Libya Objects to Foreign Intervention In Syria

Though Libya itself received NATO military support to oust its own dictator, it has come out against what looks like certain armed intervention by Western powers in Syria.

al-monitor An office building is partially destroyed following a NATO airstrike in the town of Bir al-Ghanam in western Libya, Aug. 8, 2011.  Photo by REUTERS/Bob Strong.

Topics covered

us, syria, nato, libya, jihadists, chaos

Sep 5, 2013

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz has called upon the Arab League to reject the use of force against Syria outside the framework of international legitimacy. The minister's stance has come as a great surprise to many. Those who enthusiastically back the strike wondered how a state whose new regime was established on the basis of foreign intervention can oppose a similar intervention in other Arab countries.

Besides the differences between the Syrian and Libyan cases — for obvious and recurrent reasons — those who were surprised seemed to forget that countries with bad internal conditions, such as Libya, tend to have regulations that try as much as possible to keep their entities away from chaos.

Two years after the toppling of the Moammar Gadhafi regime, Libya stands on the verge of becoming a “failed state.” And the increased impact of external crises is only further leading to its disintegration, given that this fosters disrespect for the state, at a time in which the state is seeking to contain this phenomenon.

This rationale, however, seems unconvincing at first glance. Libya has devoted itself, or has been devoted at the hands of intervening states over the past two years, as one of the countries that exports fighters to Syria and functions as a major gateway for weapons. Thus, it is only natural to believe that the general inclination as far as the Syrian issue is concerned would be toward further involvement.

This, however, according to available data, is exactly what has fed into the prevailing mentality in Libya that involvement in chaos abroad can only breed chaos at home.

Syria, being the first destination for Libyan jihadists or jihadists crossing from Libya, can easily exacerbate the dynamics of those in a country plagued by the arms trade and recruitment for domestic and foreign causes.

A quick look at the chaos plaguing Libya is enough to demonstrate its impact on the state infrastructure. Libya's oil production fell to 10% of the country’s production capacity and the losses have recently exceeded $2 billion in a record period, as a direct result of the inability of the state to dispute with armed militias the control of export ports in the east and center of the country.

Federalists in eastern Libya confirm that any attempt on the part of the central government to regain control of the ports will be deemed as a “declaration of war.” Meanwhile, the country is plagued by frequent assassinations of security service leaders, who seem unable to protect themselves, as well as by increasing attacks on diplomatic missions in the framework of mutual external messages.

In addition to this, the armed groups have different tribal, ideological and political loyalties, amid increased signs of extremism across most of the country.

Libya's position on the Syrian issue goes beyond internal balances, state concerns and management. The fact is that there is no way to isolate this position from the new approach of the country’s Egyptian neighbor. Egypt’s influence on Libyan decision-making seemed evident in the meetings held on the sidelines of the meetings of Arab foreign ministers at the beginning of September, especially when the Libyans mentioned a “lack of Arab consensus over the strike on Syria” in the context of explaining Tripoli’s position on the issue.

Cairo built its approach based upon a vision through which the new Egyptian regime seeks to maintain the main structures of the state, chief among these being the military.

Egypt adopted this approach to the Syrian situation on the grounds that the Levant constitutes, by natural means, a vital extension of Egypt and a part of its national security.

The position of Cairo, along with Algeria, has constituted a geo-political direction that the Libyan government can by no means ignore. Add to this the impact, albeit limited, of the Gulf states, which call for securing a complete Arab cover for the planned strike on Damascus.

The Libyan position on the Syrian issue shows that the conflict over a still nascent Libyan state and regime is ongoing between countries that do not want to retreat from the post-Gadhafi arena.

This may be pushing the new Libyan authorities to exercise caution about departing from international consensus as far as sensitive issues are concerned, knowing that these include Syria. The mentioned “chaos” is a buzzword that allows any country capable and willing to intervene to make its position important in the equation of the formal decision of the country.

This can be deemed as a general rule which no Arab Spring country has deviated. However, the joint outcome of the chaos in Syria and Libya requires stopping and looking at the US position on both of them.

In this context, it was remarkable how the US Secretary of State John Kerry added Libya to the list of experiments that his country does not want to go through again, and deemed it as one of the models that have not achieved the expected “success” that was promoted prior to the start of military action.

By saying that any military action against Syria will not be a repeat of Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya, Kerry alluded to the fact that the NATO experience in Libya is not an example to follow, compared to the expectations of its administration.

Kerry’s comparison explains a lot about the US hesitation in starting an uncalculated military venture in Syria. His recollection of situations where the US surge ended with a relative retrogression from the area allows one to understand the mechanisms governing work in Washington during the term of the current president, after these were largely disabled under his predecessor.

This comparison is what is exactly missing in the Arab decision that calls for a random strike, instead of inventing formulas to find a solution that will inevitably emerge one day. It should be noted that this comparison does not mean that Washington’s accounts have only changed, or that the circumstances are different, but that no one can afford the luxury of trying to produce total chaos in Syria. The consequences go beyond those of Libya and all the other previous cases.

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