Libya's neighbors on another U.S. intervention: We're good, thanks

By Matt Purple, February 23, 2016

The world is riven by chaos and Senator Marco Rubio thinks he knows why: the Obama administration’s supposed policy of disengagement. “I think the belief that somehow by retreating America makes the world safer has been disproven every single time it’s ever been tried,” Rubio said at a Republican presidential debate last year. Since then, he’s since made combatting American “retreat” a central theme of his presidential campaign.

Even if you accept that a presidency characterized by drone strikes, foreign assassinations, military interventions, and arms deals is somehow too passive, you’re still stuck with this problem: the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily want our help. For evidence, look no further than Libya. After the Obama administration swooped in and destroyed Moammar Gaddafi’s regime back in 2011, cheered on by Rubio and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, Libya descended into lawlessness. ISIS moved in and currently controls a 120-mile swath of territory along the coast. Many experts now believe the Islamic State is more deeply entrenched in Libya than in Syria or Iraq.

Time for the president to order up the bombers again, say neoconservatives as they sip their coffee. Libya’s neighbors disagree. The Associated Press reports (emphasis added):

Tunisia, the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings with a democracy, has suffered multiple attacks at the hands of Islamic State extremists trained in Libya, and officials there fear contagion from Libya’s instability. Algeria also has fought ongoing battles with Islamic extremists, and both countries fear Western military intervention will exacerbate the problem.

That fear is remarkable, given the circumstances. ISIS has used Libya as a base from which to export terrorism across North Africa. The Islamic State gunmen who shot up a resort in Sousse, Tunisia, killing 38, and the terrorists who murdered 22 people at a museum in Tunis were trained in Libya. ISIS has also pledged an extension of its jihad to Algeria.

You would think Tunisia and Algeria would be pleading for America to intercede. You would think the same about Egypt, which has also been affected by Islamic State thuggery, both in the troubled Sinai Peninsula and last year when 21 Coptic Christians were kidnapped and beheaded in Libya. That massacre provoked the Egyptians to bomb ISIS at the time. Today, however, they’re wary of America doing the same, as Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry told Reuters (emphasis added):

Shoukry suggested that international intervention without Libyan approval could backfire.

The experience in the past … might have been met by the Libyan people with a little bit of concern, the outcome of the last intervention,” he said, referring to turmoil that followed in the wake of the West’s help in bringing down Gadaffi.

“I think we all recognize that this is an issue that primarily will have to be dealt with by Libyans,” he said.

There you have it. Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria all had relatively stable relations with Moammar Gaddafi before the United States tossed him out. And while there is some appetite in Egypt for a present American role in Libya, North Africa hasn’t forgotten what initially sparked this chaos. It also hasn’t escaped their attention that a Western intervention in Iraq first unchained ISIS, and that subsequent meddling in Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen enhanced the fortunes of Islamic jihadists. Our recent record in the Middle East, needless to say, is pretty dismal.

So North Africa has every right to be skeptical. But then the United States should respond by saying: okay, you guys strap on your combat boots. Let Egypt intervene in Libya and finally use its military for something other than oppressive home rule. Let the Algerians and the Tunisians assist where they can. Let the Saudis, Qataris, Jordanians, and every other mostly Sunni nationality listed by Carly Fiorina in her sleep work with the UN to broker a peace between Libya’s querulous governments and then storm in to destroy ISIS. Why should we spend another dollar trying to stabilize a Middle East that’s obstinately resisted our designs? Let the region take responsibility for itself.

And yet on Friday a small coastal town in Libya became the latest target of American bombs as our warplanes tried to kill an Islamic State militant there. The mission creep is back. Can you feel its pull?

Matt Purple is a fellow at Defense Priorities and deputy editor at Rare Politics. 

This piece was originally published by Rare on February 23, 2016. Read more HERE.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images..