Stay Out of Libya

We’re back in Libya, with US warplanes bombing targets in the city of Sirte, on a mission that, according to the Pentagon, has “no endpoint at this particular moment.” And that statement sums up perfectly the Sisyphean task that presented itself to US policymakers when the Terrible Triumvirate – Hillary Clinton, national security honchette Susan Rice, and UN ambassadress Samantha Power – prevailed on President Obama to overthrow the regime of Libyan despot Moammar Ghaddafi.

Take a look at what we’re getting ourselves into: with no less than three governments, lawless Libya is a perfect example of Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum that “government is the problem, not the solution.” Yes, that’s right, the former domain of Ghaddafi has three rival “governments.” Go ahead and count ‘em:

  1. The General National Congress (GNC), headquartered in Tripoli, is controlled by Islamist militias and backed by Turkey, Qatar, and Sudan.
  2. The Council of Deputies, located in Tobruk, is basically the instrument of Gen. Khalifa Hiftar, a known CIA asset who used to live a few miles from the Agency’s headquarters.
  3. The UN-appointed “government of national unity,” which was never elected by anyone and had to be shipped into the country by boat because the Tripoli authorities wouldn’t let their plane land.

While the ostensible reason for the US air strikes is the elimination of ISIS from the country, there is no escaping the “nation-building” aspect of Washington’s mission. For the logic of the mission means ISIS must be replaced with something, and that something is bound to be the UN-approved “government.” Yet this is likely to provoke further conflict, as the Islamists in Tripoli and the followers of Gen. Hiftar in the east are not likely to be pushed aside so easily.

The divisions that ensure a future of perpetual conflict are rooted in the history of a country that isn’t really a country at all.

The fiction that is the nation-state of “Libya” was only maintained by the brute force of Ghaddafi’s military: when that was defeated and dissolved, the “Libyans” rallied around what have always been their authentic allegiances: tribe and faith. Indeed, “Libya” has only existed since the end of World War II, when the UN moved in and forcibly joined together three regions that had no common history or culture: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and the southern Fezzan area, a desert mostly inhabited by Tuareg and Tebu tribes. The UN was merely replicating the plan carried out by Mussolini, and his Italian predecessors, who colonized the region and sought to abolish tribal boundaries. When King Idris I, installed by the UN, protested that he didn’t want to rule over Tripolitania, and preferred to extend his domain only over Cyrenaica, he was ignored. With the fall of Ghaddafi, the country has reverted to its natural state – and now, once again, the UN is coming in to “fix” the ‘problem.”

The age-old scam of governments creating problems that they then use as an excuse to increase their powers so they can “solve” them is on full display in Libya – and Syria, and Iraq. All these countries had secular governments where not a trace of Islamist radicalism could be found. Their “liberation” by the Western powers, who launched regime change operations in the name of “democracy,” gave rise to ISIS – and created the rationale for yet more destructive intervention.

All three disasters can be properly laid at Hillary Clinton’s doorstep, but GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is no rational alternative. While rightly averring that Western meddling created the Libyan miasma in the first place, he wrongly says “We have no choice” but to intervene once again. This is arrant nonsense: we are sliding down a slippery slope in Libya, and soon will be faced with the problem of how to prevent ISIS from popping up once again. Trump says he’s against “nation-building” but you can’t just drop bombs and then fly away – once you intervene, then you own the country, like it or not.

Do we want to own Libya?

Here Trump is faced with the inevitable contradiction at the heart of his foreign policy views: he wants to appear “tough” without getting his hands dirty. This marriage of rhetorical bellicosity and instinctual anti-interventionism can only end in divorce. Instincts aren’t enough: what’s required are principles – a concept entirely alien to Trump.

Hillary, on the other hand, does have principles – the wrong ones. She’s a liberal internationalist and serial regime-changer who, once in power, will take us into conflicts ranging from North Africa to Eastern Europe and into the steppes of Central Asia. Trump may stumble into trouble – she’ll take us there by the express route.

The only candidates for President who want us to stay out of Libya are the Green Party’s Jill Stein and the Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson. But since neither of them are going to wind up in the White House, it’s certain we’ll be sinking into the Libyan quagmire no matter which major party wins in November.

This is a recipe for disaster. As the Russians continue to pound ISIS in Syria with air strikes, and the government of Bashar al-Assad makes gains on the battlefield, the international jihadist movement will increasingly transfer its attention to Libya, where they have a real chance of establishing a “caliphate” in alliance with the very forces Mrs. Clinton enabled by overthrowing Ghaddafi. When she visited Libya to celebrate her “victory,” she infamously declared: “We came, we saw, he died” – and, with those words, sealed the fate of a nation.

We can follow the Islamists around the globe, playing whack-a-mole unto eternity: our interventions only make them stronger, and us weaker. This is what Osama bin Laden gleefully predicted when he said:

“All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies. All Praise is due to Allah. So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”

Terrorism is like scabies – the more you scratch it, the more it spreads. We are seeing this truism play out as terrorist attacks are now becoming a weekly occurrence in Europe. How long before the same condition afflicts us in North America?

When we invaded Iraq we opened Pandora’s box – as I warned so long ago. Now the same people who brought us that disaster have the nerve to counsel patience when the demons they unleashed are harrying us at every turn.

As the playwright Tennessee Williams put it in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof:

There’s nothing more powerful than the odor of mendacity.”

No, we can’t undo the errors of the past: but we can ameliorate their deadly consequences. And yes, there is a solution to the problem of terrorism, albeit not a perfect one, and it is this: quarantine. As Donald Trump would put it, we have to build a wall – not on the US-Mexican border, but around those regions of the world where terrorism is rife. Nothing and no one goes in, and nothing and no one goes out. Forget invading, nation-building, etc. What we have to do is build Fortress America – an impregnable defense against radical Islamic terrorism.

Yes, this is “isolationism” – and let the internationalist do-gooders and discredited neocon warmongers make the most of it! The American people want to be isolated from terrorists, overseas wars, and foreign troubles: they’ve had it with the globalists, who have brought us to where we are today. Contra both Trump and Hillary, this is what a foreign policy of “America First” really requires.

For the Raimondo completist: Check out my recent op ed for the Los Angeles Times on the media and the presidential election.


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.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].