WaPo editorial board: Libya's a mess, and the West is to blame

Let’s not forget that Iraq was not the only victory claimed by Barack Obama and his administration. When Obama led NATO into an intervention in Libya under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine (R2P), the administration hailed the result of toppling the Qaddafi dictatorship as the model for responsible Western interventions. Ever since, though, Libya has collapsed into a failed state, a Somalia on the Mediterranean where Islamist terror networks operate openly and with impunity.


Recently, the Islamists have declared the eastern territory of what was once Libya as a new emirate under their control, and the rump government in Tripoli can produce no effective response. Three years after the supposedly successful Arab Spring intervention, the Washington Post editorial board puts the blame on the West, and on an administration whose only response has been “to peddle empty lines”:

Last month in Benghazi, the Ansar al-Sharia militia, which has ties to al-Qaeda and was involved in the Sept. 11, 2012, assault that killed the U.S. ambassador there, stormed a military base and then declared the city the seat of an “Islamic emirate.” That’s what the Taliban called Afghanistan. According to The Post’s Karen DeYoung, some U.S. counterterrorism officials believe Libya’s Islamists could seek to align themselves with the Islamic State, the al-Qaeda offshoot that controls western Iraq and eastern Syria. Whether or not that happens, it’s not hard to foresee eastern Libya becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks against nearby Europe or even the U.S. homeland.

U.S. and Western responsibility for this mess is heavy. Having tipped the outcome of the war against the Gaddafi regime, NATO quickly exited Libya, which was left with no army or political institutions but was awash in weapons. Repeated Libyan requests for assistance in restoring security were brushed off; a small-scale NATO training program based outside the country was little more than symbolic. As in the case of Afghanistan, Congress rejected the Obama administration’s aid requests. …

The Obama administration has done its best to ignore Libya’s collapse, even as Republicans in Congress obsess over conspiracy theories about the 2012 Benghazi attack. Administration officials continue to peddle the empty line that “Libya’s challenges can really only be solved by the Libyans themselves,” as Secretary of State John F. Kerry put it this week. Officials point to the newly elected parliament, which convened in the eastern city of Tobruk last weekend, as a possible vehicle for a political settlement.

That’s hardly likely. Pacification of Libya would probably require another Western intervention and a peacekeeping force, coupled with a far more robust international mediation mission. The chances that such an intervention will be mounted, of course, are minuscule; the Obama administration would almost certainly not endorse it.


Of course they won’t. It took the potential genocide of tens of thousands of Yazidis and the threat of Irbil getting sacked to authorize even a few airstrikes on ISIS, let alone consider a new peacekeeping force in Iraq. Note well that the “empty line” which the Post’s editors rebuke is almost the exact formulation that the Obama administration continues to use with Iraq, by claiming that there is no Western military solution to the onslaught of ISIS and that Iraqis have to solve that problem for themselves.

National Journal’s George Condon links Iraq and Libya in another way:

The world will not blame the Iraqi government if the children and women huddled atop Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq die of hunger and exposure. Nor will Pope Francis blame Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki if the Islamic extremists attacking the country slaughter the 40,000 Christians and other minorities who have fled to the mountaintop. The fact is that the world, from the pontiff in the Vatican to the coal miner in West Virginia, will blame President Obama.

That is why the president found himself under such intense pressure to act on Thursday, facing calls from around the world to marshal American might in a way to both rush humanitarian aid to the refugees in Iraq and punish the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who are trying to kill them. …

In an address to the nation from the East Room on March 18, 2011, the president said he was impelled to act by a situation similar in many respects to the current crisis in Iraq. “Here is why this matters to us,” he said then. Without international action, he said, there would be “atrocities against his people.” He added, “Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.” He concluded, “And that’s why the United States has worked with our allies and partners to shape a strong international response at the United Nations.”

That speech is as close as it gets to outlining an Obama Doctrine for humanitarian situations. It is another reason why the pressure on the White House is so intense. The world knows that the United States “broke” Iraq and “owns” the mess, and is waiting to see if the Obama Doctrine that applied in 2011 still applies today.


The US may have “broke Iraq” under George W. Bush, for which Obama might be able to shift blame, but the US led the effort that broke Libya under his direction — and, by the way, without ever seeking Congressional authorization for the war against Qaddafi. Obama learned belatedly that toppling a regime by remote control creates a very bad vacuum of power, especially in that region. By conducting his Libyan adventure and pulling entirely out of Iraq after having declared victory in that country, Obama owns both disasters.

Instapundit reminded readers today about those Obama administration claims of success:

That interview took place in February 2010. Also from Instapundit comes Obama’s assessment as a candidate in 2008:

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.

“Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done,” Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven’t done. Those of us who care about Darfur don’t think it would be a good idea,” he said.

Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, said it’s likely there would be increased bloodshed if U.S. forces left Iraq.

“Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously. There are still going to be U.S. forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis,” Obama said between stops on the first of two days scheduled on the New Hampshire campaign trail. “There’s no doubt there are risks of increased bloodshed in Iraq without a continuing U.S. presence there.”

The greater risk is staying in Iraq, Obama said.

“It is my assessment that those risks are even greater if we continue to occupy Iraq and serve as a magnet for not only terrorist activity but also irresponsible behavior by Iraqi factions,” he said.


Obama had it exactly backward. It was our departure that gave space for “irresponsible behavior by Iraqi factions,” and created the “magnet” for terrorist activity, just as the power vacuum we left in Libya did too.

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