By Larry Cohler-Esses
Sebastian Gorka, President Trump’s top counter-terrorism adviser, is once again facing disdain from Middle East experts—this time over a reported plan he advanced to partition Libya.
Shortly before Trump’s inauguration and Gorka’s own appointment as deputy assistant to the president, Gorka advocated cutting war-torn Libya into three separate countries and drew his outline for the plan on a napkin for a bewildered European diplomat, according to an April 10 report in The Guardian.
The European diplomat responded that this would be “the worst solution” for Libya, the news outlet reported, sourcing its story to “an official with knowledge of the matter.” The article does not indicate whether Gorka was contacted for comment, and Gorka himself has said nothing publicly about it since the story’s publication. He did not respond to an emailed request for comment from the Forward.
Currently, Gorka, whose credentials as a terrorism expert have been frequently challenged, is reportedly vying for the job of presidential special envoy to Libya.
The country has been racked by fighting between two competing governments since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 after a NATO-led intervention.
The vague sourcing in The Guardian’s account notwithstanding, the surfacing of Gorka’s reported proposal has provoked a wave of critical reaction from Middle East experts. The proposal would reproduce as independent states the three districts into which Libya was divided under the Ottoman Empire before World War I.
“This is like a litmus test of how much you know about Libya,” Mattia Toaldo, a Libya expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations told The Guardian. “If the only thing you know is that it was cut into three, then it shows you are clueless about the situation in Libya.”
Gorka’s reported proposal would create three states mirroring Libya’s three districts under the Ottomans before World War I.
Geoff D. Porter, president of North Africa Risk Consulting, noted that the proposed partition would leave Libya, which depends almost exclusively on oil production for its economic viability, divided into one oil-rich polity with crucial access to the sea, one landlocked polity with modest oil resources and a third country with very little oil.
Porter described this as a prescription for “more failed states in the Sahara” to become “hot houses for jihadi salafis who are already abundant in Libya and the Sahara.”
“The oil fields that Tripolitania would lose would be just across the border in neighboring Cyrenaica—so close that Tripolitania would be forgiven were it to be tempted to fight for them,” Porter predicted.
Meanwhile, the landlocked sector known as Fezzan would end up with some oil but no access to ports, requiring it to pay Tripolitania transit tariffs, he wrote, adding, “Given how much revenue it would have lost, you can bet Tripolitania will extract a pretty penny.
The United Nations and the World Bank have ample statistics demonstrating how fragile landlocked countries are.”
Gorka, an immigrant to America whose ties to far-right, anti-Semitic groups and individuals in Hungary the Forward has reported on extensively, appeared often on mainstream media outlets in the earliest days of the new administration, speaking out on its behalf.
Since the Forward’s disclosures, he has shown up almost exclusively on right-leaning outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart, where he served as an editor prior to his White House appointment. These outlets have mostly avoided raising questions about his earlier far-right ties.
But in an April 13 Q&A exchange with the Boston Herald, a conservative daily, Gorka dismissed the reports as the work of “left-wing hacks trying to take a certain member of the administration down like they’ve done with every other key individual.”
Larry Cohler-Esses is assistant managing editor for special projects with responsibility for investigative and enterprise projects.