This is the latest article by a student from one of 11 academic institutions
participating in News-Decoder’s pilot program.
By Greg Venizelos
As the United States ponders military intervention in Libya, it should reflect on how previous actions brought that North African country to the tragic state it is currently in.
Washington would like to halt the spread of Islamic State (ISIL), which has seized the town of Derna in northwest Libya and is estimated to have 6,500 fighters in the country.
But if ISIL is in Libya, it is because of the prolonged conflict and instability that followed the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 amid a bombing campaign by U.S. and other Western forces.
While the air strikes were authorized by two U.N. Security Council resolutions to protect Libyan citizens from Gaddafi’s dictatorship, the United States and its European allies are more focused on fighting extremism and removing autocrats than rebuilding unstable nations.
In a March, 2011 interview, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton identified the reasoning behind intervention in Libya:
“Imagine we were sitting here and Benghazi had been overrun, and tens of thousands of people had been slaughtered. The cries would be, ‘Why did the United States not do anything?’”
The 2011 humanitarian intervention led to a divided country.
At the time the Obama administration was deeply divided over Libya. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was among those who rejected the claim that Gaddafi aimed to slaughter his own citizens. Events of the past five years validate his view.
Before Clinton’s interview, Gates and the then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told journalists that they had “no confirmation whatsoever” of reports that Gaddafi’s forces had fired on civilians.
Alan Kuperman, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, finds that events in the cities of Zawiya, Misurata and Ajdabiya indicated Gaddafi was not on a campaign of indiscriminate slaughter. The combined population of these cities is greater than that of Benghazi, and all were retaken by Gaddafi, but with no large-scale massacres.
In the event, the United States intervened and assisted in deposing Gaddafi but without a long-term plan for rebuilding Libya’s political infrastructure.
Oil production came to a halt, armed militia groups turned on each other and the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood withdrew from congress and ignited a civil war in 2014, effectively dividing the country between its eastern and western provinces.
Libyan citizens have always been excluded from the state.
Since the arrival of ISIL militants, U.S. military operations in Libya have increased.
If the United States aims to intervene once again in Libya, it should take into account the country’s history.
For more than a century — under Italian colonial rule, the Sanusi monarchy and the Gaddafi regime — the citizens of Libya have been excluded from the state.
During the Italian colonial period, which lasted from 1911 to 1947, many examples of modern infrastructure including public utilities, ports and a coastal highway emerged for the very first time, but Libyans were excluded from the country’s progress and investments.
In 1949, the United Nations adopted a resolution calling for the independence of Libya, which then established a monarchy under Idris al-Sanusi, who returned from exile in Egypt in 1951.
However, the problems that plagued Libya during its colonial period only intensified under the monarchy.
When Gaddafi took control in 1969, he attempted to establish a Jamahiriyya, a stateless nation controlled by the people but which in reality was monitored by the regime.
Libya gradually became more autocratic as a result of the establishment of “revolutionary committees”, controlled directly by Gaddafi.
A single policy for the region does not serve U.S. interests.
There is a common theme among these three eras. In each era, the Libyan people had little influence in the decisions of the ruling regime.
The Obama administration should recognize that a single doctrine governing the Middle East and North Africa would not serve U.S. interests.
The specific culture and history of each nation should be analyzed individually to create more effective policies. Doing so will ensure that the United States can continue in its role as the most influential participant in global politics.
(The views are the author’s.)
Greg Venizelos is a student at Greens Farms Academy, a U.S. secondary school that is participating in News-Decoder’s pilot program.