High time for US to act sensibly abroad

High time for US to act sensibly abroad
Updated 11 October 2013

High time for US to act sensibly abroad

High time for US to act sensibly abroad

America may have been rejoicing in the capture of someone they believe to be a top Al-Qaeda planner but their seizure of the man in Tripoli and his removal to a US warship, may, days later have come very close to costing Libya’s prime minister his life.
Early Thursday morning a group of armed men barged into the suite in the coastal hotel in the capital, where Prime Minister Ali Zeidan spends part of his time. They apparently fooled the politician’s heavily armed security men, by showing a phony warrant for the prime minister’s arrest. Pictures posted on social media show a disheveled and confused Zeidan being bundled out of the building. Significantly, he is without his heavy pebble-lens glasses, without which he can see very little.
President Barack Obama could probably have done with an equally strong pair of spectacles. They would have been useful to look more closely at the likely outcomes, before he personally authorized the kidnapping of Nazih Ruqaii, also known as Abu Anas Al-Libi. The Al-Qaeda suspect is a Libyan citizen. He was arrested in broad daylight outside his home.
The initial abduction may not have been carried out by members of the US Navy Seals Delta Force, but rather by a Libyan gang out to claim a $5 million reward. If true, the Americans have so far not admitted this. Nevertheless the impact of this illegal act shook many ordinary Libyans, who have absolutely no sympathy for Al-Qaeda and its message of hatred and intolerance.
The sovereignty and freedom of their country, for which so many fought and died in the desperate war against the dictatorship of Muammar Qaddafi, had once more been violated.
Their fury was twofold. First they wanted to see any Libyan suspect tried in Libya, not some US or international court. Second, they found it hard to believe that the government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan did not know about the impending attack. In addition, if Zeidan knew, he approved, even if this approval was given grudgingly.
Libya has many problems. It has been argued that the government’s writ does not run very far beyond the gates of the prime minister’s offices. It is certain that while the state struggles to rebuild an army and a police force, security actually rests with the armed militias. Unfortunately insecurity rests with them as well.
This instability has been exploited in particular by Muslim Brotherhood elements, inspired by their brethren in Egypt. More worryingly, they have also bred extremist elements, under the banner of Ansar Al-Sharia, who were almost certainly responsible for the murder of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three fellow Americans in Benghazi just over a year ago. That outrage, roundly condemned by the vast majority of Libyans, produced a cold fury in the Obama White House. That anger was made worse by credible accusations that the administration had reduced security around doomed Ambassador Stevens, despite his pleas that it be kept at the same level, if not actually increased.
Obama has not forgotten the triumph when the same Delta Force of the Navy Seals stormed Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani hide-out, killing Al-Qaeda leader and seizing large quantities of crucially important intelligence data. To have seized or killed a leading member of Al-Shabab in Somalia and a top terror commander in Libya on the same day would have been another victory in the war against terror.
But while the first operation against Al-Shabab leader was botched from the start, it seems that the Libyan kidnapping was also full of errors. Not the least of these was the reaction of the extremists among Libyan militias. Within days, hot heads had put into action an audacious and dangerous plan to seize the prime minister, and probably hold him as a ransom for the return by the Americans of Abu Anas Al-Libi.
It is Washington’s good fortune that despite Libya’s security situation, wise counsel was able to prevail. The kidnappers were quickly identified and then persuaded by a combination of Libyan politicians to hand over Zeidan. Even though he is widely unpopular, had Zeidan been killed by his captors, the reaction against America would have been massive.
Once again Washington has acted entirely in what it perceives to be on its own best interests and ignored the impact of its planned actions on the country in which it chose to exert main force. Foolish arrogance.