Lessons from the Libyan Quagmire

Nicholas Hanlon
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Posted: Sep 03, 2015 1:33 PM
Lessons from the Libyan Quagmire

The fledgling internationally recognized Libyan government is very particular about who can come and go through eastern Libya. That is at least at the few ports remaining under its control, including Tobruk and Labraq.

Reuters reported yesterday that the Libyan government has added Yeminis, Iranians, and Pakistanis to the list of foreign nationals whom they forbid from entering the country for fear of jihadist fighters migrating to join the ranks of groups like Ansar al Shariah Libya (ASL), and the local Islamic State affiliate Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam (the Islamic Youth Shura Council). That list already prohibited travel of Bangladeshis, Palestinians, Syrians and Sudanese.

The Sudanese earned their place on the list due to the government of Sudan’s support for militias in Libya. Sudan appears to provide weapons and assistance to both Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda backed groups as well as Islamic State.

To make matters more confused, Sudanese president Omar al Bashir agreed to join Egyptian president El Sisi in supporting the official Libyan government against the very proxies Sudan has been arming since October of last year.

In part due to the triple-game played by Sudan as a weapons supplier for IS and AQ and diplomatic investor in Libyan stability, it seems that everyone in Libya can get weapons except the UN embargoed Libyan government.

While the Arab League has promised to help the Libyan government fight Islamic State by committing a joint Arab force led by Egypt, that plan remains in the early stages. Meanwhile IS in Libya is receiving re-enforcements from Boko Haram and issuing new strategic declarations that Libya represents their strategic gateway to Europe.

One thing al Qaeda, IS, and their Sudanese backers all have in common in Libya is that the U.S. administration refuses to vigorously confront any of them. While that is not a shocking development in the pattern of this administration's counter-terrorism policies, it is a severe disconnect from the stated goals of the U.S. war against the Qaddafi government, which had been cooperating with the U.S. in fighting Al Qaeda.

It was a hair-on-fire 'responsibility to protect' policy that pushed the U.S. into an ill-conceived military effort which allowed jihadists to take root in Libya. It did not create the stable Arab Spring-birthed democracy to fight terror that we were promised. To the extent that there is government that the U.S. could work with against terrorism, the U.S. has preferred to force it into negotiations with the very terrorist-aligned militias seeking its overthrow.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from the vexing quagmire that is Libya, it may be the implications it has for the Iran Deal. Iran deal supporters are already suggesting that the deal may be the basis for a new round of negotiations that could disarm North Korea.

But as Doug Bandow at the National Interest has noted, the lesson of Libya is never cooperate with the United States, and never ever agree to disarm.

Qaddafi’s fate at the hands of the U.S. backed uprising, and the U.S.’s later dealings with the official Libyan Government sends a clear message to every tin-pot dictator; don’t ever let a U.S. agreement get in the way of acquiring weapons, particularly nuclear weapons.