It seems there is a strong possibility that the attacks on the US consulate in Libya, which killed four Americans including the US Ambassador, had much less to do with a dirty anti-Islam movie than with al-Qaeda’s presence in that “recently liberated” country. Very few commentators are discussing this, but it seems this incident revisits the issue of what happens vis-a-vis al-Qaeda when the intervention-addicted US gets involved in transfers of power in the Middle East.
“In Libya,” CNN reports, “witnesses say members of a radical Islamist group [loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda] called Ansar al-Sharia protested near the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi” prior to the deaths of four Americans.
According to the British think-tank Quilliam, based on what they call “information obtained…from foreign sources and from within Benghazi,” the “assault against the US Consulate in Benghazi should not be seen as part of a protest against a low budget film which was insulting Islam,” but instead as an opportunistic attack “to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al-Libi, al-Qaeda’s second in command killed a few months ago.” Quilliam gives three reasons for this belief:
- 24 hours before this attack, none other than the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a video on Jihadist forums to mark the anniversary of 9/11. In this video, Zawahiri acknowledged the death of his second in command Abu Yahya and urged Libyans to avenge his killing.
- According to our sources, the attack was the work of roughly 20 militants, prepared for a military assault – it is rare that an RPG7 is present at a peaceful protest.
- According to our sources, the attack against the Consulate had two waves. The first attack led to US officials being evacuated from the consulate by Libyan security forces, only for the second wave to be launched against US officials after they were kept in a secure location.
The best guess I have for why the Obama administration chose to intervene in Libya last year against the former US-ally Muammar Gadhafi is that Gadhafi was a dispensable ally, as opposed to other Middle Eastern dictators (like Khalifa, Saleh, and the Saudis) who are indispensable. As Michael Hastings reported, “[P]resident [Obama] apparently shared the impulse to use [my emphasis] Libya to make up for the administration’s slow-footed response to the Arab Spring.” Indeed, its perfectly believable that the Obama administration launched the war in Libya for “credibility” – a public relations stunt for the Arab world’s perception of America.
But the intervention soon proved hasty, despite a refusal on the part of the Obama administration to address serious concerns about an al-Qaeda presence among the rebel militias we were helping to bring to power. Even absent my admittedly speculative ideas about the nefarious intentions of the Obama administration, it is just plain foolish to think such an intervention would have been nice and clean. As The American Conservative‘s Daniel McCarthy writes:
Westerners across the political spectrum have been willfully naive not only about who some of the Arab Spring revolutionaries are — by no means a majority, but quite enough, are extremists of the sort the U.S. has elsewhere been fighting in the vaunted War on Terror — but about the nature of revolution in general, which does not come to a neat conclusion with the death of a monster like Gaddafi. After seeing what happened in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was deposed, everyone should know better. There’s nothing simple about the “transition to democracy.”
The case of Libya is merely one case in a field of many illustrating the Obama administration’s drastically counter-productive policies regarding al-Qaeda. The drone war consistently kills civilians and is daily embittering entire populations of Muslims in Pakistan and Yemen, increasing al-Qaeda recruits and laying the groundwork for more blowback. US policies in Syria come dangerously close to directly aiding al-Qaeda militias, which is due to be a far bigger mess than Libya by several orders of magnitude. Meanwhile, the American military is more present in the Middle East than ever and it is still full of US-backed dictators, and the US approach to Israel-Palestine has not changed and continues to rob the Palestinians out of their land and their livelihoods. All of these issues are reinforcing the same grievances that spawned al-Qaeda. Right now, it’s just one US Ambassador and three nameless Americans. But what comes next?
Update: MSNBC and CNN have all but confirmed that al-Qaeda at least in part organized the attack on the US consulate.