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article imageOp-Ed: Western Libya intervention, the sequel

By Ken Hanly     Nov 11, 2014 in Politics
Benghazi - The New York Times seems at times an outlet for Obama administration policy and trial balloons for possible policy directions. Perhaps the recent op-ed suggesting the EU should intervene with a peace-keeping force in Libya is a trial balloon.
The op-ed is penned by Dirk Vandewalle an associate professor of government at Darmouth College. Vandewalle is an expert on Libya and two years ago wrote an article for Foreign Affairs in which he expressed optimism about developments in post-Qaddafi Libya, although he does note the militia issue that was developing even then. The appended video shows Vandewalle in an interview shortly after the attack on the US consul in Benghazi that resulted in the death of US ambassador Stevens and several others. He remained optimistic about developments in Libya.
Vandewalle begins his article by noting that 11 special envoys had met in Paris at the end of October. He says that the group: " issued a final communiqué with predictably anodyne recommendations: support for the formal government, suggestions for making it more inclusive, a call for the militias to withdraw and a proposal that the United Nations spearhead a comprehensive dialogue among the warring parties."
The final communique in its entirety can be found here. Among predictably anodyne recommendations were that there be no external interference in Libya: They commended the determination of the special representative to organize, in the near future, a new round of discussions and urged the parties to remove all obstacles to these discussions. They stated that the efforts of all international partners should aim to support the UN mediation efforts. They rejected any external interference in Libya.
Vandewalle is correct that so far the discussions have achieved very little if anything but that is in part because the discussions have not been with the parties that count, CIA-linked Colonel Haftar's militias, the Islamist militias such as Libyan Dawn, and the alternative government of Omar al-Hassi.
Professor Vandewalle is all for foreign intervention. According to him this is the way forward for Libya: What Libya needs instead is a European peacekeeping force that would shield the fledgling government from the various armed groups currently contesting its power, and one another, and allow it to rebuild state institutions.
The article is dated November 11th. Back on Thursday November 5th the Libyan Supreme Court ruled that the June elections were illegal and the new government unconstitutional. This is surely relevant to Vandewalle's policy recommendation since it implies that the internationally recognized government is not constitutional.
The kindest explanation of this omission is that Vandewalle wrote the article before this even happened in spite of the fact it was almost a week ago. Perhaps he may think it is of no significance. There are many things that Vandewalle apparently thinks are of no significance. Here is his account of some recent events in Libya:When the Islamist parties fared poorly in the election in June for the G.N.C.’s successor, the House of Representatives, fighting flared up in the western part of the country. The Islamist militias, emboldened by several military advances, including their overtaking the international airport in Tripoli in August, have proclaimed that the G.N.C. would remain Libya’s rightful legislative body.
There were no Islamist parties per se running in the elections. Everyone ran as an independent. However, he probably is correct that those elected who actually went to the meetings in Tobruk were mostly not Islamists. But Vandewalle manages to describe these events without ever mentioning CIA-linked General Haftar, his attempt to declare the GNC suspended on Feb 14 , his Operation Dignity launched on 16 May 2014, his attack on Islamist militia bases in Benghazi, and the burning of parliament by his allies the Zintan brigades. Without understanding this background there is no way that that the public can really fathom what has been happening in Libya. Perhaps this is the entire purpose of an expert academic ignoring the obvious. Vandewalle manages to go through an entire interview without mentioning General Khalifa Haftar nor does his name even come up in his entire op-ed in the New York Times.
Of course this sort of omission is not uncommon in respectable media. Here is a Reuters account of the attack on the Libyan parliament
The gunmen are not identified. The attack is not linked to Haftar at all or his operations in Benghazi. There is editorial propaganda against the parliament that was attacked almost seeming to justify the attack. Contrast that with the Al Jazeera coverage below which links the operation with Haftar allies, the Zintan brigades, and to the beginning of Haftar's Operation Dignity that began earlier in Benghazi.
Vandewalle realizes that Libya is on the verge of a civil war and also notes correctly that countries such as the UAE and Egypt are intervening against Islamist militias and that Qatar supports some Islamist groups. He thinks dialogue is impossible because the militias flush with weapons have no incentive to cooperate. He fails to mention that the anti-Islamist militias of Genral Haftar have the support of the Tobruk government led by the same prime minister Al-Thinni who called General Haftar's attack on parliament attack on parliament illegal and noted that there was a warrant out for his arrest. He was prime minister of that government as well. Now his government has given the green light to attack not just Benghazi as Haftar is doing but to liberate Tripoli as well: Libya’s internationally recognized government ordered on Tuesday its military, led by renegade General Khalifa Haftar, to advance on the capital Tripoli and called for a civil disobedience there against armed Islamist groups. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani’s cabinet said in statement posted on Facebook that the armed forces have the green light to “liberate” Tripoli “and state institutions from the grip of armed groups.” No doubt the professor simply forgot the relationship of Haftar's militia to the present government.
Vandewalle remarks that the US has no appetite for boots on the ground in Libya. However, it does have special forces there since it has been involved in kidnapping terror suspects and at one time they attempted to train Libyan forces. Now due to security conditions in Libya this job has been moved out of country, even to the UK which recently closed their program down after the trainees did not behave as proper proxies for western imperial aims. Vandewalle concludes:The responsibility for creating a peacekeeping force for Libya falls squarely on European states. Considering their longstanding economic and political interests in North Africa and their concerns over immigration, it is they, after all, that have the most to lose from Libya’s collapse. Libya is part of the European Union’s soft underbelly.
The long-standing economic and political interests are no doubt related to the history of Libya as a colony of Italy and in part of France.
As in the 2011 intervention the Europeans should spearhead the intervention, "with logistical and intelligence support from the United States". Vandewalle notes that France has openly called for intervention. Apparently Vandewalle gets around since he was testifying before an Italian parliamentary commission on foreign affairs in Rome on Oct. 24 and says:I was struck by how frankly some members were arguing that only a European-led force could provide a way out of the current impasse. The original notion some European politicians held — that a beefed-up U.N. mission was needed — has lost its appeal.
Vandewalle suggests that the model for the intervention should be the International Assistance Force(ISAF)used to put down the Taliban in Afghanistan. The problem is that ISAF came into being only after a US-led attack on the Taliban in concert with the Northern Alliance. Only after the Taliban had been driven out of government did ISAF enter the picture. Operation Enduring Freedom began on October 1st 2001 and ISAF was formed only in December two months later.
Vandeville sees the EU peace-keeping role as strengthening the Tobruk government through protecting infrastructure and state institutions. However, much of that infrastructure is in the control of Islamist militias.Vandewalle warns that Europe must intervene decisively or face another failed Arab state. So just how did Libya, now trending towards a so-called failed state, get to this point?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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