In an interview on Fox News Sunday, President Obama said that the 2011 Libya intervention was the greatest disaster and worst mistake of his presidency. Obama apologized for the lack of post-intervention planning, but not for the intervention itself, adding that intervening in Libya “was the right thing to do.” As rumors abound that Europe again prepares to intervene in Libya it is worth analyzing the lessons of the last intervention. The intervention in Libya is arguably considered disastrous. It provided a foothold for the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), destabilized an entire coastline only miles from Europe, and rendered the entire region a launching ground for human smugglers profiting on migrant trafficking, not just from Middle East, but from as far away as Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Pakistan. As a rookie foreign affairs blogger five years ago, I argued that plunging into in Libya would be imprudent. Academics such as Stephen Walt, Micah Zenko, and others repeatedly warned against intervening in Libya.
The reasons were simple.
There was never any doubt Gaddafi was brutal; he was a secular authoritarian leader who ruled Libya with an iron fist. There were complaints about the general well-being of Libyans and the stagnating economy, but overall, Libya was an island of stability especially when compared to countries in and around that state. Libya, was, although, one of the primary rogue states during the 1980s and 1990s. The fate of Saddam Hussein also made him realize he needed the reconsider his hostile approach to the West. As such, Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program and assisted intackling jihadists and intelligence cooperation. Gaddafi’s human rights record was horrifying, but qualitatively no different than other allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. One had to tolerate his rambling, mind-numbing rants in the United Nations, to be certain—but Libya was crucial in securing an entire borderline between the continent of Africa and Europe. Then, a small group of radicals supported by Islamist elements from around the world — including by U.S. allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia — waged a brutal, sectarian, and tribalistic campaign against the state.
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