Prior to the February 17, 2011, “Day of Rage,” Libya had a national budget surplus of 8.7 percent of GDP in 2010, with oil production at 1.8 million barrels per day, on track to reach its goal of 3 million barrels per day. Currently, oil production has decreased by over 80 percent. Following the revolution, the Libyan economy contracted by an estimated 41.8 percent, with a national deficit of 17.1 percent GDP in 2011.
Before the revolution, Libya was a secure, prospering, secular Islamic country and a critical ally providing intelligence on terrorist activity post–September 11, 2001. Qaddafi was no longer a threat to the United States. Yet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly advocated and succeeded in convincing the administration to support the Libyan rebels with a no-fly zone, intended to prevent a possible humanitarian disaster that turned quickly into all-out war.
Within weeks of the revolution there were two valid cease-fire opportunities, one presented to the Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and a second opportunity presented to U.S. Africa Command for direct military commander negotiations to effect Gaddafi’s abdication, in which I was personally involved. Both opportunities were rejected and shut down by Secretary Clinton. Internal communications that went public last year revealed that on March 18, 2011, a colonel in JCS wrote, “. . . Due to the UNSCR, Libyan forces sped up ops to get to Benghazi, and will soon cease fire. As expected. Our contact will arrange a face-to-face meeting with Saif, or a skype/video-telecon to open communications if time does not permit. It will have to be with a high level USG official for him to agree. If there will be an ultimatum before any ops, the USG must be in communication with the right leaders and hopefully listen for any answer. A peaceful solution is still possible that keeps Saif on our side without any bloodshed in Benghazi.” However, on March 14, 2011 Secretary Clinton had already met with rebel leaders in Paris, including Mahmoud Jibril, number two in the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, and had committed to support their revolution.
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Despite valid ceasefire opportunities to prevent “bloodshed in Benghazi” at the onset of hostilities, Secretary Clinton intervened and quickly pushed her foreign policy in support of a revolution led by the Muslim Brotherhood and known terrorists in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. One of the Libyan Rebel Brigade commanders, Ahmed Abu Khattala, would later be involved in the terrorist attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Articulating her indifference to the chaos brought by war, Secretary Clinton stated on May 18, 2013, to the House Oversight Committee and the American public, “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Secretary Clinton’s war actually did make a difference. It led to a very real and very tragic humanitarian disaster. Her bad judgment and failed policy resulted in the arming of terrorists, months of war and tens of thousands of causalities, the murder of the American ambassador and the deaths of three other brave Americans, continued civil war and the collapse of the Libyan economy, and a failed nation-state contributing to a tragic European migrant crisis. Clearly the Libyan disaster tops Secretary Clinton’s legacy of failure.
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The revolution ended October 23, 2011, and Libya held its first democratic election on July 7, 2012. A second election was held on June 25, 2014. Despite efforts made by peaceful Libyan officials to establish a strong secular nation, radical Islamic elements rejected the election results and used military force to subvert the will of the Libyan people. As a direct consequence of the chaos caused by Secretary Clinton’s failed policy, there are now four entities competing for control of Libya: (1) the twice-elected democratic secular parliamentary government forced into exile in Tobruk by Islamist attacks, (2) the unelected radical Islamist-controlled government in Tripoli, (3) the savage ISIS terrorists who control the city of Sirte and (4) the UN-imposed Government of National Accord (GNA) recently placed ashore in abandoned buildings in Tripoli. The UN is attempting, with U.S. and European support, to impose a unity government (the GNA) that will include elements of sharia law in a new constitution. This approach was rejected twice by the Libyan people, who wanted a more secular government that is not founded in sharia.
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The Libyan National Oil Company (NOC) continues to control limited commercial oil exports from certain oil fields through western ports. The democratically elected government in Tobruk has objected to the continued control of oil exports by the Islamist factions in Tripoli, and has recently established its own capability to export oil from an eastern port. However, to counter the Tobruk government, the UN recently imposed a unilateral embargo on an attempted eastern shipment of 650,000 barrels of oil. The UN embargo was lifted when contested by the UN representative of the elected Libyan government.
More recently the UN, with U.S. support, has threatened to impose travel and financial sanctions on Libyan politicians representing the elected government in Tobruk simply because they are resisting the authority of the UN-imposed GNA. And, in a truly absurd move, the United States is now considering authorizing arms shipments to the UN imposed GNA in Tripoli.
America can no longer continue to support Hillary’s legacy of failure in Libya. The United States needs to support democracy in Libya, not UN sanctions or arms shipments. And the United States should support Libyan efforts to provide internal security, critical to reestablishing full oil production and unimpeded export, in order to revitalize the failing Libyan economy. In doing so, the United States and Libya can together achieve peace—through economic and military strength.
U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Charles R. Kubic served worldwide for over 32 years as a Navy Seabee, and retired in 2005. He served as a senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House, and was appointed in March 2016 as a National Security Policy Advisor to Donald Trump.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Department of Defense.