It was the conflict which gave birth to the infamous and orphaned Obama doctrine of “leading from behind.” The coalition air war over Libya, a response to Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal efforts to suppress the Arab Spring rebellions in that country, was once touted by the administration as one of the president’s signature foreign policy achievements.
“After four decades of brutal dictatorship and eight months of deadly conflict, the Libyan people can now celebrate their freedom and the beginning of a new era of promise,” Obama said in a prepared statement delivered on October 23, 2011.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the president and noted that Libya had been set on a path toward democracy. “The transitional authorities can build on this movement by promoting reconciliation and respect for human rights across Libyan society, while helping to prevent reprisals and ensuring the justice and due process that the Libyan people expect and deserve,” she said at the time.
“From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free,” Obama said in speech delivered before the United Nations. “This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights.”
These celebrations were shown to be premature when a sophisticated terrorist attack against American diplomatic and CIA outposts in Benghazi resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. It was not until today, though, when the country’s capital fell to Islamist militants that the administration’s post-campaign Libya policy was exposed as utter folly.
“Libya’s Islamist militias said Sunday they have consolidated their hold on Tripoli and its international airport, driving out rival militias to the outskirts of the capital following a weekslong battle for control of the strategic hub,” The Washington Post reported on Monday.
The violence in Libya is rooted in the empowerment of militias after successive transitional governments since the 2011 ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi depended on them to maintain order in the absence of a strong police force or a unified military.
It also comes as part of a backlash by Islamist factions after losing their power in parliament following June elections and in the face of a campaign by a renegade military general against extremist Islamic militias in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city.
But this has been the worst bout of violence in the battle over turf and influence since 2011. Mysterious airstrikes have struck the positions of Islamist militias, sparking accusations by the groups that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who oppose Islamists in the region, were behind it.
An Islamist group calling itself Dawn of Libya has declared that it is largely in control of Tripoli and the surrounding areas, making it the de facto governing authority in the area.
Coming on the heels of the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it is easy to get the impression that Islamic fundamentalism is doing everything but retreating. From Kosovo to Saudi Arabia, local authorities are mopping up cells linked to the Islamic State. It is almost like the long march Islamic militant groups embarked on so long ago with the aim of creating a pan-Islamic caliphate is beginning to bear fruit.