Friday, November 30, 2012

State Department White Paper on Libya: "Civil War, State Collapse," and "Security Vacuum"

    On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech entitled "U.S. and Europe: A Revitalized Global Partnership" at the Brookings Institution  in Washington, D.C.  As is obvious from the title, the focus of the speech was the relationship of the United States and Europe, but to make her case, Mrs. Clinton chose to highlight several issues, including the military action in Libya to topple Qadhafi:
Next week, I will make my 38th visit to Europe as Secretary... Today, I’d like to discuss briefly how these efforts have helped the United States and Europe meet a number of key security challenges: the war in Afghanistan, the crisis in Libya, Iran’s nuclear program, and strengthening our strategic defenses.
    While the degree of success of all four of these challenges is up for debate, the recent events in Benghazi have drawn special attention to the Libya intervention.  Secretary Clinton mentioned Libya several times later in her speech:
When the Libyan people demanded their freedom and Qadhafi threatened to hunt down the people of Benghazi like rats, we responded. And we all shared the burden. Early on, the United States knocked out Libya’s integrated air defenses, and later we provided other crucial assets...
We can all also agree that we are better off working together on this issue [Israel and Palestine], just as on the others that I have mentioned. Imagine what the world would look like if we did not. A Libyan dictator, left to his own devices, slaughtering his own people. A safe haven for terrorists in Afghanistan. Iran leveraging its oil supply to underwrite a nuclear weapons program. That is not a world in which Americans or Europeans or anyone else would be better off.
    Mrs. Clinton comes off as rather pleased with how the Libya missions was carried out and seems somewhat sanguine about post-Qadhafi Libya.  But just a day before Mrs. Clinton's speech, a report issued by her State Department's Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) is less than optimistic about Libya's prospects in the wake of Qadhafi's ouster.  The full report is only available to OSAC subscribers, but the summary sounds dire enough:
OSAC Annual Briefing 2012 White Paper: Security and State Collapse: Libya and Syria
Over the past two years, both the Middle East and North Africa have experienced enormous political change. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, mass uprisings led to the fall or resignation of autocratic regimes; in Libya, a civil war brought down decades of dictatorship under Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi. In Syria, a mass uprising turned civil war, has the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad fighting for survival. Despite significant changes throughout the region, the deterioration into civil war, state collapse, and subsequent emergence of security vacuums in Libya and Syria raises the question as to whether the two countries will experience similar turmoil during the post-conflict period.
    In her speech, Mrs. Clinton failed to mention the Benghazi attack on the US Consulate which killed four Americans or any of the other signs of "deterioration" in Libya cited in the OSAC summary.  Arguably, it is this "accentuate the positive" approach that led to the State Department and the Obama administration being unprepared for the Benghazi attack in the first place.  Ironically, it was a 9/6/12 memo issued by the OSAC, the same organization now sounding this alarm, that was one of the most explicit State Department pronouncements downplaying the threat of the type of terrorist attack that took place in Benghazi on 9/11/12.

    U.S. interventions in the past few decades have had mixed results (Greneda, Bosnia, Iraq, Libya) and have often been political footballs depending on which party occupied the White House at the time.  Recent events in Egypt have demonstrated the risks of cheering and/or assisting the removal of the-devil-we-know in favor of not-the-devil-we-know.  Now that the events in Benghazi have led to a diminished U.S. presence in Libya, it remains to be seen if Qadhafi's removal will indeed, in the long run, have left that country "better off."  Mrs. Clinton's legacy as Secretary of State may well depend to some extent on the eventual answer.

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