Many have argued that Libya would have been worse off without the Obama’s intervention – we may never know. The fact is that Libya, like many other countries involved in the Arab Spring, did not flourish into a democracy.
Resolution 1973 was passed on the 17th of March, 2011 by the UN Security Council. It was led and organized by former president Obama’s administration. The resolution authorized military intervention in Libya. It was argued this was necessary because Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime had been exercising a crackdown on anti-regime protesters. It was said that Qaddafi was set to commit a bloodbath in Benghazi, the Libyan city where the national uprising had started.
On the 19th of March, the United States, along with other NATO countries, established a no-fly zone throughout Libya and began bombing Qaddafi’s government forces. International lawyers such as Richard Falk argued this was an act of war – but this did not stop Obama’s administration, or the Security Council’s power to distinguish between ‘legitimate’ foreign interventions in other sovereign countries and others. Resolution 1973 extended as a military campaign until rebel forces gained control of the country and killed al-Qaddafi in October 2011. The situation was interpreted by the U.S administration as a massive success. Obama had asserted that “Without putting a single U.S service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives”. Many believed that the administration had prevented the outbreak of a genocide.
Obama had declared that “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi…could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world”. But the conscience of the world, and of U.S administrations’ foreign policies, has long been stained.
The disastrous consequences of an authorized intervention in Libya
Many have argued that Libya would have been worse off without the intervention – we may never know. The fact is that Libya, like many other countries involved in the Arab Spring, did not flourish into a democracy. Human rights violations have increased drastically. The country has attracted fundamentalist militias including al Qaeda and ISIL. Moreover, Libya’s first elected prime minister, Mustafa Abu-Shaghour maintained his position in office for less than four months.
Like Egypt, due to a number of internal and external factors, Libya was unable to achieve stability and has had multiple leaders in office since its uprising. None could disarm or control the militias which had bred during NATO’s seven-month intervention. Meanwhile, tribal rivalry and direct conflict have risen. The country was divided further when secessionists in eastern Libya, the country’s oil-rich region, declared their own government in October 2013, and the Ali Zeidan, the country’s prime minister was kidnapped and held hostage within the same month.
These tensions led Libya to the brink of a civil war in 2014. The events had diminished the hope of Libyans, who, like many others in neighboring Arab countries, had been suffering from the chaos that erupted when they demanded freedom from their authoritarian regimes. Voter turnout dropped from 1.7 million in the previous poll to 630,000. The conflict of interests between the competing groups eventually extended to governance: secular parties and Islamists competed for legitimacy in parliament, with both sides claiming authority.
This leads to various questions, asked often by various academic experts on the subject of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’. Ayça Çubukçu, who lectured at Columbia, Harvard, and is currently lecturing at the London School of Economics asked: “If there is no military intervention…how could the bloodshed [of Qaddafi] be stopped?”. To this, she highlighted how the military intervention in Libya was claiming to protect Libyans and yet was killing Libyans and others in the process. This is true even if an estimated 72 civilians were killed, as opposed to mass casualties of the Qaddafi regime.
Intervention in the Name of Human Rights
In Libya, the U.S assumed the authority to stand in the name of human rights and intervene through military means in a foreign country, without the consent of its people. The intervention resulted in chaos, and consequences Libyan civilians continue to face today, and yet it was legitimized by international law and by the Security Council. This is part of a wider American foreign policy towards the Middle East which is based on an incredibly paternalistic narrative of “saving” others (indeed, often from the very problems created by earlier foreign policies).
No Justice: The Cases of Iraq, Syria, and Libya
The Iraq (also known as ‘Chilcot’) Inquiry of 2016 revealed the complete failure of the U.S. and U.K. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The intervention did not have the authorization of the Security Council, and it was revealed numerous times that Saddam Hussein did not possess Weapons of Mass Destruction. Nevertheless, the administrations of George W. Bush and Tony Blair took it upon themselves to intervene and occupy a sovereign state in the name of human rights. The situation which later spiraled completely out of control, as evident today, has impacted the lives of millions of Iraqis and others in the region. Although Blair issued a public apology (specifically to the parents of British soldiers who died in the war), there is yet to be any compensation for the irreplaceable damage which was caused.
What was done to reconcile the consequences of the Libyan intervention? There has been no adequate response, no explanation, and no consequences. President Trump’s recent intervention in Syria was heavily criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike. Why was there no procedure in place to stop him? Why is he not expected to provide proper, detailed explanations or at least prearranged foreign policies? Hilary Clinton has been heavily criticized for the events in Benghazi, but only following the threat to American lives at a government facility in Benghazi. Regardless of whether the intervention was a mistake – why did American lives warrant more outrage than Arab ones ever did?
It seems the U.S.’s foreign policies towards the Middle East have revolved around illegitimate interventions and a simple hunger for oil. When a leader is democratically elected, he is removed if he does not cooperate with the U.S. (see Mossadeq, removed from leadership in Iran and replaced by the despised Shah in the 1950s).
When authoritarian leaders are loyal allies, they are supported for decades by the U.S., as it simultaneously claims to stand for all that is free and democratic. It will sell arms to Saudi Arabia and choose to neglect its human rights violations when convenient.
The people of the Middle East are not missing the hypocrisy that is U.S. foreign policy towards their region. Many do, however, miss their family members, friends, and community members that have been reduced to “civilian casualties”. And unlike President Trump, we do not have the luxury of calmly eating chocolate cake as bombs drop on our lands.