A Short History of Unintended Consequences From NATO’s War in Libya
The unintended consequences of NATO’s fateful intervention in Libya are widening still in Africa’s Sahel region. The military coup that took place last month in Mali is a monument to the consequences of U.S. interventionism and the resulting power vacuum and instability has caused mayhem. Rebel troops seized power and toppled the government in a bid to oust democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure who they claim insufficiently supported the military in a fight against Tuareg militants waging an insurgency in the north. Gadhafi had hired and armed many Tuareg fighters to defend him against the NATO-backed rebellion in Libya, and they returned to Mali at the Libyan war’s end stronger and more determined than ever, leading to a coup headed by Captain Amadou Sanogo, trained by the U.S. military.
This was all bad enough. Sanogo and his junta suspended the constitution, imposed a curfew, arrested their political opponents, and cracked down on the press. Neighboring West African leaders then imposed very harsh economic sanctions – virtually a blockade – on Mali, demanding a return to civilian rule. They even threatened to use military force against Mali’s coup leaders, with the prospect of a regional war still lingering. Meanwhile, the Tuaregs effectively split the country in two, announcing “the irrevocable independence” of the north in early April.
Robert Fowler, a former UN regional envoy, told the Guardian, “Whatever the motivation of the principal Nato belligerents [in ousting Gaddafi], the law of unintended consequences is exacting a heavy toll in Mali today and will continue to do so throughout the Sahel as the vast store of Libyan weapons spreads across this, one of the most unstable regions of the world.”
The big news today is that the Nigerian-based militant group Boko Haram is mixing with Mali’s Tuareg insurgents in the north. This further imperils the stability of the region. Incidentally, Boko Haram has been growing stronger and more violent with every great leap forward of U.S. intervention in Nigeria. In October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Nigerian Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru, and pledged an assorted variety of newfangled interventions from economic stimulus to fighting terrorism. Then reports came out in November that U.S. troops had been sent on the ground in Nigeriato help fight Boko Haram.
A Congressional report issued in December said “Boko Haram has quickly evolved and poses an emerging threat to US interests and the US homeland,” and justifies entrenching military and security interests with the Nigerian government. “We ought to put much more into developing local intelligence and relationships, and more into cooperating with Nigerian authorities to encourage them to help us work together to understand the nature of the threat,” said Patrick Meehan, chairman of the U.S. Congressional committee that drew up the report.“While I recognize there is little evidence at this moment to suggest Boko Haram is planning attacks against the [US] homeland, lack of evidence does not mean it cannot happen,” Mr. Meehan was quoted as saying. Brilliant.
This twisted freewheeling story of hazardous aftereffects, lest we forget, does not begin and end with Mali or Boko Haram. A UN report released in February assessing “the Libyan crisis” claimed that the impact of the NATO-backed rebel victory over Gadhafi “reverberated across the world” as “such neighboring countries as Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger and Tunisia,” among many others, “bore the brunt of the challenges that emerged as a result of the crisis.” The “Governments of these countries,” says the report, “had to contend with the influx of hundreds of thousands of traumatized and impoverished returnees as well as the inflow of unspecified and unquantifiable numbers of arms and ammunition from the Libyan arsenal,” which “further exacerbate[d] an already precarious and tenuous situation.” Remember, this was a humanitarian intervention.
Back in Libya itself, the more direct consequences of the NATO-backed regime change don’t look any better. The rebels the U.S. intervention supported committed serious war crimes during and immediately following the actual conflict. Subsequently, we’ve seen rival militias battling each other in a latent civil war. Civilian residents in towns essentially occupied by these militias have complained about militia men breaking into homes, looting their possessions, abusing their families, and detaining and torturing scores on suspicion of being loyal to Gadhafi. The NTC and its fighters seem to want little to do with democracy. Massive numbers of detainees are being held without trial in Libya, being subjected to widespread torture which has even killed numerous prisoners.
The legacy of the war in Libya, as we can see, is currently one of supporting criminals, destabilizing an entire region on the African continent, and unconstitutional war by an Executive not preoccupied by the rule of law. And what about the responsibility to protect Libyans from Gadhafi’s imminent genocide? Well, for those who have been paying attention, it’s pretty clear the kind of wholesale slaughter predicted by the Obama administration was mostly fabrication, as Ben Friedman documents at the National Interest blog.
Yet people are still praising the NATO intervention. This unravelling catalogue of failure and fortuitous ramifications simply cannot stand up to the stubborn mindset of the interventionist. It is baffling, but after the ongoing disaster of Libya – after the failures, war crimes, and quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan – people still have the gall to be pushing for war and regime change in Syria, a far more dangerous and complex case than Libya which would be an order of magnitude worse in its consequences.