ISIS is in Libya. This has been known for some time, but either its foothold there is actually getting stronger or the important Something Doers of the world are just starting to figure out what’s happening. Either way, we’re starting to talk about whether or not it’s time to Do Something:
An international coalition is pushing back Islamic State militants in their Syrian and Iraqi strongholds, but the group is threatening Libya and could seize the nation’s oil wealth, U.S Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday.
Officials from 23 countries met in Rome to review the fight against Islamic State militants, who have created a self-proclaimed Caliphate across swathes of Syria and Iraq, and are spreading into other countries, notably Libya.
While Western officials worry about the growing threat posed by Islamic State in the former Italian colony, there was no suggestion that foreign powers were preparing to launch a major military offensive against them there for now.
Whenever a group like this gets together and makes a point of saying that they’re not planning on taking any military action “for now,” that means they’re planning on taking military action. Don’t expect sustained American airstrikes on Sirte tomorrow, but they’re in the planning stages.
The thoughtful reader will note that it was the European/American desire to Do Something about Libya when Muammar Gaddafi was still alive that kind of put Libya in this position in the first place. But in fairness, back then the international intervention came about in opposition to the Libyan government, whereas this time the intervention will come about in support of the Libyan government. I mean, as soon as Libya actually has a government, which could be any day now! Or not! Plus, this time the intervention will probably be led/pushed by Italy, instead of France, which I’m sure is a crucial difference in some way. Like France in Mali, Italy has old colonial ties to Libya, and old European colonial feelings never fully die. Plus, and this is actually legitimate, Libya would be an excellent staging ground for ISIS attacks in Europe, and Rome is probably quite high on the group’s list of targets, given its ideological fixation on Islamic history and end times prophecy.
The risk that ongoing anarchy in Libya poses isn’t limited to ISIS. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its sister organization, Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s al-Mourabitoun, are both increasingly active in the southern parts of the country, and its shared borders with Tunisia and Egypt are ongoing fonts of instability for both of those countries. For now the Western story is that we’re ready to Do Something once Libya has a government in place, and I would expect that to remain the story for a while yet, but not indefinitely. If no Libyan government is forthcoming, and it doesn’t seem like one will be anytime soon, you’ll start to see a “we can’t wait any longer” sentiment creep in to the discourse about Libya, and then you’ll know that a new major intervention is just around the corner.