It’s just a coincidence that Gen. Khalifa Hifter (sometimes spelled Hiftar) launched his Libyan coup only four days after the US deployed 200 troops to Sicily – a "crisis response team" sent at the State Department’s request. Another coincidence: US-backed Gen. Hifter lived in Washington, D.C. for decades, a few convenient miles from the CIA’s Langley headquarters.
I wrote about Hifter back in 2011, here and here, when he was a suspect in the assassination of Abdel Fatah Younes, one of Gaddafi’s generals who defected to the rebels and was appointed head of the Libyan army by the new regime. Younes’ time in office was brief, however: he was opposed by Hifter, and by the radical Islamists who were the backbone of the insurrection. Recalled to Tripoli for "inquiries" about his bona fides, he was murdered en route by an Islamist gang calling itself the "February 17 Martyrs Brigade."
Oh, and here’s yet another coincidence: this is the same "February 17 Martyrs Brigade" hired by the US State Department to "guard" the Benghazi CIA station where Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.
As Alice once said in Wonderland: "Curiouser and curiouser!"
The American attention span being what it is, the US public has long since lost interest in forlorn Libya: oh, they vaguely remember the US intervention in that country, but have lost track of the story since our glorious "victory" unleashed a flood of chaos. The Republicans keep harping on the Benghazi incident, and the alleged cover-up of the circumstances surrounding Ambassador Stevens’ brutal death, but they never bring up the real scandal – the American intervention itself, which paved the way for all the bloody mess that followed.
Who is Gen. Hifter, and whose game he playing?
Once one of Gaddafi’s top generals, he commanded the late dictator’s disastrous invasion of neighboring Chad and was either captured by Chadian forces, or else defected to the other side – it’s not clear what exactly occurred. In any case, from Chad he set up his National Salvation Front, described in this report from the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board (citing Le Monde Diplomatique) as "created and financed by the CIA." The same report says he "vanished into thin air with the help of the CIA shortly after the Hissène Habré government [of Chad] was overthrown by Idriss Déby.” A 1996 Washington Post report, among other sources, says the Salvation Front’s military wing, led by Hifter, was funded and trained by the United States: they set up a base in Kenya, and many of their cadre later came to the US, where Hifter resided for two decades less than five miles from Langley.
The target of Hifter’s coup is the elected parliament and executive which, we were told in the beginning, represented a "secularist" victory at the polls in the first election, and yet somehow morphed into an Islamist majority. Hifter says he is trying to "impose order" and rein in the Islamist militias that have had free rein since the "liberation." The US denies being behind the coup, but the key to understanding Washington’s true position is that the State Department is urging a "peaceful resolution" and telling both sides to stand down – not exactly a rebuke to Hifter.
The Libyan intervention was the first step in the Obama/Clinton administration’s grand plan to somehow co-opt the "Arab Spring" and use it as a battering ram to extend Washington’s influence in the region. After stumbling, at first, and backing Egyptian tyrant Hosni Mubarak against the Muslim Brotherhood’s rebellion in the streets, Washington dumped the dictator and started backing the "moderate" Islamist forces they thought they could control. When Libya exploded, they backed the Islamists opposing him, keeping their asset Hifter in the wings to pick up the pieces. When the inevitable occurred, and the radical Islamists started their rampage – killing Stevens and four others in the process – they were left with egg on their faces (or, rather, blood on their hands), and a burgeoning scandal that they’ve desperately tried to tamp down.
Isn’t it odd how Benghazi, a hardscrabble town with nothing much to distinguish it, has been in the news so much lately? It was supposedly the target of Gaddafi’s murderous rage, the site where he was supposedly planning a "massacre" that necessitated the intervention of the US and its European allies – a "humanitarian disaster" that never materialized. It was then the scene of the murderous "blowback" that resulted in the first killing of an American ambassador in recent history. The latest is that it has become a battlefield on which Hifter and the pro-government Islamist militias are duking it out.
It was also said to be the site where arms were being shipped to Syrian Islamist rebels with the full knowledge and cooperation of the US government – just before Ambassador Stevens was killed. For a dusty bit of nowhere on the edge of nothingness, Benghazi sure gets around!
Libya’s future is, at best, an Egyptian-style military junta, and at worst another Somalia. As I have pointed out in this space from the very beginning, "Libya" isn’t a real country by any rational standard: it is, instead, an arbitrary construct cobbled together out of at least three historically disparate parts. This is true in the case of most African "nations," which have been saddled with borders defined by European colonialists. Today these same colonial powers – aided and abetted by the US – are meddling at the scene of their crimes, maneuvering and scheming to get back in the business of economic exploitation and political domination.
Libya isn’t going to be a place where anything resembling progress, democracy, liberalism, or anything remotely resembling them is going to take root in the next thousand years. It is a hellhole, and will remain one, no matter how much money is spent, or how much blood is spilled – and it isn’t within the power of US policymakers to change that. We don’t belong there, and we never will. There’s just one rational policy to adopt: get out and stay out. We are making matters worse, not better, and the sooner we recognize that inescapable fact the better off we – and the long-suffering people of Libya – will be.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.