The world–especially the US–is making the same mistake all over the Mideast, fighting ISIS and trying to restore an artificial order from the 1920s, instead of dealing with real issues. Libya is a dangerous example. I discussed the situation a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh.
The latest news is that the forces in eastern Libya, based in Benghazi, say they’ve expelled ISIS from one of its last strongholds there. That should be good news, but it obscures the real picture. Under the present circumstances, Libya remains a lawless jungle that can quickly become a prime staging area for all kinds of Islamist terror groups. While we’re concentrating on ISIS there, for example, al-Qaida is quietly building up its presence.
When NATO helped overthrow Libyan dictator Moammar Ghadafi in 2011, the assumption was that the hard work is done, now let’s let the Libyan people sort this out, elect a government and get back to their lives in peace and freedom. It’s the same policy error the West made in its view of Iraq, Egypt, and Syria–just get of that awful dictator and everything will turn out rosy.
How often do we have to do that before we figure out that it’s a mistake?
Libya is one of several examples of an artificial country, created by Britain and France in the aftermath of World War I. In fact, if you look at a map of the region, just about everywhere you see a straight line, that’s an artificial border from the 1920s that has little or no relation to the actual ethnic or national situation on either side of it.
The straight lines of Libya’s borders are easy to see in the map above. Libya never was a cohesive country. It is, in fact, made up of at least three distinct sections–East, West, and South. There are many other tribal divisions as well as competing militias, but that’s the framework.
Now look at that map again. It depicts who is holding territory today, and where. And glory be, the country is divided roughly into those three sections, with pockets of resistance here and there. As an illustration of how misguided it is to try to put this all back together the way it was–the people in the south are not even ethnic Arabs like the others in the rest of Libya–they’re Africans.
What makes sense today is to put the fight against ISIS, with airstrikes and all the rest, into second place, and work to stabilize the situation that’s already presenting itself on the ground. What could be more logical?
The end result could be a confederation or a loose alliance among the three sections. First, though, there has to be recognition that the three parts have their own legitimate legs to stand on. In this otherwise interesting analysis of US interests in Libya, the government of the East is called “self-styled,” a derogatory term implying that it has no legitimacy. That leads the authors back into the trap of “restoring” old Libya.
The problem is that the UN and leading nations are committed to restoring the traditional borders of the nations they deal with–even if those borders have no actual tradition behind them–only colonial rule. The UN keeps sponsoring peace talks among the factions. That’s hopeless as long as the goal is to disarm two of them and leave all the power with the “legitimate” government in Tripoli. But that’s the way the UN is set up–it’s an organization of member states, and it just can’t negotiate the dissolution of one of its members. So it’s trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. We know how that worked out. In this case, it perpetuates the internal conflicts, which is the opposite of the West’s interests.
If we abandon this doomed Humpty-Dumpty strategy, and the state stabilizes in some form around the three entities, then the Islamist extremists can become a common target. They are, after all, everyone’s enemy, not just ours. The key is to get the Libyans to stop fighting each other. That should be our goal.