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The Libyan Failure: Obama and Clinton’s Forgotten War

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On February 17th, 2011 the Arab Spring swept Libya. Within a couple of weeks, Tripoli had fallen and the National Transitional Council was established as a parallel government to the ruling Gaddafi regime. Shortly thereafter, France and other European nations began to recognize the new government.

As Libya began to descend into chaos, Gaddafi attempted to respond militarily to repel the uprising. By October 2011, Gaddafi had been killed, the rebels had succeeded taking most of the country and the civil war came to an end.  

Libya overthrew its dictator and democracy was in the air or was it? As soon as the media shifted its focus elsewhere, everyone disregarded Libya but the war had just begun. Foreign intervention and support for the uprising helped turn a stable nation into a hornet’s nest of chaos, discord, and terror. Today, despite the neglect by the media, Libya is engaged in an existential battle for its identity. With tribes fighting one another for power and ISIS using the disarray to expand its caliphate of terror, the future of Libya appears to be bleak at best.

Gadaffi’s Libya

In order to understand the present-day situation in Libya and evaluate NATO’s success, one must understand the pre-intervention history of the country. Early in the 20th century, Libya was an Italian colony. Typical of most European colonies, Libya was an artificial construct from three distinct areas; Cyrenaica, Fezzan, and Tripolitania. It is along these three areas that the country is now divided, more or less. After Italy’s World War II defeat, the British and French administered Libya until 1951 when Libya declared independence under King Idris . Idris established a constitutional monarchy. With the discovery of major oil reserves, Libya became a wealthy state but unfortunately most of the wealth had been concentrated in the hands of the king and other elites. Around this time, many former colonial nations were swept by secular revolutions, Libya was no exception. Muammar Gaddafi and a group of fellow officers launched the Al-Fateh revolution in 1969.

Similar to other Arab revolutionaries, Gaddafi claimed to create a democratic system, only to disguise his dictatorial government. Using the massive wealth from petroleum sales and a relatively small population, Libya was able to become a wealthy nation in Africa. Gaddafi used the money to purchase arms to supply allies and terrorist groups around the world. But unlike King Idris or other Arab dictators, Gaddafi also modernized Libya. He developed Libya’s education system, infrastructure, healthcare, etc. He achieved the highest human development index in Africa and surpassed nations in the Midd le East including Saudi Arabia in terms of development. The GDP rose leaps and bounds reaching the top five (5) in Africa, financial support for university education became universal, employment programs helped train people for skilled jobs, and freshwater was made readily available in a country overwhelmingly buried in a desert.

Despite being a dictator and making many enemies abroad including the US, Gaddafi had worked intently to develop his nation. The living standard was relatively great in Libya compared to other nations of the region. While lacking civil liberties, most Libyans did well in the oasis of stability the ostentatious Libyan dictator had created.    

Gaddafi fell out of favor with the international community after his involvement in the bombing of Pan Am 103 and of a Berlin nightclub frequented by US service members. From the 1990s through early 2000s, the UN had sanctioned Libya. After witnessing the downfall of fellow dictator Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi gave up his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and began a rapprochement with the West. For a short while everything seemed to be going well. It was not until the Arab Spring and the Libyan uprising that everything turned upside down. Vowing to depose the uprising against his government, Gaddafi did not expect a NATO intervention. President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton claimed that it was imperative for the US and its allies to intervene on the grounds that a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions would occur.        

Veni, Vidi, Vici

The basis for the intervention was that the world, especially the US, cannot sit idly by as a dictator massacred its own people. Under such pretenses, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 with abstentions from Russia, Germany, Brazil, China, and India. The resolution established no-fly zones and authorized any necessary actions to protect Libyan civilians. NATO led the campaign to enforce the resolution with the US, France, and the UK being the largest proponent for it. The civil war ended with approximately 30,000 dead. Despite the request by Libya’s interim government to extend NATO’s mission for another year, NATO ceased its mission and declared victory.

After the withdrawal of NATO and the media, Libya had become a failed state. Different tribes battle one another for territory while Islamists attempt to carve out their fiefdom and on top of all this; ISIS has managed to establish a foothold in the country. Libya is another strategic territory for ISIS to expand its tentacles into. It is geographically situated at the doorstep of Europe and contains a vast amount of petroleum reserves that ISIS hopes to use as an asset to finance its campaign of terror. Simultaneously, Libya can become the safe haven that ISIS needs to expand its burgeoning ties with Boko Haram in Nigeria, potentially Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Islamists in Mali, and other groups on the continent. On top of all this travesty and strategic blunder, neither President Obama nor Secretary Clinton has ever totally owned up to one of their larger foreign policy disasters. Instead Secretary Clinton is famous for her saying “We Came, we saw, he died.”

The disaster in Libya, while neglected by most mainstream media   outlets and characterized as a minuscule nuisance, can become the fuse that reduces the entire North African region into chaos, disarray, and war.   To make matters worse, recently declassified emails by Secretary Clinton demonstrates that she was the one who spearheaded the campaign for Gaddafi’s ouster. Furthermore, Secretary Clinton was the main catalyst in fomenting the chaos and extremism that currently exists in Libya due to the vacuum created by the ousting of Gaddafi. Recent emails outline that there was not any real threat to the Libyan civilian population from Gaddafi, instead the Secretary had hyped up the threat of mass murder and rape to get the UN resolution passed through the Security Council.

One of the main rationales behind the war appears to be revealed in an email exchange between Sidney Blumenthal, her top adviser, and Hilary Clinton. Blumenthal stresses the vitality of achieving a “final win” by removing Gaddafi to help President Obama boost his low approval rating at the time. Moreover, Blumenthal discussed the necessity of removing Libya in terms of counterbalancing Iran and establishing security in North Africa but ignoring the potentially disastrous outcomes.  

Outcome

With almost 5 years since the ouster of Gaddafi, Libya is a failed state with infighting, killing, and terror-related activities at an all-time high. While many in the media typically and understandably point to the failed Bush policies of Iraq as a leading cause of instability in the Middle East, the omission of the failed Obama/Clinton policies in Libya ignores the rise of extremism and chaos in North Africa. The consequence of Obama’s failed war in Libya has not fully materialized, but with time the world will endure more problems as a result of this war. Thus far, the consequences have been:  

  • A Nation Destroyed – Without a shadow of a doubt, Gaddafi was a dictator and a one-time supporter of terror organizations globally. But all was forgiven by the US and EU as they began to mend their ties and move to closer relations. Whatever one may think of Gaddafi, it cannot be denied he developed the tattered desert villages of Libya into a nation and provided services for the people. Nevertheless, today Libya is without any infrastructure thanks to infighting and foreign intervention.
  • Immigration to Europe – While Americans do not feel the consequences of their actions in Libya directly, Europe’s participation in the war has affected them. The recent migration wave into Europe has people from Libya who are attempting to escape the dire and horrific scene in their nation thanks to the European intervention.
  • ISIS – Aside from Donald Trump’s recent acknowledgment of ISIS’s growing capabilities in Libya, the media has largely been moot on the topic. Perhaps one of, if not worst, imminent consequences from this entire tragedy is the expansion of ISIS’s territorial holdings into Libya. They have managed to find local support and solidify their influence. Libya will be used as a springboard for ISIS to garner more influence into Nigeria, Somalia, Chad, Mali, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and eventually Europe itself.    
  • Disaffected Generations – Something that is almost never discussed in most analyses of these wars is the effect of death, and mayhem on the younger generations. Any conflict always brings with it trauma, disillusion, hopelessness and an array of psychological issues. After these countries spiral into destruction, there are not any sorts of institutions to help these children and youth to cope with the death and destruction around them. As a result, they fall prey to extremist recruiters. As these children mature, what will begin to emerge are Taliban-style nations.

The removal of Gaddafi, for whatever reason, was an illogical misstep that resulted in a much more unstable world. Even though the failures in Iraq were a lesson for all, President Obama and Secretary Clinton appear to have neglected it in their preparation for war in Libya. Even worse, President Obama came to power on the basis of ending “useless” wars. As the world continues to be fixated on ISIS and Syria, the forgotten conflicts such as Libya will not always remain in the background, sometimes sooner than later it will rear its head in an unpleasant way. While the world neglects Libya, the cou ntry has become an inhumane dystopia thanks to the “humanitarian” intervention.  

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

Middle East

Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania

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Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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Middle East

Getting Away With Murder: The New U.S. Intelligence Report on the Khashoggi Affair

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It was October 2, 2018 when a man walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate to collect some documents he needed for his impending marriage.  He had been there earlier on September 28, and had been told to allow a few days for them to prepare the needed proof of divorce from an earlier marriage.

So there he was.  His Turkish fiancée had accompanied him and he asked her to wait outside as it would only take a minute or two.  She waited and waited and… waited.  Jamal Khashoggi never came out.

What went on inside is a matter of dispute but US intelligence prepared a report which should have been released but was illegally blocked by the Trump administration.  Mr. Trump is no doubt grateful for the help he has had over two decades from various Saudi royals in addition to the business thrown his way at his various properties.  “I love the Saudis,” says Donald Trump and he had kept the report under wraps.  It has now been released by the new Biden administration.      

All the same, grisly details of the killing including dismemberment soon emerged because in this tragic episode, with an element of farce, it was soon evident that the Turks had bugged the consulate.  There is speculation as to how the perpetrators dispersed of the corpse but they themselves have been identified.  Turkish officials also claim to know that they acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government.  They arrived on a private jet and left just as abruptly.

The egregious killing led to the UN appointing a Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard.  She concluded it to be an “extra-judicial killing for which the state of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”  She added, there was “credible evidence”  implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior officials.  

Now the US report.  Intelligence agencies conclude Jamal Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad under the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  They add that the latter has had unitary control over Saudi security and intelligence organizations and thus it was “highly unlikely” an operation of this nature would have been possible without Prince Mohammed’s authorization.

Mr. Biden’s reaction is plain.  Although the Crown Prince is the de facto ruler with his father the King’s acquiescence, Mr. Biden has not talked to him.  He called the king and emphasized the importance placed on human rights and the rule of law in the US.

President Biden is also re-evaluating US arms sales to the Kingdom with a view to limiting them to defensive weapons — a difficult task as many can be used for both, a fighter-bomber for example.

There are also calls for sanctions against the Crown Prince directly but Biden has ruled that out.  Saudi Arabia is after all the strongest ally of the US in the region, and no president wants to jeopardize that relationship.  Moreover, the US has done the same sort of thing often enough; the last prominent assassination being that of the senior Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani,  by the Trump administration.  

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Middle East

US intelligence report leaves Saudi Arabia with no good geopolitical choices

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The Biden administration’s publication of a US intelligence report that holds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi creates a fundamental challenge to the kingdom’s geopolitical ambitions.

The challenge lies in whether and how Saudi Arabia will seek to further diversify its alliances with other world powers in response to the report and US human rights pressure.

Saudi and United Arab Emirates options are limited by that fact that they cannot fully replace the United States as a mainstay of their defence as well as their quest for regional hegemony, even if the report revives perceptions of the US as unreliable and at odds with their policies.

As Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed contemplate their options, including strengthening relations with external players such as China and Russia, they may find that reliance on these forces could prove riskier than the pitfalls of the kingdom’s ties with the United States.

Core to Saudi as well as UAE considerations is likely to be the shaping of the ultimate balance of power between the kingdom and Iran in a swath of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Central Asia’s border with China.

US officials privately suggest that regional jockeying in an environment in which world power is being rebalanced to create a new world order was the key driver of Saudi and UAE as well as Israeli opposition from day one to the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that the United States together with Europe, China, and Russia negotiated. That remains the driver of criticism of US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the agreement.

“If forced to choose, Riyadh preferred an isolated Iran with a nuclear bomb to an internationally accepted Iran unarmed with the weapons of doom,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and founder of the National Iranian American Council. Mr. Parsi was summing up Saudi and Emirati attitudes based on interviews with officials involved in the negotiations at a time that Mr. Biden was vice-president.

As a result, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel appear to remain determined to either foil a return of the United States to the accord, from which Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, withdrew, or ensure that it imposes conditions on Iran that would severely undermine its claim to regional hegemony.

In the ultimate analysis, the Gulf states and Israel share US objectives that include not only restricting Iran’s nuclear capabilities but also limiting its ballistic missiles program and ending support for non-state actors like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and Yemen’s Houthis. The Middle Eastern states differ with the Biden administration on how to achieve those objectives and the sequencing of their pursuit.

Even so, the Gulf states are likely to realize as Saudi Arabia contemplates its next steps what Israel already knows: China and Russia’s commitment to the defence of Saudi Arabia or Israel are unlikely to match that of the United States given that they view an Iran unfettered by sanctions and international isolation as strategic in ways that only Turkey rather than other Middle Eastern states can match.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE will also have to recognize that they can attempt to influence US policies with the help of Israel’s powerful Washington lobby and influential US lobbying and public relations companies in ways that they are not able to do in autocratic China or authoritarian Russia.

No doubt, China and Russia will seek to exploit opportunities created by the United States’ recalibration of its relations with Saudi Arabia with arms sales as well as increased trade and investment.

But that will not alter the two countries’ long-term view of Iran as a country, albeit problematic, with attributes that the Gulf states cannot match even if it is momentarily in economic and political disrepair.

Those attributes include Iran’s geography as a gateway at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe; ethnic, cultural, and religious ties with Central Asia and the Middle East as a result of history and empire; a deep-seated identity rooted in empire; some of the world’s foremost oil and gas reserves; a large, highly educated population of 83 million that constitutes a huge domestic market; a fundamentally diversified economy; and a battle-hardened military.

Iran also shares Chinese and Russian ambitions to contain US influence even if its aspirations at times clash with those of China and Russia.

“China’s BRI will on paper finance additional transit options for the transfer of goods from ports in southern to northern Iran and beyond to Turkey, Russia, or Europe. China has a number of transit options available to it, but Iranian territory is difficult to avoid for any south-north or east-west links,” said Iran scholar Alex Vatanka referring to Beijing’s infrastructure, transportation and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative.

Compared to an unfettered Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE primarily offer geography related to some of the most strategic waterways through which much of the world’s oil and gas flows as well their positioning opposite the Horn of Africa and their energy reserves.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s position as a religious leader in the Muslim world built on its custodianship of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, potentially could be challenged as the kingdom competes for leadership with other Middle Eastern and Asian Muslim-majority states.

On the principle of better the enemy that you know than the devil that you don’t, Saudi leaders may find that they are, in the best of scenarios, in response to changing US policies able to rattle cages by reaching out to China and Russia in ways that they have not until now, but that at the end of the day they are deprived of good choices.

That conclusion may be reinforced by the realization that the United States has signalled by not sanctioning Prince Mohammed that it does not wish to cut its umbilical cord with the kingdom. That message was also contained in the Biden administration’s earlier decision to halt the sale of weapons that Saudi Arabia could you for offensive operations in Yemen but not arms that it needs to defend its territory from external attack.

At the bottom line, Saudi Arabia’s best option to counter an Iran that poses a threat to the kingdom’s ambitions irrespective of whatever regime is in power would be to work with its allies to develop the kind of economic and social policies as well as governance that would enable it to capitalize on its assets to effectively compete. Containment of Iran is a short-term tactic that eventually will run its course.

Warned former British diplomat and Royal Dutch Shell executive Ian McCredie: “When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in 1922, it created a vacuum which a series of powers have attempted to fill ever since. None has succeeded, and the result has been a century of wars, coups, and instability. Iran ruled all these lands before the Arab and Ottoman conquests. It could do so again.”

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