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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Libya: A Coup that Seems Overdue

The US "led from behind" on Libya, providing munitions, material support, and intelligence to NATO allies during the 2011 campaign to overthrow Qadhafi.  No boots on the ground; we already were winding down Iraq and still had our hands full in Afghanistan.  But: without a stablizing troop presence, Libya has descended into disorder since.  I've actually heard people argue this.

Letting the Libyans figure it out for themselves was a good idea.  We didn't need more Americans dying from VBIEDs.  Not for Libya.

The trouble is Libya has actually had little experience in positive self government. King Idris, who had no interest in government at all, was overthrown by Qadhafi in 1968.  Qadhafi himself didn't bother to take a governing title.  Except for a national oil company, the country ran itself as a society without a state.  (Worthwhile to read the story about how Armand Hammer helped Qadhafi set up the oil company.)

Qadhafi was an evil man, but he did a few good things:  he emancipated women and suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood.  He genuinely thought (much like Saddam) that being an enemy of Al Qaida would keep him out of trouble with us.  He miscalculated, and ended by dying in Mussolini-fashion.

Since the revolution, militias have been in charge.  Some of them support the govenrment on odd days, some on even days.  Some, like Ansar al Sharia, are AQ-wannabees; its members attacked our mission facility in Benghazi in 2012.  A new constitution and permanent elected government has been long delayed.  Opportunists and legitimate protesters have demonstrated they can shut down oil production at will.   A prime minister was just ousted because he was so feckless at stopping this.

Enter Khalifa Hafter.   Hafter's loyalists boldly attacked Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, and then this weekend shut down the widely despised National Congress.  Army and air force units are joining him.  He has been endorsed by the rebellious group blockading the eastern oil fields.   The Muslim Brotherhood militias have pledged to stop him, but we'll see if they really have a stomach for a fight.  

Will the US government condemn Hafter?   Almost certainly he is not receiving covert support like he did in the 1980s when he turned on Qadhafi.   I'm sure policymakers are torn: do we support democracy and the Muslim Brotherhood, or order and progressive values?
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