “If Libyan culture was so opaque and hard for the Obama administration to understand,” Larison responds, it “should never have taken sides in an internal conflict there.”
Moreover, prudent foreign policy experts warned Power and her colleagues about the probable consequences of intervening in a volatile, fragile country like Libya. Indeed, Robert M. Gates, Obama’s secretary of defense, confirms in his memoir that the administration itself was divided about the advisability of intervention. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Vice President Joe Biden, and Gates were opposed. Among the most outspoken proponents of action, though, were Power and her mentor, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The existence of a sharp internal division is sufficient evidence in itself that Power’s attempt to absolve herself and other humanitarian crusaders of responsibility for the subsequent tragedy is without merit. They were warned of the probable outcome yet chose to plunge forward.
The stance of Power and other interventionists seems to be that armed global crusaders never have to say they’re sorry, no matter how disastrous the results of their policies. The American people need to reject that attitude and hold the architects of catastrophe accountable for their blunders. Such a standard should apply equally to the neocons who brought us the Iraq debacle and the progressives who created the Libyan and Syrian fiascos.