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Obama’s ‘worst mistake’ needs strong medicine

For all his faults and eccentricities, Muammar Qaddafi unified Libya, delivered peace and prosperity to the people, and during latter years made heavy concessions toward reintegrating the country within the community of nations. Brutalized by armed thugs supported by the US-led coalition, his last words were: “What did I do to you? This is wrong.”
Looking at the woeful state of this formerly stable country today, it certainly was wrong. The West apparently learned nothing from its unholy destruction of Iraq that bore Daesh and gift-wrapped the Arab world’s beating heart to Iran.
Many Libyans are nostalgic for the good old days when their authoritarian, yet oftentimes benevolent, leader held court in his traveling tent. This was a time when Libya’s 6 million citizens could walk the streets in safety, benefited from free education and health care, enjoyed the lowest energy prices in the world, and were provided with generous cash sums on marriage and on becoming parents.
Like Syria and Yemen, Libya was yet another casualty of the so-called Arab Spring, but the regime may have survived if the US, Britain and France had not joined the fray on the side of ragtag armed militias, secessionists and terrorists, laughably in the name of “democracy.”
In April 2016, US President Barack Obama bluntly told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that his mission in Libya “didn’t work.” He admitted that failing to prepare for the aftermath was the biggest mistake of his presidency.
One is left to speculate as to why Obama did nothing of substance to rectify that mistake. That task was left to the UN, which pats itself on the back for imposing a misnamed Government of National Accord (GNA) that relies on armed gangs for protection, and has no authority outside the capital. Hardly democracy’s poster child!
The GNA remains unrecognized by the elected Parliament, as well as by the bulk of the Libyan National Army under the command of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, and is disputed by a rival government in Tobruk. Those countries that broke Libya carelessly walked away bequeathing the country, so rich in natural resources, to hundreds of armed militias and its people to violence, poverty and displacement as two feuding governments exchange punches.
Worse, Daesh terrorists fleeing Syria and Iraq have capitalized on the vacuum. Although they have lost their hold on oil ports and the town of Sirte, the inflow of fighters could exponentially increase when they are forced to flee from Mosul and Raqqa, threatening not only Libya but also its neighbors, in particular Egypt, whose border with Libya is long and porous.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has referred to Obama’s wrong-footed intervention as “a crusade.” There are reasons to believe Libya could well be next on Putin’s 2017 to-do list in partnership with Haftar, who has lately been shuttling between Benghazi and Moscow, where he has held meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on ways of “liberating the capital.”
Is it not beyond time for the West to acknowledge that the transition to democracy has been a colossal failure? Talks on unity have come to nothing. Different factions with different objectives and world views pay mere lip service to the idea of a unified nation.
Democracy cannot be imposed. It needs time to evolve, especially in a tribal society with no democratic institutions, but the rule of law can be enforced. Real democracy cannot exist without security and stability, and it seems that the person best placed to provide that — at least in the short term, until a climate exists wherein elections can be held — is someone whose fist can strike down Daesh and force all militias to disarm.
US President-elect Donald Trump may be of the same opinion. His security adviser James Woolsey has revealed that a Trump White House considers the eradication of Daesh, including in Libya, a priority. The promised recalibration of the US-Russian relationship strengthens Libyan hopes. Better these big powers work in tandem, or else Putin might get another notch on his geopolitical belt at America’s expense.

• Linda S. Heard is an author and columnist specializing in Middle East affairs.