I don’t like covering breaking news topics. I’m happy to produce a video on a deep seated issue that gets sparked by something in the news, but I don’t like making predictions or doing video takes about an on-going story (that’s what twitter’s for!). Mid-stream analysis, the bread and butter of the cable news networks, is largely bullshit. Unfortunately, for today’s video, Khalifa Haftar of Libya ambushed me. On March 26th, I promised to do a video on Libya, a topic I had already been researching for a week or two. On April 4th, Khalifa Haftar invaded Western Libya, throwing everything up in the air.
Half of this video was drafted before April 4th. As the news has rolled in, my estimate of Haftar, already pretty negative, continued to plummet. I have tried to make this video consistent and informative in its presentation, but I’m not sure I pulled it off. A video’s title is very much a part of the experience. Usually it just advertises and reflects the content, but I think with today’s video, more buffeted by events than I like, the title may present the conclusion. I shot this video last Thursday, and have continued to research and follow developments as they have come. Haftar is not the savior he is sometimes presented to be. I hope today’s video gets that across.
This video would not have been possible without the International Crisis Group’s Libya coverage. On country after country I have found their work invaluable. They tend to be my starter source for one-shot videos like this where I won’t be reading multiple books.
After today’s video had been shot, the Wall Street Journal confirmed that Haftar has Saudi Arabia’s full support in his destruction of Libya’s chances for a settlement.
I found the New Yorker’s 2015 profile of Haftar to be particularly useful for this video.
I used this headline on Haftar and the Muslim Brotherhood in the video. Keep in mind that the National is a United Arab Emirates publication, so this article may be more useful for what the UAE wants you to think about Libya, than what is actually going on.
For balance I included a headline on Haftar’s use of military material from the Saudis, the UAE and Egypt from Middle East Monitor, an outfit rumored to have ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Obviously if it’s anti-Saudi, I’m a fan, but this probably isn’t any more trustworthy than the National.
I also used this headline from Reuters, and the article provides a nice discussion of Egypt’s shady bombing campaigns in Libya. Reuters is a US publication, so of course it’s going to downplay the fact that Washington, DC is, at root, the responsible party in this nightmare.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. We don’t hear a lot about Libya in the United States. Even Yemen is getting more coverage now that everybody has woken up to how horrible Saudi Arabia is. Libya is awkward. People are vaguely aware that the United States broke it back in 2011, and it never got better. We Americans don’t like to pay attention to that sort of thing. But the truth is actually worse than that. US neglect of the issue is keeping Libya broken.
A couple weeks ago I talked about how much good the world could do if it decided to start trying to help Tunisia, the Arab Spring’s sole success story, instead of driving it further into debt. But the sad fact is that if Libya remains as screwed up as it is, Tunisia will never recover. Tunisia has many more People, but Libya has vastly more size. Today Libyan refugees and instability are pouring into Tunisia, just as oil wealth did prior to 2011.
Before there was a Bashar Assad, and even before there was a Saddam Hussein, there was a Muammar Ghaddafi. This Libyan strong man relished his role as a US hate object in the 1980s and 1990s. He thought he had made his peace with the US under the second Bush, but in 2011, he found that that was not the case. NATO invaded the country overthrew his government, and Ghaddafi was savagely murdered in the street.
We were told we had to do It, because Ghaddafi, the military strongman who controlled most of the country, threatened the people of Benghazi. So where are we eight years later? Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman who controls most of the country, now threatens the people and leaders of Tripoli. Fighting has flared up in recent weeks, and Libya is once again on the brink of all out civil war. It’s actually worse than it was back in 2011, there are a lot more people in and around Tripoli than there were in Benghazi, and the leaders in Tripoli are supposedly the United Nations approved government.
Many welcome Haftar’s attack on the country’s main population center. It is being officially condemned all over the world, but only half heartedly. Many see one strong man as an improvement over the anarchy the country has experienced for the past 8 years. I was sympathetic to this idea as well, before I started researching what’s actually happening. Honestly, The more I read about Haftar the less I like him.
The main thing we are supposed to like about Haftar is that he’s going to provide unity rather than a patchwork of militia controlled areas. But the more you look at Haftar’s liberation army, the more it looks like a bunch of militias, held together mostly by loyalty to one rather old, occasionally sickly man. Libya is a country that currently has at least three attempts going on right now to manage militias with kind of representative institutions. It seems like kind of a shame to throw them all out and go with a strong man.
And then there’s this.
Haftar’s brand is opposing terrorists. It seems like he may have stamped out some legitimately bad guys over the past few years, but it’s hard to see exactly what went on through the fog of war and propaganda. It’s also become clear that like most Middle East strongmen Haftar’s definition of terrorist seems to include anybody who disagrees with him.
Right before launching this new offensive on Tripoli, he visited King Salman of Saudi Arabia. It’s possible he is carrying out this new attack with Saudi Arabia’s stealth endorsement. This wouldn’t be too surprising, because he hates the Muslim Brotherhood just as much as the Saudis to. Haftar’s definition of terrorist seems to include anybody who believes Islam and Democracy are compatible, which why he has the eager support from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. They send him a lot of money, and occasionally bomb thong for him.
Even worse, it seems that some of Haftar’s anti-Muslim Brotherhood militias are pretty serious Salafists Who have tried to enforce a fundamentalist Muslim lifestyle in the areas they control. Who knows, maybe Haftar is Libya’s savior. But it’s hard for me to believe he isn’t a step backward. What I am more interested in is how we got back to basically the same situation we were in 8 years ago.
The Libya intervention started out very hopefully. Pretty much nobody liked Ghaddafi, so China and Russia ran an experiment. For once they let the US have a security council resolution for a humanitarian intervention, on the understanding that we wouldn’t do regime change. Aand we screwed them, taking the inch we were given and taking a mile, overthrowing Ghaddafi and essentially killing the idea of organized global action for the past decade.
With such a bad start, it’s little wonder that there hasn’t been a United front since. There were Libyan elections in 2012 and 2014. Both of those elected legislatures still claim power to some degree The UN has done endless mediations, but nobody takes it seriously. Every outside power claims to support the UN process but then goes and supports its own guys.
We have the same dynamic we have seen elsewhere, with Turkey and Qatar supporting Muslim democrats, and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt supporting the people who want to kill those Democrats. Egypt is big on Haftar, because they see echoes of their own dictator in him, which is another bad sign. The EU can’t even keep it together. France supports Haftar, and Italy supports the Tripoli government, because the two European countries are competing for oil contracts. This whole thing gets worse because the Libyan power structure is so fragmented. A single country can find itself supporting opposing militias in different parts of the country, or even in the same city. Haftar’s March on Tripoli is making the international community’s policy even more schizophrenic than it already was.
The United States claims to support the UN supported process in Tripoli, but Haftar is a US citizen, who lived next door to the CIA for a couple decades, and seems to travel back and forth to the U.S. without any problems. Basically the United States does not care. We would rather not hear about this disaster we caused.
But we should care. Not because we care about Libya, we clearly don’t, but because of Tunisia, the struggling democracy next door. In the unlikely event that Haftar can take Tripoli, what’s to stop him from taking his crusade against Islamic democracy across the border? Tunisia’s governing coalition includes some Islamist too.
That could be alarmist. But why take the risk? The nice thing here is that the United States can make an incredible difference in Libya without doing much. If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could take a day off from his busy schedule of trying to create new Libyas in Iran and Venezuela he could actually do some good. A quick word of forceful support for the UN supported government of Libya would go a long, long way.
Thanks for watching, please subscribe, and if you want to hear more about the US’s colossal 2011 screw up in Libya you can check out this rather rude video on Samantha Power from a couple years back.