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Obama’s Libya Policy

31/03/2011

US President Barrack Obama was right to deploy American military assets in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 aiming to protect civilians. Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama is a multilateralist and worked with structures like the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, and the Arab League. This is a welcome break from the past. These efforts to protect civilians are not only necessary but go to the heart of the principle of Responsibility to Protect. It is here, however, where my support for Obama’s foreign policy regarding Libya ends.

The Obama Administration’s policy seems to be more reactive than proactive and not fully thought through. Consider here just one such instance: who exactly are the rebels? In his testimony to the US Senate, US Navy Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander stated, ‘We are examining very closely the content, composition, the personalities, who are the leaders of these opposition forces’. Similarly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated, ‘We do not have any specific information about specific individuals from any organization who are part of this, but of course we are still getting to know those who are leading the transitional national council’. So Washington does not really know who the rebels are and is assisting them to seize power! Moreover, in President Obama’s recent address, it seems the US is also considering supplying these unknown forces with weapons. Is this breathtakingly naive or just plain incompetent on the part of the Obama Administration?

This policy failure on the part of the US is all the more obvious considering what we do know. There has been a long association between radical Islamists, specifically in the form of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and Al Qaeda. Former LIFG members occupied senior positions within Al Qaeda, including Abu Faraj al Libi who rose to the No. 3 position within Al Qaeda. Moreover, Al Qaeda’s current ideological chief, Libyan Abu Yahya al Libi, released a video encouraging rebels to take the fight to Gaddafi in Tripoli. Former LIFG member and current Libyan rebel leader, Abdel Hakim al-Hasidi, told an Italian newspaper that he had already recruited 25 Islamist fighters and expressed the view that Al Qaeda members were ‘good Muslims’. Indeed, there are now an estimated 1,000 jihadists amongst rebel ranks.
The Libyan imbroglio is also taking place at a time when Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt are flexing their muscle and Al Qaeda’s North African franchise – Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – is showing increasing resilience to counter-terror efforts. Developments in Libya are also a source of concern for neighbouring countries. Chadian President Idriss Deby has warned that AQIM has taken advantage of the looting of arsenals by insurgents to seize Libya’s surface-to-air missiles and other weapons which they have transferred to their sanctuary located in Tenere in the Sahara. AQIM, President Deby has warned, is fast becoming the best equipped military force in the sub-region.

And in response to all this, Admiral Stavridis sees just ‘flickers of potential Al Qaeda sympathizers and Hezbollah.’ How woefully inadequate!