The Forgotten War – Understanding the Incredible Debacle Left Behind by NATO in Libya

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 1.09.30 PM

In retrospect, Obama’s intervention in Libya was an abject failure, judged even by its own standards. Libya has not only failed to evolve into a democracy; it has devolved into a failed state. Violent deaths and other human rights abuses have increased severalfold. Rather than helping the United States combat terrorism, as Qaddafi did during his last decade in power, Libya now serves as a safe haven for militias affiliated with both al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The Libya intervention has harmed other U.S. interests as well: undermining nuclear nonproliferation, chilling Russian cooperation at the UN, and fueling Syria’s civil war.


As bad as Libya’s human rights situation was under Qaddafi, it has gotten worse since NATO ousted him. Immediately after taking power, the rebels perpetrated scores of reprisal killings, in addition to torturing, beating, and arbitrarily detaining thousands of suspected Qaddafi supporters. The rebels also expelled 30,000 mostly black residents from the town of Tawergha and burned or looted their homes and shops, on the grounds that some of them supposedly had been mercenaries. Six months after the war, Human Rights Watch declared that the abuses “appear to be so widespread and systematic that they may amount to crimes against humanity.”


As a consequence of such pervasive violence, the UN estimates that roughly 400,000 Libyans have fled their homes, a quarter of whom have left the country altogether. 


– From Alan Kuperman’s excellent Foreign Affairs article: Obama’s Libya Debacle

Regular readers will be somewhat familiar with the total chaos NATO left behind in the wake of its so-called “humanitarian” intervention in Libya, but I doubt many of you are aware of just how enormous the disaster actually has become.

Alan J. Kuperman, an Associate Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote an incredible article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, which is an absolute must read. If the American public and politicians actually wanted to learn from their mistakes and avoid making them in the future, this piece could serve as a comprehensive warning about what not to do.

That said, after reading this article the unfortunate truth becomes apparent; that there are only two logical conclusions that can be reached about American foreign policy leadership in the 21st century.

1) American leadership is ruthlessly pursuing immoral wars all over the world with the intent of creating outside enemies to focus public anger on, as a conscious diversion away from the criminality happening domestically. As an added bonus, the intelligence-military-industrial complex makes an incredible sum of money. The end result: serfs are distracted with inane nationalistic fervor, while the “elites” earn billions.

2) American leadership is completely and totally inept; being easily manipulated into overseas conflicts by ruthless corporate interests and cunning foreign “rebels” in order to advance their own selfish interests, which are in conflict with the interests of the general public.

I can’t come up with any other logical conclusion. Either way, such people have no business running the affairs of these United States, and their actions are merely increasing instability and violence across the planet. The longer they remain in charge with no accountability, the more dangerous this world will become.

From Foreign Affairs:

In March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, spearheaded by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, authorizing military intervention in Libya. The goal, Obama explained, was to save the lives of peaceful, pro-democracy protesters who found themselves the target of a crackdown by Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. Not only did Qaddafi endanger the momentum of the nascent Arab Spring, which had recently swept away authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, but he also was poised to commit a bloodbath in the Libyan city where the uprising had started, said the president. “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi—a city nearly the size of Charlotte—could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world,” Obama declared. Two days after the UN authorization, the United States and other NATO countries established a no-fly zone throughout Libya and started bombing Qaddafi’s forces. Seven months later, in October 2011, after an extended military campaign with sustained Western support, rebel forces conquered the country and shot Qaddafi dead.

In the immediate wake of the military victory, U.S. officials were triumphant. Writing in these pages in 2012, Ivo Daalder, then the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, and James Stavridis, then supreme allied commander of Europe, declared, “NATO’s operation in Libya has rightly been hailed as a model intervention.” In the Rose Garden after Qaddafi’s death, Obama himself crowed, “Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives.” Indeed, the United States seemed to have scored a hat trick: nurturing the Arab Spring, averting a Rwanda-like genocide, and eliminating Libya as a potential source of terrorism. 


That verdict, however, turns out to have been premature. In retrospect, Obama’s intervention in Libya was an abject failure, judged even by its own standards. Libya has not only failed to evolve into a democracy; it has devolved into a failed state. Violent deaths and other human rights abuses have increased severalfold. Rather than helping the United States combat terrorism, as Qaddafi did during his last decade in power, Libya now serves as a safe haven for militias affiliated with both al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The Libya intervention has harmed other U.S. interests as well: undermining nuclear nonproliferation, chilling Russian cooperation at the UN, and fueling Syria’s civil war.


Despite what defenders of the mission claim, there was a better policy available—not intervening at all, because peaceful Libyan civilians were not actually being targeted. Had the United States and its allies followed that course, they could have spared Libya from the resulting chaos and given it a chance of progress under Qaddafi’s chosen successor: his relatively liberal, Western-educated son Saif al-Islam. Instead, Libya today is riddled with vicious militias and anti-American terrorists—and thus serves as a cautionary tale of how humanitarian intervention can backfire for both the intervener and those it is intended to help.


Optimism about Libya reached its apogee in July 2012, when democratic elections brought to power a moderate, secular coalition government—a stark change from Qaddafi’s four decades of dictatorship. But the country quickly slid downhill. Its first elected prime minister, Mustafa Abu Shagour, lasted less than one month in office. His quick ouster foreshadowed the trouble to come: as of this writing, Libya has had seven prime ministers in less than four years. Islamists came to dominate the first postwar parliament, the General National Congress. Meanwhile, the new government failed to disarm dozens of militias that had arisen during NATO’s seven-month intervention, especially Islamist ones, leading to deadly turf battles between rival tribes and commanders, which continue to this day. In October 2013, secessionists in eastern Libya, where most of the country’s oil is located, declared their own government. That same month, Ali Zeidan, then the country’s prime minister, was kidnapped and held hostage. In light of the growing Islamist influence within Libya’s government, in the spring of 2014, the United States postponed a plan to train an armed force of 6,000–8,000 Libyan troops.


By May 2014, Libya had come to the brink of a new civil war—between liberals and Islamists. That month, a renegade secular general named Khalifa Hifter seized control of the air force to attack Islamist militias in Benghazi, later expanding his targets to include the Islamist-dominated legislature in Tripoli. Elections last June did nothing to resolve the chaos. Most Libyans had already given up on democracy, as voter turnout dropped from 1.7 million in the previous poll to just 630,000. Secular parties declared victory and formed a new legislature, the House of Representatives, but the Islamists refused to accept that outcome. The result was two competing parliaments, each claiming to be the legitimate one.


In July, an Islamist militia from the city of Misurata responded to Hifter’s actions by attacking Tripoli, prompting Western embassies to evacuate. After a six-week battle, the Islamists captured the capital in August on behalf of the so-called Libya Dawn coalition, which, together with the defunct legislature, formed what they labeled a “national salvation government.” In October, the newly elected parliament, led by the secular Operation Dignity coalition, fled to the eastern city of Tobruk, where it established a competing interim government, which Libya’s Supreme Court later declared unconstitutional. Libya thus finds itself with two warring governments, each controlling only a fraction of the country’s territory and militias.


As bad as Libya’s human rights situation was under Qaddafi, it has gotten worse since NATO ousted him. Immediately after taking power, the rebels perpetrated scores of reprisal killings, in addition to torturing, beating, and arbitrarily detaining thousands of suspected Qaddafi supporters. The rebels also expelled 30,000 mostly black residents from the town of Tawergha and burned or looted their homes and shops, on the grounds that some of them supposedly had been mercenaries. Six months after the war, Human Rights Watch declared that the abuses “appear to be so widespread and systematic that they may amount to crimes against humanity.”


 As a consequence of such pervasive violence, the UN estimates that roughly 400,000 Libyans have fled their homes, a quarter of whom have left the country altogether. 


Libya’s quality of life has been sharply degraded by an economic free fall. That is mainly because the country’s production of oil, its lifeblood, remains severely depressed by the protracted conflict. Prior to the revolution, Libya produced 1.65 million barrels of oil a day, a figure that dropped to zero during NATO’s intervention. Although production temporarily recovered to 85 percent of its previous rate, ever since secessionists seized eastern oil ports in August 2013, output has averaged only 30 percent of the prewar level. Ongoing fighting has closed airports and seaports in Libya’s two biggest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi. In many cities, residents are subjected to massive power outages—up to 18 hours a day in Tripoli. The recent privation represents a stark descent for a country that the UN’s Human Development Index traditionally had ranked as having the highest standard of living in all of Africa.


So intervention actually destroyed a country that was doing very well compared to the rest of Africa, and turned it into a violent, economic disaster zone/terrorist camp.

Although the White House justified its mission in Libya on humanitarian grounds, the intervention in fact greatly magnified the death toll there. To begin with, Qaddafi’s crackdown turns out to have been much less lethal than media reports indicated at the time. In eastern Libya, where the uprising began as a mix of peaceful and violent protests, Human Rights Watch documented only 233 deaths in the first days of the fighting, not 10,000, as had been reported by the Saudi news channel Al Arabiya. In fact, as I documented in a 2013 International Security article, from mid-February 2011, when the rebellion started, to mid-March 2011, when NATO intervened, only about 1,000 Libyans died, including soldiers and rebels. Although an Al Jazeera article touted by Western media in early 2011 alleged that Qaddafi’s air force had strafed and bombed civilians in Benghazi and Tripoli, “the story was untrue,” revealed an exhaustive examination in the London Review of Booksby Hugh Roberts of Tufts University. Indeed, striving to minimize civilian casualties, Qaddafi’s forces had refrained from indiscriminate violence.


Saudis lying as usual to get a war going. No surprise there.

Moreover, by the time NATO intervened, Libya’s violence was on the verge of ending. Qaddafi’s well-armed forces had routed the ragtag rebels, who were retreating home. By mid-March 2011, government forces were poised to recapture the last rebel stronghold of Benghazi, thereby ending the one-month conflict at a total cost of just over 1,000 lives. Just then, however, Libyan expatriates in Switzerland affiliated with the rebels issued warnings of an impending “bloodbath” in Benghazi, which Western media duly reported but which in retrospect appear to have been propaganda. In reality, on March 17, Qaddafi pledged to protect the civilians of Benghazi, as he had those of other recaptured cities, adding that his forces had “left the way open” for the rebels to retreat to Egypt. Simply put, the militants were about to lose the war, and so their overseas agents raised the specter of genocide to attract a NATO intervention—which worked like a charm. There is no evidence or reason to believe that Qaddafi had planned or intended to perpetrate a killing campaign. 


This grim math leads to a depressing but unavoidable conclusion. Before NATO’s intervention, Libya’s civil war was on the verge of ending, at the cost of barely 1,000 lives. Since then, however, Libya has suffered at least 10,000 additional deaths from conflict. In other words, NATO’s intervention appears to have increased the violent death toll more than tenfold.


Since NATO’s intervention in 2011, however, Libya and its neighbor Mali have turned into terrorist havens. Radical Islamist groups, which Qaddafi had suppressed, emerged under NATO air cover as some of the most competent fighters of the rebellion. Supplied with weapons by sympathetic countries such as Qatar, the militias refused to disarm after Qaddafi fell. Their persistent threat was highlighted in September 2012 when jihadists, including from the group Ansar al-Sharia, attacked the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, killing Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three of his colleagues. Last year, the UN formally declared Ansar al-Sharia a terrorist organization because of its affiliation with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.


NATO’s intervention also fostered Islamist terrorism elsewhere in the region. When Qaddafi fell, the ethnic Tuaregs of Mali within his security forces fled home with their weapons to launch their own rebellion. That uprising was quickly hijacked by local Islamist forces and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which declared an independent Islamic state in Mali’s northern half. By December 2012, this zone of Mali had become “the largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world,” according to Senator Christopher Coons, chair of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Africa. 

The harm from the intervention in Libya extends well beyond the immediate neighborhood. For one thing, by helping overthrow Qaddafi, the United States undercut its own nuclear nonproliferation objectives. In 2003, Qaddafi had voluntarily halted his nuclear and chemical weapons programs and surrendered his arsenals to the United States. His reward, eight years later, was a U.S.-led regime change that culminated in his violent death. That experience has greatly complicated the task of persuading other states to halt or reverse their nuclear programs. Shortly after the air campaign began, North Korea released a statement from an unnamed Foreign Ministry official saying that “the Libyan crisis is teaching the international community a grave lesson” and that North Korea would not fall for the same U.S. “tactic to disarm the country.” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, likewise noted that Qaddafi had “wrapped up all his nuclear facilities, packed them on a ship, and delivered them to the West.” Another well-connected Iranian, Abbas Abdi, observed: “When Qaddafi was faced with an uprising, all Western leaders dropped him like a brick. Judging from that, our leaders assess that compromise is not helpful.”


The intervention in Libya may also have fostered violence in Syria. In March 2011, Syria’s uprising was still largely nonviolent, and the Assad government’s response, although criminally disproportionate, was relatively circumscribed, claiming the lives of fewer than 100 Syrians per week. After NATO gave Libya’s rebels the upper hand, however, Syria’s revolutionaries turned to violence in the summer of 2011, perhaps expecting to attract a similar intervention. “It’s similar to Benghazi,” a Syrian rebel told The Washington Post at the time, adding, “We need a no-fly zone.” The result was a massive escalation of the Syrian conflict, leading to at least 1,500 deaths per week by early 2013, a 15-fold increase. 


NATO’s mission in Libya also hindered peacemaking efforts in Syria by greatly antagonizing Russia. With Moscow’s acquiescence, the UN Security Council had approved the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya and other measures to protect civilians. But NATO exceeded that mandate to pursue regime change. The coalition targeted Qaddafi’s forces for seven months—even as they retreated, posing no threat to civilians—and armed and trained rebels who rejected peace talks. As Russian President Vladimir Putin complained, NATO forces “frankly violated the UN Security Council resolution on Libya, when instead of imposing the so-called no-fly zone over it they started bombing it too.” His foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, explained that as a result, in Syria, Russia “would never allow the Security Council to authorize anything similar to what happened in Libya.” 

Despite the massive turmoil caused by the intervention, some of its unrepentant supporters claim that the alternative—leaving Qaddafi in power—would have been even worse. But Qaddafi was not Libya’s future in any case. Sixty-nine years old and in ill health, he was laying the groundwork for a transition to his son Saif, who for many years had been preparing a reform agenda. “I will not accept any position unless there is a new constitution, new laws, and transparent elections,” Saif declared in 2010. “Everyone should have access to public office. We should not have a monopoly on power.” Saif also convinced his father that the regime should admit culpability for a notorious 1996 prison massacre and pay compensation to the families of hundreds of victims. In addition, in 2008, Saif published testimony from former prisoners alleging torture by revolutionary committees—the regime’s zealous but unofficial watchdogs—whom he demanded be disarmed.


The “alternative would have been worse” is the shallow response told by status quo criminals the world over when it comes to defending their crimes. It’s the same response peddled by the architects of the “too big to fail” taxpayer bailout of financial oligarchs.

Even after the war began, respected observers voiced confidence in Saif. In a New York Times op-ed, Curt Weldon, a former ten-term Republican U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania, wrote that Saif “could play a constructive role as a member of the committee to devise a new government structure or Constitution.” Instead, NATO-supported militants captured and imprisoned Qaddafi’s son.

Obama also acknowledges regrets about Libya, but unfortunately, he has drawn the wrong lesson. “I think we underestimated . . . the need to come in full force,” the president told the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in August 2014. “If you’re gonna do this,” he elaborated, “there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies.”


Humanitarian intervention should be reserved for the rare instances in which civilians are being targeted and military action can do more good than harm, such as Rwanda in 1994, where I have estimated that a timely operation could have saved over 100,000 lives. Of course, great powers sometimes may want to use force abroad for other reasons—to fight terrorism, avert nuclear proliferation, or overthrow a noxious dictator. But they should not pretend the resulting war is humanitarian, or be surprised when it gets a lot of innocent civilians killed.

Think about all of this very carefully and deeply. A conflict initiated based purely on lies and propaganda destroyed the lives of millions, destabilized several nations, created a terrorist breeding ground, crushed all incentives for nuclear disarmament, escalated the conflict in Syria, and damaged the U.S.-Russian relationship. Yet, despite all of this, the lesson Obama gleaned from the debacle was:

“I think we underestimated . . . the need to come in full force. If you’re gonna do this there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies.”


Which is precisely why America will continue to gear up for war after war after war…

For related articles, see:

More Foreign Policy Incompetence – U.S. Humanitarian Aid is Going Directly to ISIS

Leon Panetta, Head of Pentagon and C.I.A. Under Obama, Says Brace for 30 Year War with ISIS

U.S. Propaganda Enters Into Insane, Irrational Overdrive in Attempt to “Sell” War in Syria

Obama’s ISIS War is Not Only Illegal, it Makes George W. Bush Look Like a Constitutional Scholar

The American Public: A Tough Soldier or a Chicken Hawk Cowering in a Cubicle? Some Thoughts on ISIS Intervention

America’s Disastrous Foreign Policy – My Thoughts on Iraq

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

Like this post?
Donate bitcoins: 1LefuVV2eCnW9VKjJGJzgZWa9vHg7Rc3r1


 Follow me on Twitter.

3 Comments

 Add your comment
  1. Human rights abuses under Qaddafi were negligible ! Good Hospitals – Good Schools and large government bonus’s if you got married – ‘Perceived’ “Human Rights Abuses” is NOT an excuse to DEVASTATE a SOVEREIGN country and PLUNDER it’s resources – But ‘Hey’ – THATS the AMERICAN way ! Countries are now arming themselves to the hilt !! US aggression is seeing it’s final day’s – There WILL be a NWO – but not the Zionist/US version ! A NWO based on hope – peace – freedom and change – courtesy of Russia/China !

    • I don’t think freedom is what China and Russia are about.

      The people that run American foreign policy are the biggest terrorists on the planet. They create terroristic policies that are implementation guidelines which result in crimes against humanity on a massive scale. It’s unbelievable people accept and believe in this. Shows you how lost in space the people are.

      There is nothing to save. The country is a hologram of what it used to be. It is as it should be. The people will learn from all of this kaos and maybe they won’t make the same mistakes in their next life.

  2. The picture of Hillary says it all. She has forgot how to reflect. She is in too deep with dual responsibility issues to be a effective President. This also holds for Jeb Bush.

Leave a Reply

10 Trackbacks

  1. Tunisian Terror Attack Suspects Trained in U.S. “Liberated” Libya | Liberty Blitzkrieg (Pingback)
  2. Can’t Make This Up – U.S. Providing Aid in Fight Against ISIS in Iraq Alongside Iranian Troops | Liberty Blitzkrieg (Pingback)
  3. Isolated – China and Russia Demonstrate Closer Relationship with Joint Military Exercises | Liberty Blitzkrieg (Pingback)
  4. Additional Details Emerge on How U.S. Government Policy Created, Armed, Supported and Funded ISIS | Liberty Blitzkrieg (Pingback)
  5. Anti-American Sentiment Runs High in Russia After Retired U.S. General Suggested “Start Killing Russians”… | Liberty Blitzkrieg (Pingback)
  6. Further Details Emerge on the Epic U.S. Foreign Policy Disaster that is Syria | Liberty Blitzkrieg (Pingback)
  7. Does the Migrant Crisis Represent the End of the European Union? | Liberty Blitzkrieg (Pingback)
  8. Fighting for Pedophilia – It’s Official U.S. Government Policy to Allow Afghan “Allies” to Rape Little Boys | Liberty Blitzkrieg (Pingback)
  9. Leaks from a Drone Program Whistleblower – Highlights from the Intercept’s Blockbuster Investigation | Liberty Blitzkrieg (Pingback)
  10. “We Came, We Saw, He Died” – Revisiting the Incredible Disaster That Is Libya | Liberty Blitzkrieg (Pingback)