On Sixty Minutes, President Barack Obama said that his administration had “underestimated” the rise of the Islamic State.
Recent history supports a case that the President and his counselors have underestimated the entire crisis of disorder in the Arab world at least since the 2011 Libya intervention.
Libya’s anarchy today is where the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq is headed swiftly. The chaos of the Islamic State is capable of pulling down with it Jordan, Lebanon, the Gulf States and, unless they are ruthlessly lucky, Turkey and Iran, too.
How bad is Libya? Speaking with the Libyan politician Musab al-Abid, 27, representing Tripoli in the Libyan parliament, the House of Representatives, who was in New York last week to plead for help from the United Nations, I learned that the Islamic gunmen of Ansar al-Sharia reign with terror.
“Ansar al-Sharia control Tripoli,” al-Abid related. “They have done everything bad to us in Tripoli. The situation in Libya, it’s very bad. People killed every day, children being killed. The UN and all the countries still don’t want to help. I don’t know why, to be honest. Before, they helped us. Now, we are in a worse situation than under Gaddafi.”
The remnants of the government have fled to Tobruk and live under threat of abduction or assassination. The national army is outgunned. Electricity, clean water, gasoline, are rare. Smugglers plunder the oil resources. The educated professionals struggle in exile. The state apparatus is impoverished. The population has turned defeatist; as al-Abid reported, “People say we don’t need a democracy, we need a dictator again. And this is a very great problem.”
Libya didn’t fall into this chaos by accident. It was delivered into the arms of the Islamists by Washington and its allies at the United Nations Security Council. My information is that the Obama administration chose a strategy of intervention that combined air strikes on the Gaddafi regime with empowerment of the Islamists, some of whom were ideologues, most of whom were militants.
These Libyan gunmen, who are called Ansar al-Sharia, found it easy to link with the radical Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt and the Levant. All of these Islamists share the common vision of the takfiri jihadists, that all must obey their rule or face enslavement and death. When the Moslem Brotherhood politician Mohammed Morsi was elected president of Egypt in 2012, it looked as though the Islamist fever of takfiri jihadism was sweeping the Arab world.
I am told that rather than rebuke the Moslem Brotherhood and their allies, the Obama administration embraced the trend as a liberation movement that was needed to discard the failed strongmen of Arab nationalism, such as President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
When the president and his counselors were presented with facts of the homicides, including the 2012 smuggling of weapons from Libya to Gaza, and the 2013 invasion of Mali, the response was that these were criminal gangs and smugglers, not the true Islamists.
The tragedy of Ambassador Christopher Stevens’s murder in Benghazi in September 2012 was also treated by the administration as a local criminal breakdown, not as a sign of the future.
Today, it is easy to see that the collapse of order at Benghazi that created the conditions for the Stevens attack foreshadowed the collapse of order of the entire state into piracy and terror.
At the UN last week, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called Libya a “terrorist powder-keg.”
Speaking to the UN General Assembly, Ageela Saleh, president of the Libyan House of Representatives and head of state, warned, “The international community has either to stand with the elected, legitimate authorities and impose sanctions or say very clearly that the Libyans have to face terrorism alone.”
The Obama administration and the UN Security Council have watched Libya disintegrate these last years and, according to al-Abid, have done nothing significant to challenge the Islamic gunmen of Ansar al-Sharia.
“They say to us, yes, we will help you, we will try to solve your problem out. We’re not going to leave Libya alone. We’re not going to leave Libya fail. But we heard these things, many times.”
The Obama administration has turned away from Libya and will not revisit the judgment despite the pleas of al-Abid and his president, despite the threat of a failed state on the Mediterranean.
The Obama administration policy since at least 2011 of treating with the Islamist radicals such as the Moslem Brotherhood and their kindred of Hamas will continue.
No analysis showing that Ansar al-Sharia of Libya (it’s also in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Egypt, Yemen, Syria) makes common cause with the militants of the Moslem Brothers in Egypt, Jordan, or in exile in Turkey, will turn the Obama administration from its prejudice.
No analysis showing that the Islamic State is a fresh iteration of the same Islamic gunmen of Ansar al-Sharia will persuade the Obama administration that the original error – the original “underestimate” — was in perceiving Islamist militants as liberators while dismissing bloodthirsty events as the work of a few outlaws.
John Batchelor is a novelist (John Calvin Batchelor) as well as the host of the nationally syndicated John Batchelor Show from the iconic 77-WABC, New York City.