Not that I want to agree with the neoconservatives, who’ve been spouting off about the Libyan rebels and their Islamist pedigrees, but I’m not too excited about the Libyan revolution. It’s well and good that Muammar Qaddafi is on the run, one more deranged megalomaniac consigned to the overfull dustbin of history. But there are lots of legitimate questions about the US/NATO operation that facilitated the rebel victory. Here are three:
First, is it right to judge President Obama’s decision to go to war in Libya on the grounds of whether or not it succeeded? I don’t think so. Just because the rebels won doesn’t mean that the use of American military power to force regime change in yet another Muslim nation was the right thing to do. Especially without seeking Congress’s approval for a presidential war. I’ve written elsewhere about the long list of possible bad consequences from the US war in Libya, including on Syria and Iran.
Second, why is it OK that the rebels are issuing ultimatums to the remaining cities where pro-Qaddafi loyalists are resisting? Six months ago, Obama proclaimed that the American action in Libya was launched because Benghazi, then the rebel-held enclave, was threatened by Qaddafi’s ultimatum, and Obama was acting to protect civilians in Benghazi from the supposed threat of a slaughter. Never mind that it was highly unlikely that Qaddafi would slaughter civilians, but there’s no doubt that urban warfare causes lots of collateral damage. Isn’t that true now, too? Is Obama going to defend civilians in the pro-Qaddafi town of Sirte? Don’t hold your breath.
Third, aren’t many of the rebels Islamists? Yes, and at least some of them appear to be linked to Al Qaeda or backed by Qatar, the ultraconservative Muslim kleptocracy that backed the rebels. It turns out the new military chieftain of rebel forces in Tripoli, which fell this week to the rebels, is a former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). The LIFG has long been an Islamist nemesis of Qaddafi, often with support from the Islamist regime in neighboring Sudan, and there’s lot of documentation that LIFG is an ally of Al Qaeda. So there’s room to argue that the US/NATO air war paved the way for allies of Al Qaeda to take over Libya. Of course, the rebels in Libya are complex and diverse, involving everyone from former Qaddafi military allies to tribal leaders to pro-Western liberals, but Islamists are a powerful component.
As the Post reports today:
“Documents unearthed from the archives of Libya’s security service show the former government deeply worried about an Islamist threat to the regime, concerns that reverberated this week as veteran jihadists claimed credit for leading last week’s rebel takeover of Tripoli….
“The documents were uncovered days after the regime fell to rebel fighters led in part by a self-proclaimed former Islamist, Abdelkarim Belhadj. He has declared himself the leader of the ‘Tripoli Brigade’ that spearheaded the defeat of Gaddafi loyalists in the capital. Belhadj is the former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Islamist organization that fought alongside Afghan insurgents against Russian occupation in the 1980s….
“U.S. officials on Tuesday did not dispute Belhadj’s Islamist roots but played down the connections.
“ ’Some members of LIFG in the past had connections with al-Qaeda in Sudan, Afghanistan or Pakistan, and others dropped their relationship with al-Qaeda entirely,’ said a senior U.S. official who closely tracks Islamic terrorist organizations. ‘It seems from their statements and support for establishing a democracy in Libya that this faction of LIFG does not support al-Qaeda. We’ll definitely be watching to see whether this is for real, or just for show.’ ”
Keep your fingers crossed.
According to the Times, some of the “liberals” in the anti-Qaddafi forces are concerned about Al Qaeda and Balhadj, too:
“Several liberals among the rebel leadership council complained privately that Mr. [Belhadj] had been a leader of the disbanded Libyan Islamist Fighting Group, which rebelled against Colonel Qaddafi in the 1990s. Some said they feared it was the first step in an attempt at an Islamist takeover. They noted that Mr. [Belhadj] was named commander by the five battalions of the so-called Tripoli Brigade, rather than by any civilian authority. And they complained about the perceived influence of Qatar, which helped train and equip the Tripoli Brigade and also finances Al Jazeera.
“‘This guy is just a creation of the Qataris and their money, and they are sponsoring the element of Muslim extremism here,’ another council member from the western region said. ‘The revolutionary fighters are extremely unhappy and surprised. He is the commander of nothing!’ ”