Recent reports from Libya, issued to coincide with the third anniversary of Khadafy’s overthrow and murder, suggest that the state has ceased to exist. There is no central government. According to Amnesty International, “Armed groups and militias are running amok, launching indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas and committing widespread abuses, including war crimes, with complete impunity.” Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State back guerrilla factions. The unfortunate United Nations envoy, Bernardino Leon, says he can hardly begin to mediate “because the protagonists are hundreds of militias.” Full-scale civil war is a real possibility, so the worst may be yet to come.
This could and should have been predicted. Removing a long-established regime is dangerous unless a clear alternative is ready. It produces a power vacuum. Rivals fight for places in the new order. By suddenly decapitating Libya, the United States and its NATO allies made conflict, anarchy, and terror all but inevitable.
American officials were split over the question of whether to bomb Libya in 2011. President Obama finally favored the pro-bombing faction, making this the first military intervention in American history — perhaps the first ever — to be driven principally by women. Its advocates inside the corridors of power were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, and Samantha Power, then on the National Security Council staff. They warned that Khadafy was planning to attack an opposition stronghold, Benghazi, and set off a humanitarian catastrophe. Although they may have been right, they grievously overestimated America’s ability to control the effects of bombing Libya. Fighting in Benghazi over the last month has taken more than 200 lives.