Libya Again.

Libya was always something of a make-believe country. It really consists of tribes. Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi employed guile and violence to rule the country for over forty years.[1] In Spring 2011 there were uprisings against the established powers in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria.[2] The Obama administration imagined that a new “Springtime of the Peoples” had arrived. In Summer 2011, that “Arab Spring” reached Libya. The Libyan tyrant Qaddafi fought back and a blood-bath loomed. To forestall this (and an immense flight of refugees across the Mediterranean toward neighboring Italy[3]), in Fall 2011 an American-led coalition of NATO air forces bombed out of existence Qaddafi’s military forces. The rebels triumphed. Had there been any American–or British, or French, or even Italian–troops on the ground, they would have been welcomed with bouquets of flowers. However, there weren’t any foreign troops on the ground.

Instead, the Western powers wagered on a “national” government that represented no one. “We’re under no illusions,” said President Obama at the time. “Libya will travel a long and winding road to democracy.”[4] (In short, cue the “Wicked Witch of the East” in a burka.) Instead, the rebels were left to themselves to make the best of it. They made the worst of it. Regional and tribal militias proliferated, arming themselves from the huge stockpile of weapons that the Qaddafi regime had accumulated. In the West, “Libya Dawn” rallied the Islamists. Their gunmen seized control of the capital city, Tripoli.[5] In the East, “Dignity” rallied the anti-Islamists, many of them former supporters of the Qaddafi regime. Then the factions made contact with (or were pre-emptively contacted by) outside powers. Saudi Arabia and Egypt sought out “moderates.” Turkey and Qatar sought out “Islamists or “immoderates.” Some of them began to contact Al Qaeda or ISIS.[6] Currently, the country seems headed toward partition. Meanwhile, the gunmen demanded and got stipends from the government.[7] There is a nominal government, acceptable to the bureaucracies of the West, which has proposed a new constitution. The gun-men don’t seem too interested.

Increasingly, the struggle is about money. On the one hand, Libya has rich oil reserves.. the two sides have fought for control of the oil fields and of the oil ports. On the other hand, since the collapse of the regime, perhaps as many as a million Arab and African migrants to Europe have piled up in the coastal cities. They await the opportunity to embark and will pay whatever they can to buy passage.

President Obama recently has said that the intervening powers “underestimated” how much further resources would have to be committed to stabilizing Libya.[8] And how.

[1] “The collapse of Libya,” The Week, 1 May 2015.

[2] What lay at the root of this unrest? Stalled economic development. One serious consequence of this appeared in mass youth unemployment. Without an income, however, young people cannot get their own apartment and get married. Hence, sad to say, Cpl. Ray Person has a point.

[3] In English Comp this is referred to as “irony.”

[4] See: The President is a child of the Seventies.

[5] See:

[6] The Islamists have taken to butchering foreign Christians who fall into their clutches. Since we are in a secular age, no one gives a rip about something that would have pitched William Gladstone over the edge.

[7] To be clear, I’m not saying that this is the solution to the problems facing graduate students at Ivy League universities.

[8] Similarly, his economists have said that they “underestimated” how much stimulus would be needed to get the country out of the Great Recession. That underestimation involved ignoring Paul Krugman and other economists who said that the stimulus needed to be twice as big and loaded into the first year, not spread over two years.

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