Role of the observer
In 1885, the European powers gathered in Berlin to slice up Africa to their immense benefit. Now in Berlin 2020, they have once more convened to try to determine the fate of an African state. Libya is now the latest candidate for destabilization, and the United States and the ever-sanctimonious European Union are evoking moral rationales for their intervention.
What is different is that Russia and Turkey are playing leading parts in the negotiation. The government hanging on to power in Tripoli is depending on the Turks, and their chief rivals led by Khalifa Haftar are supported by Saudi Arabia, France and most importantly Russia. Russia and Turkey are also allies and are very well-positioned to help settle the dispute.
It is telling that the United States is playing an observer’s role in a dispute largely caused by Barack Obama in 2011. He and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intervened in a situation they little understood. And those Democrats who oppose assassination of foreign leaders should be well-advised to remember Clinton’s celebration of the brutal death of Muammar Gaddafi.
For Mike Pompeo, it should be an easy call. The Saudi Arabians are correct that Islamic extremists have influence over Tripoli. Haftar represents the secular faction that is more western. The Turks would be well advised to follow the Russian lead on the issue. Pompeo would be wise to support Haftar, who after all holds dual U.S. – Libyan citizenship.
The Arab Spring was partially initiated by spontaneity and Western chicanery. Gaddafi, rogue that he might have been, had essentially capitulated on terms favorable to the United State. He gave up his nuclear program — and in the end probably signed his own death warrant. For Pompeo, the situation should be simple, correct the mistake and reap the benefits of being reasonable. Also, it does not hurt that Haftar was an “asset” for the CIA when he lived in the United States.
Pompeo, who was director of the CIA, probably appreciates these favorable circumstances. It also gives him a chance to bounce a shot off a bad decision by Clinton and Obama. Moreover, it would probably please Donald Trump immensely. However, if Pompeo tries to embarrass Turkey or Russia, he will miss a golden opportunity to make a sharp contrast of Trump’s foreign policy with Obama’s.
Certainly Pompeo should expect the Lindsay Grahams of the GOP to advocate a stiff response against Haftar. But, given that Saudi Arabia and France are on board, it would be a good move to demur. After the Iranian dispute, it gets Trump back on track to demonstrate that despite a few exceptions, he is a man of peace. Moreover, it has the added virtue of being the right decision.
Overthrowing Gaddafi in 2011 was a bad decision, one that Trump is not wedded to. To continue to back the Tripoli government is to support a weak state that is known for anarchy and low productivity. The replacement with a government of order would give Trump a reputation for responsible leadership. This is an opportunity that should not be passed up.