The Obama Administration is facing the ultimate exposure of the failure of its lauded strategy of “leading from behind”.
The phrase came into use when Washington stood back in 2011 while its European allies toppled the Mohammed Qadaffi regime in Libya. Qadaffi had abandoned his earlier pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism — including the bombing with the Syrians of Pan Am 103 over Scotland in 1988. But he was collapsing under the siege from Islamist terrorists. By 2014, the country was being torn apart between an Islamist-led administration in Tripoli and an internationally recognized government based in the eastern city of Tobruk.
Now Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] is threatening a Libyan takeover in the near chaos that has followed. Not only would the would-be caliphate acquire a critical North African staging area for migration to Europe, but it is already installed in Libya’s principal oil producing area. With the largest oil reserves and production in Africa – larger than both Nigeria and Algeria – growing control in Libya would enhance the self-proclaimed international revenues and leadership of the Islamic terrorists based in Syria and Iraq.
Local affiliates of the Islamic State last year grabbed the coastal city of Sirte, Mohammed Gadhafi’s hometown. And they have moved on to four other strong points, some closer to the critical oil fields. With warmer weather approaching, European governments – already overwhelmed with hundreds of thousands of Mideast migrants – fear Libya could become an even greater trampoline for an enlarged invasion of refugees and economic migrants from Black Africa.
There is virtual chaos among the country’s six million people with two power centers vying for control. Turkey and Qatar, with their strong ties to the Moslem Brotherhood, are supporting the Islamists in Tripoli on its Western border with troubled Tunisia. Egypt, which feels threatened directly by Libyan events on its western border, and the United Arab Emirates are backing the more secular regime in Tobruk in the east.
Daesh is operating from four different points in the country which would demand a sizeable allied operation.Sec. of State John Kerry has been trying with the help of Washington’s allies to put together an interim government which could call for international assistance. The U.S. already has a Special Operations team operating in the country and the British and Americans are operating drones overhead. British sources have already proposed a plan for a 10,000-man joint expeditionary force. Another drawn up by the Italians calls for a 6,000 invasion source to reestablish order. Both anticipate American leadership as well as transport which the allies do not have.
The diplomats’ plan for a united Libyan government to call for foreign intervention to boot out the Islamic state is moving slowly. The United Nations has failed for more than a year to get the two rival administrations and their allied militias into a unity. And there is growing concern that Daesh may consolidate its hold. Britain, Italy and France are urging the U.S. to intervene immediately even before a government is formed. The White House is reportedly concerned Islamist terrorist control of Libya would be catastrophic.
Libya, always a contested approach to southern Europe – as it was during the World War II between Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Nazi army and the Britain’s Desert Rats– is critical to any kind of regional stabilization.
Handling the crisis this time around is going to take direct American intervention at the head of the line, however much nostalgia there is now at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for Obama’s formula of the U.S. as a backseat driver.