As all eyes are riveted on the Israeli efforts to discredit and humiliate Hamas, Libya, Walter Russell Mead explains, is imploding.
One recalls that the Obama administration partnered with NATO to overthrow the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. At the time we believed in the Arab Spring. Idealists in the Obama administration believed that democracy would burst forth in the region.
It was not alone in holding this belief. Hadn’t the Bush administration initiated the freedom agenda?
The impetus for leading behind in Libya came from the French government through the aegis of a philosopher named Bernard-Henri Levy. The tyrant Gaddafi needed to be deposed. NATO intervened on the side of the rebels. We did not know who they were, but we believed in rebels.
At the time, people who understood Libya did not think it was a very good idea. George Friedman of Statfor was pessimistic about the prospects for a democratic Libya.
Now, the situation in Tripoli is so bad that we have just had to evacuate the American embassy. We did what Hillary Clinton did not do in Benghazi in 2012.
Mead quotes the State Department description of the situation at length:
The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable. The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution. Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation. Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country. In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya. Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya. Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death. U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.
Sporadic episodes of civil unrest have occurred throughout the country and attacks by armed groups can occur in many different areas; hotels frequented by westerners have been caught in the crossfire. Armed clashes have occurred in the areas near Tripoli International Airport, Airport Road, and Swani Road. Checkpoints controlled by militias are common outside of Tripoli, and at times inside the capital. Closures or threats of closures of international airports occur regularly, whether for maintenance, labor, or security-related incidents. Along with airports, seaports and roads can close with little or no warning. U.S. citizens should closely monitor news and check with airlines to try to travel out of Libya as quickly and safely as possible.
The status of the country’s interim government remains uncertain. The newly elected Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene by August 4, but political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament. Heavy clashes between rival factions erupted in May 2014 in Benghazi and other eastern cities. In Tripoli, armed groups have contested territory near Tripoli International Airport since July 13, rendering the airport non-operational. State security institutions lack basic capabilities to prevent conflict, and there remains a possibility of further escalation.
Clearly, NATO and American policies have failed in Libya.
It seems almost redundant to ask the question, but Mead asks it anyway: what would the media coverage of the evacuation of the Libyan embassy look like if a Republican had been in charge.
If Republicans had done this, the media would be on the administration non-stop, perhaps comparing Samantha Power to Paul Wolfowitz—a well-meaning humanitarian way over her head who wrecked a country out of misguided ideology. There might also be some pointed questions for future presidential candidates who supported this fiasco. But since both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have their fingerprints all over Libya, there isn’t a lot of press hunger for a detailed, unsparing autopsy into this stinking corpse of policy flub.
If Obama were a Republican, the press and the weekly news shows would be ringing with hyperbolic, apocalyptic denunciations of the clueless incumbent who had failed to learn the most basic lessons of Iraq….
Why, the ever-admirable tribunes of a free and unbiased press would be asking non-stop, didn’t this poor excuse for a President learn from what happened in Iraq? When you upend an insane and murderous dictator who has crushed his people for decades under an incompetent and quirky regime, you’d better realize that there is no effective state or civil society under the hard shell of dictatorial rule. Remove the dictator and you get chaos and anarchy. Wasn’t this President paying attention during the last ten years?
It’s the media double standard. The press protects the reputations and good names of anyone on the left and mercilessly trashes those of anyone on the right.
Mead is right to be upset about it, but it has been going on for so long and has become so endemic to the media that one sees little prospect for anything to change.
So instead, as Libya writhes in agony, reputations and careers move on. The news is so bad, and the President’s foreign policy is collapsing on so many fronts, that it is impossible to keep the story off the front pages. “Smart diplomacy” has become a punch line, and the dream Team Obama had of making Democrats the go-to national security party is as dead as the passenger pigeon. But what the press can do for the White House it still, with some honorable exceptions, labors to accomplish: it will, when it must, report the dots. But it will try not to connect them, and it will do what it can to let all the people involved in the Libya debacle move on to the next and higher stage of their careers.
As the world spins out of control, the media tells us that the world is always spinning out of control and that Obama could not have done anything about it anyway.
Do you really believe that if Bush were president and his Libya policy had just imploded, the media would be saying the same thing?
The answer is so obvious that one almost feels a need to apologize for asking it.