Libya May Be Focus Of Major Rift Between US And Regional Allies

Lambert here: I was glad to see this article, because while Ukraine, Syria and Iraq and ISIS and the Kurds, along with Israel and Gaza dominated the news, we also kept reading odd stories from Libya — like Egyptian and UAE warplanes bombing the airport in Tripoli. Now, I can’t evaluate the thesis of the article; it seems almost impossibly cack-handed that the administration could manage to get itself in the bad graces of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, all to help out Turkey and Qatar over Libya, for pity’s sake. What seems undeniable is that much of the one-time Ottoman empire round the Mediterranean and the Black Sea is in flames, and in country after country, we splashed the accelerant liberally about, and then tossed a match. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy….”

By Defense & Foreign Affairs,a geopolitical news publication offered by the International Strategic Studies Association. Originally published at OilPrice.com.

It had become clear by late August 2014 that Libya could no longer be seen as a unified state; at best it was in two parts, even with the communal leaderships of both sides professing a desire to resume national unity. By late August 2014, the country had two parliaments: one elected by the Libyan people, and the other given legitimacy solely by foreign support.   

The situation seemed so intractable by that point that it was possible that a full military intervention by regional states, perhaps spearheaded by Egypt, could be attempted, with the goal of stabilizing the country and eliminating the foreign-funded and foreign-armed jihadis who were using Libya as a springboard for a proposed pro-Islamist war against the current Egyptian Government.

The proxy forces of the 2011 unilateral intervention by Qatar, supporting jihadis and the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan), and by Turkey and the US, into the Cyrenaican revolt against Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, were still dominating the Libyan political scene, much to the frustration of Libyan tribal forces.  

Qatar was creating a “Free Egyptian Army” in the Cyrenaica desert, and patterned on the “Free Syrian Army” which Qatar, Turkey, and the US had built to challenge Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.  

Significantly, while the US and European Union (EU) continued in August 2014 to promote the concept of a unified Libya, they were basing their approach around what was essentially a modification of the mode of governance practiced by Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, who seized power by a coup in 1969, and held it until 2011. Widespread Libyan calls for a return to the 1951 Constitution — drafted by the United Nations and the 140 or so Libyan tribes — have been consistently ignored by Washington and Brussels.  

By August 2014, the foreign jihadist fighters — mainly linked to salafist groups and either directly or indirectly working with the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan) — were still entrenched in Cyrenaica, in Eastern Libya (where the local moderate. anti-salafist Senussiyah sect of Islam predominates), supported by Qatar, Turkey, and the US Government. As well, they were entrenched around Tripoli.  

By August 18, 2014, the situation had deteriorated to the point where United Arab Emirates (UAE) combat aircraft, operating from Egyptian bases, conducted air strikes against jihadist militia forces around Tripoli, without prior warning to the US. The operation was also coordinated with the Government of Saudi Arabia, and the UAE Air Force aircraft staged over the Kingdom, en route to Egypt, using UAE AF Airbus A330 MRTT aerial refueling aircraft to reach, it is understood, Mersa Ma- truh Air Base or another forward Egyptian Air Force base, from which the strikes were then made on the Libyan targets.  

The first wave of strikes. on August 18, 2014, hit militia groups; the second wave on August 23, 2014. targeted Qatari-supplied rocket launchers and military vehicles owned by the militias. The strikes were insufficient to blunt the mainly Misrata-based militia forces of the Islamist-dominated Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) coalition which, a day later (August 24, 2014), overran Tripoli Airport, taking it from the control of the Zintan militia. [Fajr Libya also controls some 80 percent of Benghazi, although the residents of that city and surrounds have traditionally been hostile to the salafist tenets promoted by the group.] The UAE strikes also hit at Ansar al-Sharia, another extremist Islamist group, ostensibly condemned by Washington, but benefiting from Washington’s position.  

The new Government was aware — and supportive — of the combined military actions of the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to strike at the Islamist militias.  

On August 25, 2014, the US, France, Germany, Italy and the UK governments issued a joint statement denouncing “outside interference” in Libya which it said “exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition”, failing to highlight the reality that the US has, since 2011, provided the main umbrella for outside interference in Libya affairs, and continued to support the Qatari-led efforts currently underway.  

At the same time, with US encouragement, the former Islamist-dominated Parliament — which no longer had a mandate — was reconvened on August 25, 2014, and voted to disband the interim Government, even though the new Government had been voted into place by opponents of the Islamists. But the newly-elected Parliament — not the one controlled by the Islamists — continued to meet in Tobruk, in Cyrenaica, away from the militias. That Parliament on August 24, 2014, dismissed the Army Chief of Staff and, with a vote of 88 out of 124 parliamentarians, installed a new one, Col. Abdel Razzak Nadhuri, who was promoted to general when he took up his new role. He replaced Gen. Abdessalam Jadallah al-Obeidi, who was dismissed by Parliament. Gen. Nadhuri, from the town of Marj, 1,100km (600 miles) east of Tripoli, took up his post as Libya’s Foreign Minister and his regional counterparts met in Cairo to discuss the Islamist threat.

Gen. Nadhuri has been known for his support for the anti-Islamist Operation Karama (Dignity), led by retired Gen. Khalifa Haftar. In the first reactions to Nadhuri’s appointment, several military generals affiliated with the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced their rejection of the Parliament’s appointment of Nadhuri declaring that “they refuse to work under the command of an officer who supports Operation Karama, and that they will only recognize Gen. al-Obeidi as chief of staff”.  

The interim Government itself was unable to return to Tripoli as a result of the fighting, and had been holding its meetings in the eastern city of Bayda.  

But on August 25, 2014, the interim General National Congress (GNC), which had been officially replaced earlier in August 2014 by the new Parliament, named an Islamist figure, Omar al-Hassi, to form a rival “salvation government”, which was being given credence by, for example, the US Government over the Government elected by Libyan voters in August 2014.  

The situation, then, was that Lib- ya now had two parliaments and two governments, but only the Tripoli- based Parliament had electoral legitimacy with its Government led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani.  

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sam- eh Shukri was quoted on August 25, 2014, as saying that the situation in Libya threatened the entire region and other parts of the world, noting: “The developments in Libya have left an impact we have felt on the security of neighboring countries, with the presence and movement of extremist and terrorist groups whose activists are not only limited to the Libyan territories but also spill over to neighboring countries.” He also said that a spillover of lawlessness from Libya could prompt foreign intervention in Libya, but hoped that this could be avoided.  

The combined stance by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE has further demonstrated the division of these onetime US allies away from Washington. To emphasize the point, Egyptian Pres. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on August 24, 2014, to local news media that Qatar, Turkey, the United States, and the Muslim Brotherhood were funding new online media projects which “aim to undermine Egypt’s stability”. These powers, he said, “do not hesitate to spend tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions [of dollars], on these websites in order to promote ideas that aim to undermine Egypt’s stability”. Ironically, the news came out at the same time that the Obama Administration announced the development of a new government program to track “hate speech” on social media in the US.  

The US is moving closer to alienating key regional allies (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) in order to support Turkey’s and Qatar’s objectives in Libya, without defining the strategic goals for the US and the West. Already the Egyptian bloc is at war with Turkey and Qatar.

Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs sources in several Libyan locations.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

29 comments

  1. ToivoS

    The above says the news came out at the same time that the Obama Administration announced the development of a new government program to track “hate speech” on social media in the US.

    Does anyone know that this refers to? Hate speech is not illegal. Why would the government track that? Is this more surveillance?

    1. Jake Mudrosti

      In a late-August time frame, most likely referring to this:
      http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/us-researchers-studying-how-misinformation-spreads-smeared-by-fox-news-as-orwellian-9697441.html
      “A group of US researchers compiling a database of ‘hate speech, subversive propaganda and suspicious memes’ to study how false information spreads online…”

    2. EoinW

      Canada has a law against hate speeches. If you question the Holocaust in any way it is considered a hate crime. Yet one can publicly support any of the West’s wars of choice and this is not considered a hate crime, even though such support leads to people actually being killed.

  2. John

    “Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs sources in several Libyan locations.”

    So, we’re to believe the sourcing for this article is from ‘several Libyan locations?’ What this very confusing world clamors for is source verification.

    1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

      LOL LOL LOL

      U.S., France, Germany, Italy, UK denounced “outside interference”

      LOL LOL LOL that’s a knee slapper

  3. ambrit

    We need to step back and take the long view. Libya, the nation state as we have known it for the last century or so, has always been an artificial construct. Created out of whole cloth, mainly by Italy, during the European Colonialist movement, Libya on the ground is a patchwork of tribal regions. What we arte seeing today is the reassertion of these old patterns. Trying to keep Libya alive as a unified nation state is the worst scenario. Today it can be said that outside interventions in the hope of preserving the Modern State of Libya are probably driven by rent extractive private interests. In a word; Oil.
    I will go out on a limb and suggest that the optimal strategy, for the people of the region, will be the complete dissolution of the State of Libya and the integration of its’ constituent parts, based on ethnic distribution, into the surrounding states.
    What the region needs is a series of plebescites. Europe and America tried drawing lines on maps during the Colonial Period and calling them countries. That effort is coming to its well deserved end. Time now for the locals to get a say.

    1. Pepsi

      No. No. What you’re repeating is ages of propaganda in support of the balkanization of nation states into shitty little bantustans. It’s in the interests of no one but the hegemon.

      1. Jim Haygood

        Do Czechs, Slovaks, Croatians and Slovenes regard themselves as living in ‘shitty little bantustans’? Not that I know of.

        South Africa’s bantustans were utterly dependent on South Africa’s financial, industrial and transport infrastructure, such that they had no meaningful economic sovereignty. They were designed that way, without consulting the people who lived in them.

        From this perspective, the West Bank and Gaza are certainly bantustans. But (for example) Scotland splitting from the U.K. by the vote taking place in September wouldn’t be.

        1. Joe

          What Ambrit suggests above is not breaking up Libya into little city states but annexation of the factions into the surrounding nations with which they best identify.

        2. Chris in Paris

          Jim — The Croatians and Slovenes you cite would be in a much stronger position vis à vis the EU and Russia in a united Yugoslavia, so there is a point to be made for non-banustanization of nation states.

    2. digi_owl

      Gonna toss a Curtis blog article up here:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/legacy/adamcurtis/2012/03/bodybuilding_and_nation-buildi.html

      It talks about the British and Iraq after WW1, and the disassembly of the Ottoman empire.

      I do wonder how similar that is to Libya.

  4. steviefinn

    Nemesis inevitably follows hubris – Meanwhile in Pakistan :

    http://telesurtv.net/english/news/Thousands-of-Protesters-Clash-with-Police-in-Islamabad-20140830-0044.html

  5. Banger

    This story reflects the reality of chaos. Machiavellian neoconservatives within the Obama administration and the permanent state (Deep State) have resorted to spreading chaos everywhere. Chaos has the virtue of focusing media attention now to one “crisis” and now to another without having to look any deeper than the surface.

    Libya appears to be a battleground between various factions within the MENA region centered in the following states: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Israel and US/EU all of those states are persuing somewhat different policies and all of the states listed are, themselves, divided into different factions and different policies for the region except Israel which, being a tribal state and basically unified with a single will, may have the whip hand. For the neocon faction in Washington (closely allied with Mossad) the goal is clear–play all the factions against each other including within Washington. Libya, being out of the “news” is a good place to examine this process at work. Libya, btw, was doing fairly well with Gaddafi–his overthrow and the support of that overthrow by many “progressives” is one of the more disgusting results that the weak Obama has given us–he had no clue what was going on there–he left it to Clinton as he is leaving U.S. foreign policy to Skull and Bonesman Kerry.

    1. Eureka Springs

      It doesn’t matter. Progressives, Neoliberalcon Dems, the press all know Obama, Clinton etc. all have to actively red mist a few dozen countries… I mean millions of human beings in chaos to keep their positions of power. It would be nice if someone could name one country, including within, where the neoliberalconprogs in power are doing anything decent whatsoever. And I certainly don’t accept… “Obama had no clue” he was/is initiating death and mayhem in nearly every action he takes. It’s what happens with spooks, advisors, militia, calls for regime change as often as an umpire says foul ball and an ability to operate in utter secrecy with massive amounts of cash and weapons…. often outside of the most reasonable interpretations of our highest laws/treaties.

      Good grief. Just stop making excuses for our own murderers, our own hubris.

      1. Banger

        Excuses? I’m just trying to help people understand WTF is going on in the world of the powerful. Obama is not in charge–no President is or can be in charge unless he or she has their own private power source which means, essentially, what comes out of a barrel of a gun. You don’t have that you don’t have squat. You manage to negotiate some power for yourself by brokering not wielding power.

      2. EoinW

        Well the good news is that their poisonous touch is no longer limited to developing nations. America and its traditional allies are also having their societies destroyed by these psychopaths. Considering that we empowered such people in the beginning, this is poetic justice. Nevertheless, if one takes the long term view, we’ve created such a Frankenstein monster that nothing short of nihilism is going to clean things up. It’s time for the Fall of Berlin, so the future generation can look forward to the Economic Miracle.

    2. Doug Terpstra

      Gotta love the US “denouncing ‘outside interference’ in Libya which it said ‘exacerbates current divisions'”. The hypocrisy and irony are just so incredibly rich. And they say it so easily, in a way that makes perfectly rational people question their own marble inventory — with a perfectly straight face, without a single tic, eye-twitch, or a twinge of shame. Amazing control; is it collective sociopathy or psychopathy?

      1. Banger

        Friend, it’s simple Machiavellian politics from the Imperial capital full of court intrigue that would make Frank Underwood or the Byzantine Court blush. The world of power is a world only people who know “the streets” can understand or who have carefully watched the Godfather movies. Since I’ve observed both as well as the real world of Washington politics (from a safe distance mainly) I feel it in my bones.

    3. Winston

      Stumbled across this yesterday at Cats not War:

      Enough of this nonsense. Let us state the forgotten obvious: these operatives conspire on top of the structures they inherited. In the anti-conspiracy view, it is not entirely clear how capital is accelerated where it exists already, or how it is imposed in regions hitherto relatively free from its violence. The first skill a capitalist learns is how to make an investment. An investment between multiple parties constitutes a conspiracy. A capitalist and the agents and mercenaries under his or her directive need not be geniuses to understand their investments, both the potential risks and the potential returns. And while agents are not idiots, it must be added that their primary tasks do not require brilliance or omnipotence. That is, they intend in most human societies and communes they shadow and stalk to spread chaos, to destabilize, to break alliances. Rupture of these kinds only requires planted seeds and strategically placed ops. Once an operation has been launched, the intended chaos is likely to take on a life of its own. In other words, agents are not required to be geniuses because hegemony is already on their side.

  6. Synopticist

    What a total and utter f*ck up we’ve made of Libya.
    Don’t forget the cuddly human rights NGOs like Amnesty and HRW who lied us (me at least) into supporting this crazy war with their lies about Viagra and African mercenaries.

    1. JerseyJeffersonian

      The horrendous results on display from the propagandizing done by those “humanitarians” from NGOs in the run up to the destruction of Libya, coupled with a clear-eyed view of the “helpful contribution” made by these same NGOs in the Ukraine might help one to understand the jaundiced view that more nations -Russia, for example – are adopting toward these organizations and their supporters within these nations. Certainly seems to be a correlation between their operations and “Color Revolutions” ( subversion is such an ugly word, don’t you think?).

    2. EoinW

      It is getting easier. These groups and all international organisations backed by Washington, America and its allies, must be opposed anytime they take a position on any issue. Likewise the corprorate media is never to be trusted. I even had a moment of weakness last week as I bought the evidence and was celebrating Russia’s stealth invasion of Ukraine. Needless to point out how stupid I’m feeling a few days later. Lesson learned!

      As Paul Craig Roberts points out, one is either in the Matrix or free of it. Thus Iran has never been far wrong with their talk of opposing the Evil Empire. And Russia, run by an ex-KGB man, has suddenly become the Great White Hope. A fascinating world to see it so turned on its head.

  7. Roland

    I am very tired of reading, again and again, somebody talking about how “artificial” is some other country.

    First of all, who are you to say any other political entity is “artificial” ? Please deconstruct yourself first. Where are you from, Mr. or Ms. Natural?

    Second, there are many countries are quite “artificial” but are still quite decent places. I’m from Canada, which happens to be one such country. Without much effort you could probably manage to add many more names to the list in this category. Or is your ridiculous concept of “artificiality” nothing but a synonym for the “current perceived state of apparent power and wealth” ? Such a doctrine of state “artificiality” would be the sort of crypto-Calivinism suitable for Western bourgeois academics who wish to preserve their secularist conceit.

    Third, peoples and states have history. I notice that today’s bourgeois get intimated rather easily by history, which is why they have such a craving to be told that it’s over. Many states have violent periods of division, and it would be easy for some superficial outside intellect to call them “artificial” at that particular time.

    Fourth, don’t argue why a country is “artificial” until you can demonstrate to the reader that you understand all of the reasons why it gained and retained that composition. Those reasons are often quite good, if you ever bothered to learn about them.

    1. ambrit

      Dear Roland;
      I’ll assume you were responding to my comment from yesterday.
      The argument, as I understand it, about “artificiality” in regards to nation states has a reduction ad absurdum feel to it. I was observing that those peoples who actually live in the region had no say so over the shape and number of the borders they inhabited. The definition of what constitutes a ‘people’ can be the first part of the plebescite debates. The fact that news reports refer to tribal factions is the best evidence possible in support of the central idea of my comment. Smaller than nation state sized actors are already debating the rearrangement of the Libyan polity through the oldest known method: Civil War. To aregu that the process could reasonably extend down to the individual sphere is absurd. We speak of political associations here, not personal enlightenment.
      Decent artificial nation states there are. You cite Canada. Artificial it is, from the point of view of the state of nature. Originally, Canada was settled by Europeans with cohesive cultural societies. Who, by the way, displaced Native societies in the process. Not only did they displace the Natives, they, deliberately and accidentally in tandem, nearly obliterated them. (In the Colonial Period, an argument can be made that all European policies towards the Natives were made in the same places, the Home Countries.) Canada doesn’t have major proto Bantustans probably because there aren’t very many Canadian Bantus left. (No slight to the locals intended.)
      Crypto-Calvinism can be invoked to cover a multitude of sins. At heart I suspect you are raising the spectre of Predestinationism. Insofar as I would accept such an argument, I would use it to point out that regional ethnic groupings would be the best mechanism to use to define the “Natural” boundaries of the polities. The game of crypto-Calvinism is a universal one. Some of the most severe and moralistic states are those born of Liberal Revolutions. Englands’ “Glorious Revolution” is one. Setting out to free Dissenters from the Crowns oppressions, the State became a religious tyranny of another sort. The October Revolution in Russia ended up in Stalinist Terror.
      Many States do indeed have periods of violent division. Oftener than not, these violent periods end up in permanent political division. To the extent that these smaller states mirror the ethnic divisions on the ground, the net outcome is positive. More cohesive and internally stable nations result. If these new nations desire to go to war with each other; that’s another argument entirely.
      Finally, the fact that internal power struggles are erupting into armed conflict is itself an indicator of a weak correlation between a State and it’s peoples. A strong state has mechanisms in place to mediate between competing internal interests. Borders imposed from outside are inherently illegitimate. Hence, the idea of Plebescite. If one wishes to impose borders on a region, one needs to either gain the cooperation from the peoples inhabiting the region, or to destroy those peoples as effective agents. Ignoring them, as was usually the case during the Colonial Period, merely pushes the final solutions to the problems off into the future. As long as the colonial powers can retain control over the region, these problems are manageable. Now that the colonial powers are losing control, the old sores are beginning to fester again. Using the analogy of colonial boundaries as bandaids; it’s time to rip the bandaids off and let some sunlight in to speed the healing.

      1. EoinW

        Now you can’t tell a Canadian we nearly obliterated our native populations. That’s taking on Canadian myth making head on. You see, we don’t do bad things up here. America nearly wiped out it’s natives. We focus on that and by not focusing on our own native issues we pretend they never happened. Likewise America created acid rain, polluted the Great Lakes and started wars overseas. Canada is never anything more than a helpless victim or forced to cheer lead such wars because we’re such nice people we wish to remain friendly with our neighbour. Americans even have fracking while Canadians have the much cleaner oil sands.

        We never did anything bad to our natives. Yes a few overzealous people forced them to become Christians or give up their own languages. But such people lived a century ago. No Canadians are like that today. Plus the method might have been wrong but the goal was for their benefit. The end did justify the means. Turned them into good, consuming westerners.

        To conclude my point, Six Nations just won the senior lacrosse championship in Ontario, to go along with their junior title. Both teams will likely become Canadian champions shortly. So you see, Canada is the Land of the Happy Indian.

        1. ambrit

          Dear EoinW;
          Yes, I do remember the Nez Perce and their gallant attempt to escape the perfidious American Cavalry and escape to Canada in 1877. You all also sheltered Sitting Bull as well. Was that some sort of passive aggressive dig at Manifest Destiny?

  8. bh2

    Here’s a radical thought: why not back off and allow the various Arab factions to settle their religious/tribal squabbles entirely at their own cost of blood and treasure? It is not in our vital national interest to arbitrarily favor victory of one nest of treacherous vipers over the others.

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