LIBYA – WAS PRESIDENT OBAMA’S INTERVENTION IN LIBYA’S CIVIL WAR BELATED?
Janet Daley, writing in the British ‘Sunday Telegraph’ today, appears to argue that the anti-American violence in the Islamic world is a by-product of President Obama’s Middle East policy. She states that: ‘He [Obama] retreated dramatically from confrontation in the Middle East: so much so that when the opportunity arose to remove the tyrant Gaddafi from power, he would offer only belated back-up to an Anglo-French initiative. (This did not, of course, prevent him taking credit, after the fact, for liberating the people of Libya from their oppression.)’
It is likely that he was wary of intervention for a number of reasons. As the events in Libya were unfolding I was writing my book ‘Libya – The History of Gadaffi’s Pariah State’ and said this therein: ‘The French and British governments had been working hard to construct a consensus in favour of military intervention on the good and clear evidence that Gaddafi was murdering civilians. President Sarkozy of France was taking the lead, perhaps to boost his popularity ratings which had slipped alarmingly. The Arab League was in favour of intervention since a number of its members were less than happy with Gaddafi, though their contribution was unlikely to extend further than diplomatic manoeuvring.
The USA was wary. The CIA had been concerned for some time about the uncomfortable presence of Libyan jihadists in Derna and Benghazi, who had been involved in the Afghan war. Libya watchers, and there must have been some in the CIA, MI6 and elsewhere, will not have forgotten the Islamic fundamentalist violence in the Gebel Akhdar (Green Highlands) of Cyrenaica – now called East Libya – between 1995 and 1998. The violence was fomented and largely controlled by ‘The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’. It was ruthlessly suppressed by Gaddafi using the Libya Air Force, though the aircraft that did the strafing and bombing were flown by Cubans and Serbs.’
In my blog of 13th September 2012 (LIBYA – HOW THE LIBYAN INTERIM NATIONAL COUNCIL ASKED FOR NATO’S HELP IN MARCH 2011) I explained how President Sarkozy opened a ‘back channel’ with the anti-Gadaffi leadership in Benghazi and recognised it as the legitimate government of Libya thus pre-empting others. I also showed that Hilary Clinton was sufficiently impressed by the arguments raised by Sarkozy and Jebril [see my 13th September blog] that she saw to it that UN security Council Resolution 1973 was approved, permitting intervention against Gaddafi. I also noted the Sarkozy’s foreign minister was excluded from the consultations and that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. was not in favour of intervention. It might be said that Sarkozy’s actions were partly motivated by a need to improve his popularity ratings.
Despite the lack of unity amongst Europeans and the anxiety about al Qaida franchises in Libya Obama authorised his forces to act. On 19th March 2011, Tomahawk missiles fired from US and UK navy vessels hit air defences around Tripoli and Misurata and French jets attacked Gaddafi’s armour near Benghazi. The city was saved but just in time. Tanks were in its western approaches and Gaddafi’s snipers were firing from buildings very close to the rebel headquarters in the court house. It would be as well to remember that President Obama, for a number of reasons no doubt, offered crucial but limited assistance and required NATO to assume command of the No Fly Zone.’
So Janet Daley is nearly right but her neat change of emphasis makes Obama sound weak. She states that Obama offered belated back-up. I argue that he offered timely back-up but he had good reason to be cautious. An al Qaida franchise may have been embedded in Libya.
This appeared in the Libya Herald online toady: ‘Questions are being asked both in the US and in Libya whether there is an Al-Qaida link [to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya and some of his colleagues]. It is being suggested that the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigade, which supports al-Qaida, was behind the attack. National Congress Speaker Mohamed Magarief himself has already indicated that it is not coincidental that that attack took place on the anniversary of al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks on the US.’