Blowback from Benghazi?

It’s not new (McClathcy, for example, reported on it quite well back in May), but it’s interesting to read first hand how in US diplomatic cables from 2008, the US embassy in Tripoli sent cables back to Washington describing “a reportedly deliberate GOL [Government of Libya] policy to keep the east poor as a means by which to limit the potential political threat to Qadhafi’s regime” and how it had “helped fuel the perception among many young eastern Libyan men that they have nothing to lose by participating in extremist violence at home and in Iraq.”

In Iraq, that is, for the insurgency fighting against American troops. The east is of course where Benghazi is, the rebel stronghold and the origin of the most powerful faction within the rebel groups and the Transitional National Council.

Citing conversations with relatives, [redacted] said the unemployed, disenfranchised young men of eastern Libya “have nothing to lose” and are therefore “willing to sacrifice themselves” for something greater than themselves by engaging in [sic] extremism in the name of religion. “Their lives mean nothing and they know it, so they seek to give meaning to their existence through their deaths”, he said.

So this is the type of people the US and NATO have entrusted with the government in the North African country. It is an interesting contradiction in US foreign policy right now. More interesting still is the cable’s hint at what the east Libyan young men (who now make up the rebel groups) might think of US boots on the ground in Libya.

[redacted] said he was struck by the level sentiment against Coalition forces in Iraq, and by the obvious pride the dinner guests took in the fact that two of their native sons had “struck a blow” against “occupying Crusader forces in Iraq”. He emphasized that the dinner was one of the relatively few occasions in Libya in which he felt uncomfortable by dint of having U.S. citizenship. In [redacted] view, eastern Libyans are not necessarily anti-American, but are strongly opposed to a U.S. military presence in Iraq or any other Muslim country.

There is a relatively strong possibility that there will be some US or NATO ground troops sent to Libya if and when Gadhafi falls and the rebels take over. As I wrote in my piece today:

“Western powers are concerned that tribal, ethnic and political divisions among the diverse armed groups opposed to Gaddafi could lead to the kind of blood-letting seen in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. ‘You will recall that after Baghdad fell, all of a sudden the Saddam Fedayeen [armed insurgents] materialized,’ Harlman Ullman, senior adviser to the Atlantic Council in Washington, told al-Jazeera.”

“The US and NATO have also expressed doubts that their rebel proxies in Libya will be responsible about the security of Libya’s weapons stockpiles. Apparently recognizing the fractured, amateurish nature of the rebel council, Western leaders have concerns that dangerous weapons will get into the hands of one or another faction, or even that the Benghazi-based rebels who head the Transitional National Council will not properly secure them.”

The potential for things to go seriously awry is probably too dangerous a political liability for the Obama administration to just peace out (so to speak…). There is a near certainty, at least, that the rebels will be receiving our economic, military, and diplomatic support (read: control) and Western oil corporations are already pouncing on their chance to use them for business deals. In this sense, US policy is rather consistent in that almost every major foreign policy decision vis-à-vis the Muslim-majority Middle East and Central Asia has exacerbated the very grievances people in that region have developed toward the United States. They do not want to be occupied or controlled through subservient US-supported client states. Our coercive interventions there are a lot of things, but one thing they are not is necessary. These are wars of choice, not just blunder.

I’m sure there were plenty of folks back in the 1980s who warned against supporting the mujihadeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Whoever they were, they were right. That adventure sure came back to bite us in the ass. Picking and choosing which party of gangs, militias or governments to get behind at any particular time has a long history of ruin and unintended consequences. I’m just wondering how long it will take for the consensus to come around on the rebels in Libya; how long before that comes back to bite us.

Update: I mentioned some possible ground troops and provided links for further exploration. Here is Spencer Ackerman on the possibility of troops on the ground.