By Editorial Board
America’s commander for its military role in the North African state of Libya calls it a “powder keg.” What he doesn’t and probably couldn’t explain is why the fate of Libya matters to the United States.
Libya has borders on Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia and the Mediterranean Sea. The only one of these that really matters to the world, although not particularly to the U.S., is the Mediterranean, which permits migrants from the rest of Africa to launch from Libya in rickety boats toward Europe. The only habitable part of Libya is the coastal strip. The rest is almost entirely desert, although Libya does have oil.
The United States joined with France, Italy, Britain and some Arab states in 2011 in displacing the government of Libya’s then-leader, Moammar Gadhafi, in power for 42 years since he led the overthrow of King Idris in 1969. Gadhafi was caught and killed. Since then, instead of attaining coherent, democratic government, Libya has ended up in a state of chaos, with three different regimes now claiming legitimacy.
In the meantime people-smuggling continues unabated in the absence of government, and Libya’s oil production, normally its only meal ticket, drops, with even its oil ports changing hands periodically. Exxon Mobil, whose ex-chief Rex Tillerson is now secretary of state, keeps a close eye on Libyan oil production.
The Obama administration found it impossible to cleanse America of involvement in Libya, and the Trump administration appears to be following course. There is no good reason for it, except oil, if we needed it, and the fact that various small components of al-Qaida and the Islamic State have been able to maintain their places in the shelter of Libyan governmental incoherence.
Why the United States feels any need to involve itself in the affairs of Libya, particularly with military force, including recently with B-52 bombers, is impossible to explain to the American public.