Since late March, when the United States – along with several of its NATO allies — decided to become militarily involved in internal Libyan political affairs, our government has spent more than $1.0 billion trying to remove strongman Muammar Qaddafi from power. Although Libya remains in turmoil, it appears the Army Colonel who had ruled this oil-rich, north African nation for more than four decades, no longer controls the levers of power.
Before Washington and its European allies pop too many bottles of champagne, one might ask legitimately just what our efforts and tax dollars have really accomplished.
The potential gains for some of those European countries, especially Italy which has roots in Libya going back a century, are clearer than for the U.S. Oil is the key. Of Libya’s pre-conflict daily production of some 1.8 million barrels of oil, almost all flowed to Europe. Italy’s scandal-plagued President, Silvio Berlusconi, reportedly is already negotiating with the coalition claiming to now control the reins of government in Tripoli.
For Washington, the fallout from the battle over control of Libya is unclear at best. The inconsistencies in America’s treatment of Qaddafi – from international pariah to friend (under the Administration of George W. Bush) and then back to outcast, within the space of just a few years – are at least partly to blame for this uncertainty. Questions also have been raised about whether Washington really understands the tribal-based political culture still prevalent in Libya.
While the Libyan National Transitional Council has neither the hold on power nor the presence of a strongman that would form the basis for tyrannical rule such as exercised by Qaddafi, elements of radical Islam clearly are present. And, thanks in large measure to relentless NATO air strikes over the past five months, Libya’s already fragile infrastructure has been further weakened. In such an environment, leaders with despotic tendencies can find ready support.
We can only hope Obama resists the urge to send in American “peace-keeping” forces to help rebuild the country; Afghanistan and Iraq provide clear examples of why such a policy invariably becomes an expensive tar baby. Perhaps even more important, let’s keep our fingers crossed that another colonial viceroy like Paul Bremer – air dropped into Baghdad by the Bush Administration in the immediate aftermath of our 2003 military occupation of Iraq — is not tapped to completely muck things up in Libya.
By Bob Barr – The Barr Code