It’s a pity President Barack Obama’s pivot away from the Middle East failed to manifest. Anywhere but here! Despite his sincere-sounding reach out to the Arab world during his early days of presidency when he pledged his commitment to work for a Palestinian state and facilitate an atmosphere of mutual respect, wherever his hand has touched is worse off now than ever before.
He has admitted that the worst mistake of his presidency was intervening in Libya. “Libya didn’t work,” he told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, while heaping blame on America’s NATO partners for not doing enough in the way of nation-building and upon Libya’s tribal society.
Over six million Libyans, who once benefited from the highest per capita GDP in Africa along with free education, medical care, electricity and petrol at $0.14 a liter, are paying a heavy price. The dinar is bordering on worthless. Prices have soared five-fold. Electricity outages endure up to nine hours daily and political and security vacuums still exist.
The UN installed a Government of National Accord with much fanfare last March but it is yet to be recognized by the legitimate Parliament, has little authority countrywide and suffers from internal rifts and serial resignations. That said there was good news recently. Forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar succeeded in retaking four “oil crescent terminals” from militias and handed them over to Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) to increase production and begin exporting.
This should be a cause for celebration but how do the US, France and the UK — the trio that contributed most to Qaddafi’s demise — respond? Rather than pats on the back, they have slammed this bloodless victory that could potentially turn around Libya’s economic fortunes and, moreover, they threaten to enforce a UN Security Council Resolution dealing with “illicit exports.”
That makes no sense at all at face value given that the NOC is the authority responsible for oil exports. But here’s the nub of the problem from their perspective. Gen. Haftar, who they consider to be a renegade, succeeded where their guys in Tripoli failed. He not only has Parliament’s blessings, he is also gaining popularity with the street.
The US adopted a similar stance against Cairo following its military retaliation against the Daesh in Libya for the group’s beheading of Coptic Christians. The Egyptian government was criticized for its action and warned to keep out. Obama contributed to breaking it but does nothing to fix it and resents anyone outside his anointed for trying.
As for Libya being his worst mistake; many would argue he’s made far worse. His failure to respond to Iraq’s pleas to assist in eradicating the Daesh subsequent to its grab of Mosul resulted in its expansion into Syria and served as an invitation to Iranian Revolutionary Guards working with Shiite militias to fill the gap. On his watch, over 400,000 Syrians have been killed, millions internally displaced and millions more forced to risk their lives seeking asylum in countries where they’re treated as unwelcome guests. He reneged on his own red line at the nth minute leaving opposition fighters abandoned and his efforts to dislodge the Daesh were half-hearted until Russia entered the fray.
His administration’s efforts to forge a peace agreement have been a waste of time and now that there is a cessation of hostilities to allow access for humanitarian aid convoys, the US has ruined budding trust and cooperation with Russia by ‘mistakenly’ bombing regime soldiers battling Daesh terrorists, killing at least 80. Moscow is incensed. Assad says the attack proves that the US is in cahoots with the Daesh.
As for the Palestinians, they might as well not exist in Obama’s foreign policy playbook. Indeed, Israel has just been rewarded with a $38 billion military aid package over 10 years — the largest ever — with the proviso that most will go to US weapons manufacturers.
The one country that must be thanking their lucky stars for the Obama White House is, of course, Iran. The ayatollahs screaming threats against Saudi Arabia have been internationally legitimized, emboldened and vastly enriched, thanks to the Obama-initiated nuclear deal.
Obama has entered the lame duck stage of his last term in office; his legacy in the MENA region leaves nothing to gloat over. His record has been shambolic and few in this neighborhood will need to dry their eyes when he packs his bags next January. There’s just one problem. However bad Obama has been for the peoples of this region, his successor could be the nail in the coffin.