Libya’s UN ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi (who has incredibly managed to stay in that job since 2013 despite the fact that his country has collapsed into near-anarchy in the interim), says you shouldn’t blame the foreign intervention, i.e. the United States, i.i.e.e. the Obama administration, i.i.i.e.e.e. Hillary Clinton, for the mess that Libya has become:
Amid the recriminations, no one ever points the finger at the Libyans themselves — except, that is, for Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, who bluntly faulted a succession of post-Qaddafi leaders he served for squandering a historic opportunity to lead the country toward a better future. Libya’s post-revolution governments, Dabbashi said, have been so incompetent that even the simplest of tasks, like delivering the mail, were beyond their meager administrative abilities.
“Let me say that nothing was wrong with the coalition intervention in Libya,” Dabbashi told Foreign Policy in an interview at Libya’s U.N. mission. “The mistake was a Libyan mistake, and the main problem was that none of the governments of the past five years had any experience in state management.”
This is certainly nice of Dabbashi to say, and I think we can all agree that there’s plenty of blame to be shared with those failed Libyan governments. But read how Philip Gordon, one of Clinton’s assistant Secretaries of State, describes the manner in which she was talked into becoming the Obama administration’s staunchest advocate for intervening:
Mrs. Clinton was won over. Opposition leaders “said all the right things about supporting democracy and inclusivity and building Libyan institutions, providing some hope that we might be able to pull this off,” said Philip H. Gordon, one of her assistant secretaries. “They gave us what we wanted to hear. And you do want to believe.”
In other words, those opposition leaders sold the US Secretary of State a bill of goods, making grand promises that they had no capacity to keep in order to tell her “what [she] wanted to hear” and thereby allow her to “believe.” Maybe I’m being overly cynical, but I have a hard time believing that Mahmoud Jibril and other Libyan opposition leaders were as certain about their ability to create an inclusive, democratic, highly-functioning Libyan state out of the ashes of the Gaddafi dictatorship as the impression they apparently conveyed to Clinton. And the idea that the US Secretary of State couldn’t or didn’t do the kind of basic independent intelligence gathering necessary to figure out whether or not these guys were on the level is pretty worrisome–particularly, I might add, less than a decade after the Iraq debacle. That invasion was also undertaken in part because of the erroneous belief that Iraqi exiles like Ahmed Chalabi could turn Iraq into a democratic paradise in short order. For a former senator who should have been chastened by her vote to authorize that war, Secretary of State Clinton sure seems to have made some similar mistakes when it came to Libya.
Dabbashi is currently trying to talk Washington out of throwing its support, and military aid, behind Libya’s new Government of National Accord, the group that was supposed to supplant Libya’s other two governments but (initially; more on this in a second) wound up simply making the duo a trio. He says he’s afraid that moving to quickly to build up a brand new army around the GNA (using its new Presidential Guard as the core of the force) will short-circuit any chance of bringing the military elements of the Tobruk and Tripoli governments together into a real unified national army. There’s a certain logic to that, but it would probably be more compelling coming from somebody else, since Dabbashi is known to be closely allied with Khalifa Haftar, the general nominally working for the Tobruk government, and so there are accusations that Dabbashi is simply trying to prevent the GNA from building up a force that can be a counterweight to Haftar’s army. Of course, Haftar’s army still exists, and will have to be dealt with somehow (either by negotiating it into the fold or by defeating it in the field), so Dabbashi’s point about peacefully negotiating the union of Libya’s many armed forces is relevant no matter what his motivation for making it.
On the plus side, Libya’s group of three competing governments seems to be back down to two. The Tripoli-based General National Congress, which at first seemed ready to disband itself when the GNA showed up but then appeared to backtrack on that plan, now seems to have gone ahead and disbanded after all. Or, technically, it rebranded itself as the GNA’s advisory State Council. The Tobruk government, which should slot in as the GNA’s new legislature, still appears to be holding out, so things aren’t perfect, but two governments is better than three. The bad news is that there is a serious dispute unfolding between the GNA and Haftar, who is in a pretty strong position to keep Tobruk from joining the GNA and seems to be worried about the GNA replacing him if he brings his army into their tent. Haftar was preparing to make an assault on the city of Sirte, ISIS’s Libyan capital, but the GNA has now sent its very green Presidential Guard (which is little more than a collection of militias at this point) to attack the city (part of the Guard announced that it had captured the nearby town of Ben Jawad on Monday). Haftar seems to be counting on the Presidential Guard being too green to dislodge ISIS–and, lo and behold, a couple of its component militias appear to have started competing with each other to take Sirte, which will only diminish their ability to actually take it–at which point he’ll be able to swoop in with his more cohesive army and defeat a weakened ISIS. It’s not clear what Haftar will do if the GNA’s force somehow manages to defeat ISIS despite its internal difficulties, but in that case the potential for the GNA and Haftar to go to war with each other might increase.