The Ugly Aftermath of America's Intervention in Libya

The other war in the Arab world.


Remember when NATO's intervention in Libya was supposed to be an example of a war that worked? Three years after the U.S. helped overthrow the regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, The New York Times reports, the

Welcome to Libya.
United Nations

country is coming undone. Relentless factional fighting in Tripoli and in the eastern city of Benghazi has left dozens of people dead. Well-known political activists have been killed, diplomats have been kidnapped, and ordinary citizens fear bandits on the roads.

Water and electricity shutdowns have become more frequent than at any time since the chaos after Colonel Qaddafi's fall, and fuel has disappeared from Tripoli's gas stations. On Sunday, several Western nations advised their citizens to leave immediately. Gunmen attacked a convoy of British diplomats….

This time, the fighting in Tripoli seems at least partly fueled by the campaign of a general named Khalifa Hifter, who vowed in May to rid the country of Islamist militias. He and his self-proclaimed national army have focused their fight in Benghazi, where daily battles with the militias have settled into a deadly stalemate.

Mr. Hifter has won support from Libyans who fear the growing assertiveness of extremists, especially in eastern Libya. But his campaign has also stirred new divisions, and violence, across the country. Militias from the coastal city of Misurata that oppose Mr. Hifter have been clashing for weeks around the Tripoli airport with fighters from the mountain city of Zintan, who support him.

Any glimmers of a potential peace? Well, the forces battling for control of Tripoli's airport agreed to a cease-fire last night—but only to give firefighters a chance to try to put out a gigantic fire that a missile set off at an fuel depot. After 24 hours, the truce is scheduled to expire.

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf comments: "At the very most charitable, the common interventionist claim that Libya vindicated them in their dispute with non-interventionists was wildly premature." At the very most charitable, yes.

NEXT: FAA Grounds College Students Pursing Drone Degrees

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Mr. Hifter of the National Bocialists?

    1. I don’t like the sound of them there boncentration bamps.

    2. + harelip thinal folution

    3. That could be the Hister Nostradamus wrote about… 😛

    4. Mr. Hilter. I know him, because I voted for him in the North Minehead election. He had wonderful plans for Minehead!

  2. Well-known political activists have been killed, diplomats have been kidnapped…

    And some well-known diplomats have been killed. But what difference, at this point, does it make?

  3. Susan Rice, step up for your Nobel Peace Prize!

    1. It’s an elite club.

    2. Susan Rice?!
      Ha! John Kerry!

      1. He has the most screw ups. 57 different varieties, in fact.

  4. Ask your doctor about Zintan.

  5. Yet Hillary is “the” Democratic frontrunner for 2016. And Paul Ryan, despite being unable to even PLAN a balanced budget, is considered to be in favor of “austerity”. I, for one, am not looking forward to the next decade.

    1. Don’t worry. Rand Paul is going to defeat Hillary in 2016. Or so people here keep telling me.

      1. You are crediting this crowd with optimism? I think you are mistaken.

        1. Hey, CN. This is OT, but I was curious if you were coming into,town this,fall to do a write up on DC for all of the Buckeye fans since MD is now in the Big Ten. Also because of the Navy game, which gives them 2 reasons to come this way.

          If you’re in town, please give me a call.

        2. Optimism, delusion, call it what you want. But plenty of H and R regulars objected when I implied Rand would be a severe underdog against Hillary.

          1. I think that IF he wins the nomination, he wins the presidency.

            Im just not sure of his chances to get the nomination. It is the stupid party, after all.

            1. That’s basically how I feel about Hillary. Maybe the Dems will go way left and give Elizabeth Warren the nomination. Maybe they’ll go with somebody I’ve never heard of.

              But I don’t see any Republican beating Hillary in 2016. If forced to pick one who I thought had any kind of chance of being competitive, I’d go with Ted Cruz.

          2. He’ll be an underdog, but he’ll destroy her in debates, and could ultimately win.

            1. Romney beat Obama in debates.

              Kerry beat Bush in debates.

              I am pretty sure debates do not matter.

    2. But according the The Jacket, we’re in the midst of a “libertarian moment!”

      The only thing more pathetic than an aging hipster is an optimistic aging hipster.

      1. Leather jacket wearing New Jersey boy is not and never can be a hipster.

  6. You didn’t have to be an anti-interventionist to understand that the US and NATO going in and intervening in a civil war and randomly bombing people until a disorganized rabble of militias and radical Muslims overthrew the government was going to end badly. If there is one thing that is always worse than doing nothing, it is doing something in a half assed and poorly thought out way.

    The results in Libya are not vindication for non intervention. It is vindication for everyone on both sides who isn’t delusional. Seriously, Power and Rice and Hillary and the Obama people are fucking delusional. How else do you explain them thinking this was a good idea?

    1. Many Iraqis long for the peace and prosperity that they had when they were ruled by a strongman.

      1. Many Russians favor Soviet communism.

      2. The 10% of the population that got over sure. The other 90% not so much

    2. I agree with this.

      The Obama admin’s thought process seemed to be precisely the one that prompted Col Cathcart to give Yossarian for intentionally dropping his bombs into the med rather than on his assigned target.

      If we don’t react, we will look impotent. If we punish him, we will be a laughingstock. Therefore we will reward him.

      In the case of Libya, they didn’t want to stand back because they thought the winner would be angry at them. They didn’t want to back Khadaffi because most Americans view him as an enemy. They didn’t want to commit to picking a specific winner or risking lives or treasure.

      Every decision was the cowardly one, leading to a shit sandwich. If they had shown any spine for taking heat, they would have been better off, and the locals would have been better off.

      It’s a shame really. Libya, I’m told, is a beautiful place.

      1. Remember, they actually said “lead from behind” without any sense of irony. They literally are the same thing as letting a bunch of rich, lefty high school students doing model UN run the country. They are just children. They are not serious people. Say what you want about Cheney and Rumsfeld, but they were at least adults.

        1. letting a bunch of rich, lefty high school students doing model UN run the country

          I blame a lot of this on higher education. I spend a lot of my time around academics and their understanding of the world is frequently, breathtakingly immature. At the same time, for the most part, they are very intelligent and highly educated people.

          Problem is they are being educated by the same cadre of very intelligent, highly educated juveniles who really do think the theoretical models and beliefs they have trump the real world.

          Just imagine someone who earned a graduate degree in economics under Krugman. They are now highly educated, probably very intelligent, but profoundly wrong about so much. While, at the same time, believing everyone who disagrees with them to be profoundly stupid.

        2. Holy shit, that’s it. We’re being run by people who think they are in high school MUN.

          I did MUN, and my team (my school was representing Nigeria) formed and led a coalition of nations that took over the whole General Assembly and most of the other committees. That’s right America, UK, kiss my African ass. I even remember the organization: CODINE (Coalition of Developing Independent Nations of the Earth). The UK guy, who was a college student, tried to insult our name, then we attacked him for his awful hegemonic attitudes.

          Strangely, the real delegate we had there as a judge said, “Yep, that’s about right” about the whole business.

      2. Did someone say “Yossarian”?

        From Catch-22 (1970)
        1st Lt. Milo Minderbinder: We’re gonna come out of this war rich!
        Yossarian: You’re gonna come out rich. We’re gonna come out dead.

        1. Yossarian was wrong–he survives the war.

    3. Whether they are delusional depends on what their actual objectives are. There’s no reason to assume that peace and stability were their real objectives. Sure, they say that, but they also lie much more often than normal human beings. Given their consistent performance in delivering and expanding violent chaos, isn’t it more reasonable to assume that violent chaos is their objective? They wouldn’t be so successful in delivering violent chaos if it were due to mere incompetence. Blind squirrels, acorns.

      1. Yes, if you assume they are actually on the other side, their actions make perfect sense. I just generally avoid doing that since it is too horrible to even contemplate.

      2. They don’t want violent chaos.

        Rather they suffer from two problems:
        1) They have a bad mental map of reality. Think Covey’s example of the guy trying to use a map of Chicago to navigate through London

        2) They are scared of looking stupider than the people they hate.

        So they make poor decisions, and lack the courage to change course when it becomes clear they’ve made a mistake.

  7. Ghadaffi. Hussein. Mubarak. Ben Ali. Assad.

    Arab spring and 3d chess!

    (What a fucking travesty)

    1. An idiot playing 3D chess will lose to a good player. He may think he is shit hot because it’s more complicated than 2D chess. But he still will play poorly, because he is an idiot no matter how many dimensions the board has.

      1. Our idiot doesn’t even know which side he’s playing on.

  8. I should have added that I fully expect some awful revelations to eventually come out about our former presence in Libya. I have no doubt that Obumbles bumblefucked Libya worse than we now know. Of course, that is probably true of everything with his fingerprints on it.

    1. Good point. Given their willingness to keep info secret (something all administrations do, of course) and the intellectual laziness of the media toward this administration, it’s a reasonable assumption that what we do know is the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

      1. What was the CIA doing in Bengazi? I would not be surprised if the conspiracy theory that they wanted the Ambassador to get kidnapped so they could trade him for the Blind Shek and help out the Muslim Brotherhood are true.

        1. Really? Seems a bit far-fetched.

          1. I don’t believe it, but it wouldn’t surprise me. How else do you explain him being there with no security and the White House telling the military to stand down and not even try to rescue him?

            1. Incompetence and political miscalculation.

          2. A little.

        2. What were they doing? Trying to recover the Stinger Missiles that Obama gave to muslim rebels in order to “level the playing field” against the Libyan military.

        3. “John|7.29.14 @ 1:33PM|#

          What was the CIA doing in Bengazi?

          IMO the evidence shows that they had both

          1) an official role in buying back weapons systems from rebels – both ones stolen from the Libyan arsenal, as well as recovering SA-7s/MANPADs we’d supplied the rebels to fight off Libyan air-power.

          This is substantiated in congressional testimony, congressional funding for the mission, etc.

          2) an unofficial role helping move weapons and personnel out of beghanzi to support anti-assad rebels in Syria. This was done mainly via turkey, with intelligence & financial support for the operation provided by Egypt and Saudi arabia.

          There’s plenty of secondary intelligence to support this idea. Its been ‘broken‘ by at least 3 different journalists and yet still treated as ‘speculation’ by most people.

    2. I should have added that I fully expect some awful revelations to eventually come out

      Odd on that being a year or two after 2016?

      Black Hawk Down and all of the nonfiction cable documentaries about Mogadishu didn’t come out until 2001, for some reason. For some reason.

      1. Odd on that being a year or two after 2016?

        Depends on if Shillary is president or not. This shit sandwhich has her fingerprints all over it too, so if she wins they’ll continue to keep quiet about it until after her two terms are up. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go throw up over the thought of two terms of that cunt as president.

  9. Have we won in Libya yet?

    1. Have we won, er, anywhere, yet?

      1. America did win in Iraq, then the Iraqi government screwed it up.

        1. Ditto in Afghanistan. The Taliban were removed from power.

          1. Both prove that we are good at war but suck at nation building.

            1. I remember joining the Army, not the Peace Corps…so I have to agree.

            2. You know, maybe we should find a country that is good at nation-building and partner with them. We destroy the government, military, and some infrastructure, they build it back into, well, West Germany.

  10. I was against the American intervention in Libya but I think it would end up like this regardless. There was no way Khaddafi was going to win even if his many many enemies in the region did not come to help the rebels. Assad can’t finish his rebellion and he’s way stronger.

    1. Had we not intervened, Kadafi may have won. If the government were still in place, it would be better.

      1. Better to have one tyrant in place than a dozen.

      2. I doubt he’d win and I am always against tyranny it is never good.

        1. He had air superiority. Air superiority always wins.

          1. You mean like in Vietnam?

            1. The F4 was a lumbering beast. Lots of them got shot down. Lots and lots.

              In Libya the rebels had zero planes. Nothing. They were going to lose. NATO destroyed the Libyan air force and conducted strikes directed by the rebels. Without that they would have lost.

            2. Initially the F4 didn’t even have a gun. All it could do was shoot missiles and run. And it left a great smoke trail to indicate its position. Just because we bombed the shit out of the jungle doesn’t mean we had air superiority.

              1. I dunno, we pretty much flew wherever we wanted, and we had all of those choppers and B-52s, too.

    2. There was no way Khaddafi was going to win

      Actually, I think he was winning until we intervened from behind. Remember, it was justified as our “responsibility to protect” Libyans from Quaddafhi’s air raids and artillery, which overmatched the rebels.

      1. I am pretty sure he was.

      2. Khaddafi would have taken Benghazi but he would not have finished off the rebels they would have fallen back to the Nubl mountains and other redoubts. Also, there were lots of Arab countries that wanted Khaddafi gone. Qatar had spec ops teams on the ground. Khaddafi would have won the battle but never won the war.

  11. Hilary’s foreign policy worked just fine in Libya.

    It was those damn youtube video that screwed everything up

  12. Sounds like some serious business.


    1. Indeed it is, anonybot, indeed it is.

  13. The opposition I have to what we did in Libya is limited, mostly, to Barack Obama’s contempt for the Constitutional process.

    If there was no likely scenario in which removing Gaddafi would not end up in a civil war, then I can’t say I would have discouraged the Libyan people from overthrowing their dictator anyway.

    Once the Libyan people decided they weren’t willing to suffer Gaddafi anymore, I’m not sure some kind of revolution and subsequent civil war was realistically avoidable. From their perspective, only they can tell us if what they’re going through now was worth what they achieved during the Libyan Revolution. I know I’m glad the U.S. declared its independence, even though we later sank into a civil war of our own.

    Incidentally, these ideological battles that the Arab world is going through are exactly the kinds of struggles they need to go through.

    1. Egypt is another example. If marginally secular people thought they wanted an Islamist government before, they are disabused of that notion now. Meanwhile, the Islamists in Egypt, who thought they had the people behind them, are also disabused of that delusion–I guess you have to protect the rights of minorities in a democracy, too! The military is finding out, again, that oppressing the MB isn’t the answer, long term, either…

      None of these lessons could be learned so long as there was a U.S. backed, authoritarian dictator in charge to blame. And it wasn’t going to be possible for Libya to come to the conclusions it eventually will with Gaddafi in charge either.

  14. (note: there is STILL no mention of the word ‘Libya’ on the front page of either the WaPo or NYT)

    re: “At the very most charitable, the common interventionist claim that Libya vindicated them in their dispute with non-interventionists was wildly premature.”

    ..the idea that there is or was some kind of ‘interventionists vs. non-interventionists’ binary-struggle in the foreign policy world is something i think that needs to be completely @#($@ abandoned.

    The criticism isn’t that the military intervention failed in its initial, limited, objectives – it didn’t – its that the subsequent diplomatic / financial / intelligence / institution-developing ‘intervention’ in the nation post-Ghaddafi utterly failed, and that the Team Blue belief that ‘they do these things *smarter*’ is shown to be a joke.

    This is a distinction that FP people care far more about. Not the “Do Something versus Do-Nothing” false dichotomy.

    Nothing here will convince anyone that efforts to affect change in other countries should *stop* because such efforts are ‘doomed to failure’ – rather, the conclusion will be that the post-military engagement was likely ‘insufficient’ and lacking in greater ‘commitment’.

    File under “how democrats screwed themselves thinking they had ‘learned the lessons of iraq'”
    (apologies if this point was already made above)

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.