Developments in Libya continue to underline sharply the foreign affairs catastrophe in which the United States under President Barack Obama participated, with the country’s former colonial masters France, Italy and the United Kingdom, in engineering regime change there in 2011.
This is not to say that then Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was not a political and human rights disaster who deserved to be overthrown, but America’s not having asked what would come after him turns out to have been a fundamental policy error.
Libya, an oil-rich nation of 6 million, is now in chaos. It isn’t governed by anybody and pieces of its territory and economy are dominated by a collection of militias, many of them locally based. The most recent outrages include the trashing of the Tripoli international airport and the destruction of some oil depots. What was a classic schism between its east, Cyrenaica, and its west, Tripolitania, have become virtually institutionalized, although the east-west differences are only part of the problems of the fractured country.
That doesn’t mean Libya needs another Gadhafi. A general with shady past ties to the CIA, Khalifa Haftar, has tried to emulate Egyptian ex-field marshal, now president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, so far without success, and there is no reason to believe that Mr. Haftar would be any better in power than Mr. Gadhafi was.
What it does mean is that the United States is ill-suited to undertake regime change anywhere, but particularly in the Middle East.
Sophisticated, complicated political rats’ nests like Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Yemen are beyond America’s ability to master with success and should be left to work out their own problems. That would also be consistent with traditional U.S. respect for people’s right to self-determination.