President Obama effectively gave his secretary of state a kind of veto power over the Libyan conflict and he did not even listen to second opinions, notes Mustafa Fetouri.
Monday 30 March, 2015
19 March marked four years since NATO intervened witha brutally destructive air campaign in Libya to reinforce United Nation Security Council resolution 1973 which vaguely authorisedthe use of force to “protect civilians” against government forces during what became known as the Libyan revolution. Today, however, we know that war could have been avoided had politicians honestly wanted that to happen.
Putting the legal debate of NATO’s action aside, and after four years of the destruction of the country, it is now clear that war was neither inevitable nor the only course of action available at the time. On the contrary, peace was attainable but it never got any real chance. The African Union’s initiative led by President Jacob Zuma was never thoroughly considered and never given the time to succeed even after Gaddafi had accepted it. In fact, the door for peace was effectively shut by then. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s warmongering rhetoric dominated international news without any serious enlightened debateabout the situation in Libya.
The war selling process started at the UN headquarters in New York when on 23 February, 2011 Libya’s deputy permanent representative Ibrahim Debashi described events in his country as “genocide” committed on the orders of Gaddafi himself, invoking bitter memories of the world body’s failure to prevent the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Rwanda in 1994. This was something no one wanted to see, particularly the top United States diplomat.
This same line of rhetoric was later picked up by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton when she argued that Gaddafi could commit genocide against his own people while his troops advance on Benghazi.Forgetting that before getting to the outskirts of Benghazi, Libyan government forces passed through more than six formerly held rebel towns and villages, and no genocide took place.
In fact, the situation in Libya bore no similarity whatsoever to what happened in Rwanda seventeen years earlier as the conflict in Libya was neither an ethnic nor sectarian war – which usually leads to mass murders of civilians. Instead, it was between those who supported the government and those who picked up arms to fight it. The Libyan war was preventable or, at least, could have ended earlier sparing Libya and its people further destruction.
However, Mrs. Clinton saw otherwise. Recent revelations confirm what is already thought by many analysts that the Libyan leader offered to step down if two conditions were met: firstly,that some military force be spared to fight against al-Qaeda since he knew extremists were behind much of the fighting against his government. And secondly, sanctions against him and his loyal officials were to be lifted and they were to be allowed dignified departure from power to avoid further bloodshed.
In recently disclosed secretly recorded conversations between democratic representative Dennis J. Kucinich, and Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son, Mr. Kucinich expressed his worries that secretary of state Hillary Clinton was pushing for war without any credible justifications.
President Obama effectively gave his secretary of state a kind of veto power over the Libyan conflict and he did not even listen to second opinions. The pentagon as well as the intelligence officials were against any American involvement in the conflict. Their basic argument was thatthe uprising in Libya and its aftermath did not pose any risk to any American national interests and could destabilize Libya in the long run. They also argued that Gaddafi was cooperating with the United States on a range of issues which included the war on terrorism and nuclear non-Proliferation. Indeed, Libya gave up its nuclear armament program back in 2003 in return for normalisation of relations with the West, the US included.
In fact, and because of the war, the US intelligence community – particularly the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – lost vital links with their Libyan counterpart known as the Jamahyira Security Agency that was sharing intelligence with the US which had helped CIA thwart attacks against American targets.
Through contacts with top Libyan generals, retired Rear Admiral Charles R. Kubic triedto play a mediating role to end the conflict. His contacts offered a 72 hour truce as a first step to be followed by Gaddafi’s stepping down; the same conditions that were included in the AU initiative and accepted by Gaddafi as confirmed by the United Nation Special envoy to Libya Mr. Abdel-Elah Mohamed Al-Khatib.
Desperate to find an end to the bloodshed in my country, I started mobilising my network of friends and contacts in Europe and the United States. Between mid-March and late April of 2011 and while in Tunis, Tunisia, I coordinated very closely with diplomats including high ranking EU diplomat, who wishes to remain anonymous, since he is not permitted to talk to the media, with access to Catharine Ashton, EU’s foreign affairs coordinator at the time. We put together a workable imitative accepted by the EU and government in Tripoli. It called for an immediate ceasefire, immediate dialogue among Libyans, and setting up of transitional government. Indeed, the regime in Tripoli was late to respond but finally it did so positively accepting the proposal.
On the other hand my contacts in the US, including some with access to the State department were not hopeful at all. Those in particularly were telling me that there is no hope without actually telling me that Hillary Clinton wants war to continue until the regime is destroyed which is beyond the already controversial UN authorization.
In the end, Hillary prevailed and the war continued despite all efforts to stop violating the UN’s mandate as of June 2011 when the goal was regime change in Libya clearly outside what the notorious 1973 resolution called for.
Four years on, it is very clear that Hillary’s war in Libya was the wrong policy. It dragged the United States into a disastrous intervention that has led to an ungovernable present-day Libya. Thousands have been killed including the American ambassador in Benghazi in 2012 while thousands more are displaced. The entire city of Tawaregha has been razed to the ground while its entire population of some 40 thousand still unable to return to what was once their city.
Those who pushed for war, including Mrs. Clinton, Senator John McCain, and Susan Rice are partly responsible for the destruction of Libya and the death ofAmbassador Stevens and thousands of people.
Mrs. Clinton is likely to seek the democratic nomination for the 2016 presidential elections and the Libyan disaster will certainly come up as one of her worst scandals while Secretary of state. Compared to the scandal over her use of private email account outside government system Libya seems far reaching with serious consequences since it involves the death of American citizens.
I, among those who argued that military intervention in Libya in 2011 would destabilise the country and make it a hub for further destabilisation in the region including Europe, across the Mediterranean. Four years later I feel vindicated alas after the fact!
Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyananalyst at IHS Global Insight, an
author, and award winning freelance journalist.
Middle East Online