Home Editor's Picks Is the US Preparing for Military Action in Libya?

Is the US Preparing for Military Action in Libya?

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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

As the number of ISIS fighter’s in Iraq and Syria decreases, they are now growing precipitously in Libya. The question to be asked…is the Obama administration preparing for military action in Libya?

Right now the administration is sending conflicting signals. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford told reporters that the U.S. wants to “take decisive military action” to “check” ISIS in Libya, at the same time supporting efforts to forge the political process in forming a functioning government.

Department of Defense Press Secretary Peter Cook was pressed on this at a briefing last month in which he would not rule out the military option, saying that “We had acknowledged that there have been some U.S. forces in Libya trying to establish contact with forces on the ground so that we get a clear picture of what’s happening there.”

“But beyond that, – again, we’re going to consider all of our options going forward. Right now, that’s not something – that’s under consideration.”

The New York Times reported that the president is being pressed by some of his national security aides, including his top military advisers, to approve the use of American forces in Libya to open another front against the Islamic State.

The president is extremely leery of expanding the conflict against ISIS into another Muslim country, but is focusing his aides on assisting in establish a functioning government in Libya while the Pentagon sorts out various contingency strategies.

As is the case in Syria and Iraq the president needs to articulate a coherent political strategy to defeat ISIS, not only in Libya, but in Syria and Iraq.

As I have mentioned many times before, the U.S. needs to understand the military axiom articulated by Clausewitz when he wrote, “War is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means.” What are the political objectives the president plans to pursue?

Secondly, “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” What does the president intend to achieve?

The United States last intervened in Libya in March 2011 when the Obama administration implemented the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.  The goal, Obama explained, was to save the lives of peaceful, pro-democracy protesters who found themselves the target of a crackdown by Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi. Not only did Qaddafi endanger the momentum of the nascent Arab Spring, which had recently swept away authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, but he also was poised to commit a bloodbath in the Libyan city of Benghazi where the revolt to Qaddafi had begun.

Speaking at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. soon after the military intervention in 2011, President Obama stated “We saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we wanted – if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

Believing intervention was in the national interests of the United States and to prevent a massacre of civilians by Qaddafi, President Obama stated, “And so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.”

Since the ouster of Qaddafi, Libya has descended into chaos and led eventually to destruction of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in September 2012, which lead to the deaths of four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Presently, the situation is very tenuous, with the United Nations in December helping to broker a unity government between the two rival militia groups, but this failed to materialize.

Frederic Wehrey, of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stated the fundamental problem the U.S. faces, in an interview with Judy Woodruff of PBS, summed up situation this way. “Well, this is really the legacy partly of 42 years of misrule from Qaddafi. There were no institutions. There was no army, no police. Since the fall of Qaddafi, you have had a political vacuum. You don’t have an army. You don’t have police. You have militias, basically, ruling the country. So it’s really ripe — a ripe environment for ISIS to exploit.”

Wehrey continued, “Well, I think they want to prevent this from becoming a new haven for the Islamic State, to prevent the Islamic State from accessing oil reserves, from disrupting the formation of a new government. So they’re going to try to assist Libyan forces on the ground. But the problem is that there’s no central army. There is no partner to work with in that country.”

The U.S. and our European partners are waiting for the government to coalesce, but if that fails, which seems a high level of probability, then the U.S. will be forced to forge a strategy. Unfortunately, like Syria and Iraq, each course of action has its own set of challenges. Waiting the problem out until after the presidential election is not an answer, but whatever course the president decides will have ramifications for the presidential election; especially for Hillary Clinton if she’s elected.

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