Ret. Col. Wes Martin
The United States and Western Europe have never had a proper understanding on working with the people of Libya.
Both fail to realize modern Libyan history does not start with the fall of Gadhafi. It starts with Italian colonization in 1910, including the atrocities of Benito Mussolini’s occupation forces.
Despite over 20 percent of the Libyan population dying during the Fascist occupation, and their lands being captured, the Libyan people never surrendered.
The problem is not just among Western leaders. While serving as the Army senior anti-terrorism officer in Iraq, I was amazed at how many U.S. military personnel and State Department employees had no understanding of the history, culture and environment that is the Middle East.
This is especially true with Libya. All roads traversing North Africa on the Mediterranean coastline run through Libya. Throughout history, the territory has been invaded by ancient Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and Fascist Italians. In every case, when the governments of the invaders eventually collapsed, there was still Libya.
This is the very kind of people the United States and Western Europe should be working closely with to build a progressive future. Instead, Libyans are too often recipients of meaningless words and empty promises.
In 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was boasting about the ongoing Arab Spring and claiming democracy was coming to the Middle East.
What she failed to acknowledge was revolutions seldom produce democracies. Iraq’s Dawa Party and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood were praised by Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama as duly elected governments.
The reality was opportunists rose up under the guise of democracy to seize power and rain terror over everyone else who did not share their religious beliefs or support the new corrupt government.
Libya is an even more unique case. With the fall of Gadhafi came two governments vying for power: Tripoli’s General National Congress in the west and Tobruk’s House of Representatives in the east.
The United Nations solution was to create an internationally recognized third government, the Government of National Accord.
Pursuing organized governance and accountability, the GNA is making progress in developing stability and growth in Libya. Unfortunately, Libya is facing internal and external threats.
Al-Qaida, the Islamic State and their affiliates have been very successful in exploiting the Libyan breakdown.
As brutal as he was, especially in his own country, Gadhafi did keep the attic door to Africa closed to all foreign terrorists. The rise in terrorism in North and Central Africa is directly linked to Gadhafi’s fall from power. Terrorism takes advantage of, and further aggravates, the poverty problem in Central Africa.
As was warned decades ago by Gadhafi, Libya has become a prime travel route for refugees attempting to escape to Italy. Should they survive the Sahara Desert, they still face crossing the Mediterranean.
The Libyan coast guard and navy work hard to interdict the boats and rescue the passengers from potential sea disasters. Squalid refugee camps are often run by local militias and are subject to human trafficking throughout Libya.
Exploiting another country’s disharmony and the suffering of its people is standard procedure for Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The Trump administration does not seem to have learned from Obama’s blunder with Egypt that forced President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to initially seek assistance from Putin.
Putin is now offering support to militias determined to destroy Libya’s democratic-leaning governments. Putin’s recent success in Syria is a preview of coming attractions for North Africa.
As with Putin, Western Europe’s and America’s loss is a gain for China’s President Xi Jinping. The ultimate destination of his Belt and Road Initiative is Africa. For Putin and Xi, Libyan oil is a highly desired commodity.
Libya, like all of North Africa, is too important for the United States and Europe to ignore. Libya has the potential to be a strong ally. By assisting the Libyan people to stabilize their government and build the country’s economic base, Western powers will take major strides in impeding African terrorism, properly address the refugee crisis, and block Russia and China from turning this country into an economic colony.
The Libyan people deserve better than what they are getting.
Ret. Col. Wes Martin of the U.S. Army Military Police has served in law enforcement positions around the world and holds an MBA in International Politics and Business.