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The Libyan Afterparty Comes Back to Libya


The Mali War was blowback from the Libya War; now we have blowback from the Mali War… in Libya. The Guardian has details on increasing violence against Western targets in Tripoli, including an attack on the French embassy last week, likely in retaliation for France’s decision to extend its mission against the Tuareg nationalists and the jihadists in northern Mali:

Jihadist groups ejected from their Timbuktu stronghold have moved north, crossing the Sahara through Algeria and Niger to Libya, fuelling a growing Islamist insurgency.

“There are established links between groups in both Mali and Libya—we know there are established routes,” said a western diplomat in Tripoli. “There is an anxiety among the political class here that Mali is blowing back on them.” […]

The fear across the Maghreb is that the French operation that has pushed them out of the northern cities has inadvertently compounded problems elsewhere in north Africa as jihadist units disperse.

“If you squeeze a balloon in one part, it bulges out in another,” said Bill Lawrence, of International Crisis Group, a political consultancy. “There’s no question that the French actions in Mali had the effect of squeezing that balloon towards Algeria and Libya.”

Meanwhile in northern Mali, the al-Qaeda-linked jihadists are no longer shooting dogs, banning alcohol or openly carrying arms in city streets. But citizens are still fearful, and the UN-backed African military force in the region is having a hard time keeping the peace:

“It is difficult to know who is a jihadist, who is the MNLA [the Tuareg Mouvement National de Liberation de l’Azawad], and who is a bandit. All these bandits have taken advantage of the security situation. The jihadists are getting supplies from people by attacking them on the road.”

The security problems in northern Mali, where militants have lost their grip on towns but large weapons caches are believed to be hidden in the desert, have dampened the jubilant spirit that arose when French forces swept into the region in January. In addition to regular incidents outside Timbuktu, it and other towns in the north have been rocked by a spate of suicide bombings, previously unheard of in the country. Army officials and residents alike say it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of further similar attacks.

In other words, the current state of affairs is lining up more or less exactly as our colleague Adam Garfinkle has been predicting it would for a while now.

This leaves us wondering exactly how all those clever humanitarians in the White House run the numbers these days. Do they calculate that our Libyan excursion saved more lives than have been lost in the subsequent chaos in not one but now several northern African countries? We certainly hope that whatever accounting they use is very clever, because from our back-of-the-envelope arithmetic, there has been zero benefit to the national interest from this poorly judged, poorly prepared, poorly handled war.

[Rebel fighters from Eastern Libya in 2011. Courtesy Getty Images]

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  • Maybe we should just clear out of those parts of the world and let them fight it out? When the king of the mountain finally emerges, deal with him — or cut him off. Of course there are downsides to this approach, but those have to be measured against the downside of wasting our resources in fruitless attempts to “shape the peace” in these tribal societies. They are not a mortal threat, 9/11 notwithstanding.

    • f1b0nacc1

      I coudln’t agree more. If they (these pestholes) become bothersome, use the ‘rubble don’t make trouble’ approach, blast them into dust, then leave. When someone responsible takes over, that is the time to start becoming engaged….

  • Anthony

    Perhaps NGOs, humanitarians, State Department, et al should consider a historical mode of thought: study the Chad-Libyan war of the mid 1980s.

  • Lyle7

    So leaving the despots of the Middle East in place was the “smarter” foreign policy choice?

    Was not the French Revolution violent? Did it not lead to the Napoleonic wars?

    • TheCynical1

      Do no harm.

  • Kevin

    Dr. Mead seems to be arguing allowing Moammar Gadhafi to
    remain in power, slaughter the inhabitants of Benghazi etc. is better than the
    ‘no troops’ intervention of Pres. Obama and the Europeans because of the
    instability it caused and chaos / violence it unleashed in neighboring
    countries. He seems to want to say “if
    we decide we’re not going to apply the pottery barn rule and own what we break
    then we shouldn’t do anything.” This
    Powell Doctrine(ish) attitude is fine as an aspiration but given the American
    public opinion’s opposition to getting into another land war it seems to me we
    did the most we could with the limited room for maneuver the president had

    The counterfactual is always difficult but what if we had stayed out of
    Libya? Do the Syrians rise up (since
    they would have no expectation of help from Obama)? Do Syrian rebels wish they
    had never risen up to fight Assad since US air power and weapons did not
    materialize? Would the Iranians be less emboldened or more so to build The Bomb
    since Obama would have sat back and allowed untold numbers to be killed (in
    defiance of world opinion just like them)?
    Politicians have to weigh how much they can do given public opinion at
    home and in this case Obama did what he thought he could. The unintended consequences are awful as Mali
    shows but do they warrant the caustic commentary? I can only hope Dr. Mead would have maintained his consistency by extolling the virtues of that stabilizing influence
    Gadhafi, in the aftermath of his bloody repression of Benghazi, and the announcement
    his son would be traveling to Damascus for consultations with that young
    optometrist reformer Bashar Assad!

    • Anti imperialist

      There was no slaughter planned for Benghazi or anywhere else in Libya. This was just the excuse NATO needed to seize control from a leader, they couldn’t control. Perhaps its time for the’ West’ to stop playing the role of’ God’ Almighty. Those shoes are proving far too big and far too expensive, for the people they role-play ‘God’ to. As for the sad fellows from those ‘God’ imposed countries, who believe in interventionism- look back on near history and find out just what these’ Gods’ think of you

  • Anti imperialist

    I am no longer surprised at the level of ignorance displayed by so many in the West on the Middle East & imparticular Libya under Gaddafi. Read up on the truth from studies about the rapid development, stability, human rights record and popularity of Gaddafi. and free your minds from the main stream media that serves a corporate agenda and only act as propagandists in matters of Western foreign policy

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