Who (Or What) To Blame For Libya?

Libyan Rebels Sieze Control Of Tripoli From Gaddafi Forces

Christopher Stephen paints a picture of a country where deeply entrenched corruption and factionalism have rendered good governance impossible and fueled the pseudo-civil war tearing the country apart today:

With the economy moribund, the only growth industry has been militias. In all some 168,000 members have registered at the government’s Warriors Affairs Commission, which was set up to take control of the various militia brigades—but that’s at least four times the number of militia members who actually fought in the civil war. Now they’re all getting state pay packets. “I don’t care about Islamism, but they pay me 1200 dinars [about $800] a month to guard the base twice a week,” said Hassan, a Benghazi teenager employed by the city’s Islamist Libya Shield brigade.

Today all those victorious militias are at war with each other. The militias from Misrata, a city 120 miles east of the capital, and Zintan, a mountain town 90 miles south west, did the hardest fighting of the revolution, surging into Tripoli together to liberate it in August 2011. Their units never left, and since then the Misratans and Zintanis have increasingly fallen out as claimants to the spoils. … In the confrontational atmosphere in congress, the political parties began funding militias that were sympathetic to them, rather than dissolving them as parliament was supposed to do. Misrata and Zintan, the two most powerful militia groupings, broke along the political divide — Misrata for the Islamists, Zintan for the nationalists.

Peter Dörrie names Khalifa Haftar, the former general with previous links to the CIA who now leads a coalition of Zintani fighters and other nationalist militias, as the primary instigator of the ongoing conflict:

Publicly, Haftar claims to fight against Islamist militias for a secular Libya, but his political ambitions are obvious.

It’s especially telling that his moves against the fledgling government of Libya occurred just as the new regime was trying to enforce a law banning functionaries from the Gaddafi era from public office. Haftar would be subject to this law, as would be many leaders of the armed groups he is allied with.

The fighting Haftar instigated meanwhile has spiraled out of control. Militias are battling for the international airport in Tripoli. An important fuel depot has caught fire after being hit by a rocket. Embassies in the city have evacuated. In Benghazi, Islamist and secular forces openly are fighting. Haftar largely is responsible. His ambitions already have inflicted great damage on the transitional process in Libya. What remains unclear is how close his connection remains to U.S. intelligence services. In interviews he says that he is in “indirect contact” with the U.S. government.

From Hisham Matar’s perspective, Qaddafi’s legacy still resonates loudly:

To understand today’s events, one must remember what life was like under Qaddafi. The state was designed around an individual and his family; it resembled more a Mafia than a political structure. And so ending the dictatorship meant ending the state. Without a fully functioning national army and police force, and other state institutions, building an accountable and democratic government is going to be immensely hard. Contributing to this is the legacy of Qaddafi’s oppression of dissent. Modern Libya is sixty-five years old, dating from 1951. For almost two-thirds of that time, it was ruled by one voice. In light of this history, creating a political atmosphere that permits and encourages difference and plurality will be difficult.

Meanwhile, Larison catches Max Boot spinning our intervention in Libya as another example of Obama’s “weak” foreign policy. In Boot’s revisionist retelling, the instability in Libya today is Obama’s fault for refusing to deploy a peacekeeping force on the ground or pour more resources into training Libyan security forces – in other words, because he didn’t do exactly what interventionists said we wouldn’t have to do:

Indeed, it was an essential part of the argument that American interventionists made at the start of the war: there would be no U.S. ground forces deployed to Libya to fight, nor would there be any deployed to a post-Gaddafi Libya. Interventionists don’t get to have the domestic political advantages of avoiding a prolonged occupation while disavowing the consequences of the regime change they supported. Libya is in chaos in large part because outside forces aided anti-regime rebels in destroying the existing government, and the governments that intervened are at least partly responsible for what they have wrought. It doesn’t follow from this that the solution for Libya was or is to increase the involvement of outside governments in misguided efforts to stabilize the country. Having seen what a “serious program” to train local forces produced in Iraq, it is far from obvious that a more concerted effort by the U.S. to train Libyan government forces would have changed much of anything for the better.

Recent Dish on Libya’s crisis here.

(Photo: A mosaic of Gaddafi is seen on the wall of a building, riddled with bullet holes, on August 29, 2011 in Tripoli, Libya. By Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images))