Be careful what you wish for. In 2011, a Libyan rebellion began against autocrat Muammar Gaddafi. It undoubtedly reflected the wish of many Libyans for a new world of their own without his heavy hand or that of his secret police and secret prisons. Wishing to be rid of a ruler long seen as a nemesis, Washington, in tandem with its NATO allies, joined the fray at a moment when it looked like the rebels might otherwise be going down. Without consulting Congress, and so of course without a declaration of war, President Obama brought in the planes, drones, and Tomahawk missiles. Air power certainly helped turned the tide and then hasten the fall of the autocrat. Only one problem: what came next.
The aftermath proved to be a slowly devolving Libyan nightmare filled with militias of every sort, including jihadist ones. The results have been grim, including of course the death of a U.S. ambassador. In the meantime, weaponry from Gaddafi's looted arsenals, ranging from modern assault rifles to antitank weapons and even shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, soon began spreading to Mali, elsewhere in North Africa, and later as far as Egypt and Syria, as well as into the hands of "extremists and criminals." The result has been a regional boost for exactly the jihadist forces the U.S. opposes most fervently, while for Libyans, it was the saddest story of all. A recent poll indicates that, with a desperately weak central government and marauding militias, "more than one-third of Libyans report feeling unsafe going to the market, school, or work," while 40 percent of women feel that way simply leaving their houses heading anywhere. In response, Libya has been transformed into a gun-toting society, with firearms in nearly 30 percent of Libyan homes (though, according to that same poll, most Libyans "would happily give up their arms in an environment of a well functioning military and police and with an improvement in general security").
Given the unsettling results of the 2011 intervention thus far, you might imagine that Washington and the Pentagon would think twice about what in the world to do next and perhaps adjust their approach. As events of the 21st century have made all too clear, however, there is no genuine learning curve in Washington when it comes to such things. The only response is always, in some fashion, more of the similar, if not the same.
In "Washington Fights Fire With Fire in Libya," Nick Turse explores a new Pentagon scheme to train up a force whose Libyan recruits will be drawn from already existing and often notorious militias as a supposed future bulwark for the weak central government. It's one of those plans that may sound sensible in Pentagon briefings but has "cockamamie" written all over it. It practically comes with a bound-to-fail guarantee stamped on it and an assurance that it will increase the misery of Libyans. Writ small, it seems to go to the heart of the distinctly underreported U.S. pivot to Africa which, as Turse has so vividly and repeatedly shown, is proving to be largely a machine for destabilizing the continent, stoking extremism, and creating the conditions for blowback. Of course, given the way Washington thinks, those results offer a guarantee of their own: a self-perpetuating employment program for the U.S. military into the distant future.