The Libya Intervention Was an Illegal Failure. Thus: Hooray for Intervention!


Three years ago, the UN approved NATO action in Libya to impose a no-fly zone and head off an allegedly imminent bloodbath perpetrated by the Gadhafi regime. Days before this third anniversary, the Libyan parliament basically impeached the Prime Minister following the government’s inability to do anything about armed groups in the east taking control of oil resources. There is veritable power vacuum in the country that continues to generate instability there and throughout the region.

Notably, the US-led NATO action in Libya immediately violated the parameters of the UN Resolution, when the pretense of imposing a no-fly zone quickly manifested into a regime change operation. Clever legal advisers in the Obama administration then made the ridiculous claim that U.S. military action did not count as “hostilities” and thus did not need Congressional approval, as required by the the Constitution and the War Powers Act. The intervention was legally dubious from the beginning.

But how about the practical effects of the intervention? Was it successful? The Republican Party’s manic obsession with the Obama administration’s fumbling in the days following the raid on the State Department’s Benghazi compound has obscured any real debate about the wisdom of the overall intervention. But taking a look at the facts on the ground, it seems eminently clear the consequences of the intervention have gone from bad to worse.

First among the problems is the power vacuum which has emboldened armed militias, some with ties to terrorist groups. The resulting chaos led to the instability in Mali and continues to disrupt the region.

“The Middle East and North Africa has long been a region flooded with large amounts of weapons and military assistance, usually state-to-state transfers,” says Brian Katulis, who served on the UN’s panel of experts on Libya. “The difference now in Libya and the regional spillover effects is that fragmentation inside of the country is reflected in disorganized weapons outflows driven largely by non-state actors. In a very real sense, Libya is exporting its insecurity to surrounding countries.”

The UN panel of experts released a report that Katulis says “paints a troubling picture of the insecurity inside of Libya and the widespread spillover effects it is having.” Some key findings:

  • A number of actors have trafficked shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles from Libya to Mali, Chad, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and the Gaza Strip, among other places during the past year.
  • Libya’s government lacks a strong centralized oversight over weapons it receives, and non-state armed groups control most of the weapons in the country. Weak government controls over land borders and ports are a large part of the problem of regional weapons proliferation and insecurity spillover.
  • Regional terrorist and criminal networks have exploited the insecurity and lack of control over weapons and materiel in Libya.
  • Libya’s insecurity and political divisions are interlinked, as a number of groups used actual and threatened force to advance their agendas.

And what about the argument that at least we prevented a bloodbath? That doesn’t pass the smell test. For one thing, the New York Times may be summed it up fairly when it reported last week that political killings plague post-Gadhafi Libya. Gene Healy makes an important additional point on this:

As political scientist Alan J. Kuperman pointed out at the time, Obama “grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya.”

Kuperman explained in another article, Moammar Gadhafi “did not perpetrate a ‘bloodbath’ in any of the cities that his forces recaptured from rebels prior to NATO intervention … so there was virtually no risk of such an outcome if he had been permitted to recapture the last rebel stronghold of Benghazi.” Meanwhile, wrote Kuperman, “[b]y intervening, NATO enabled the rebels to resume their attack, which prolonged the war for another seven months and caused at least 7,000 more deaths.”

In the run-up to the war, George Will asked a pointed question: “Would not U.S. intervention in Libya encourage other restive peoples to expect U.S. military assistance?”

“Perhaps it would,” Will’s Washington Post colleague Jackson Diehl replied a week later, shortly before the bombing began. “Would that be a disaster?”

It seems it was. As Kuperman observed, “NATO’s intervention on behalf of Libya’s rebels also encouraged Syria’s formerly peaceful protesters to switch to violence in mid-2011, in hopes of attracting a similar intervention. The resulting escalation in Syria magnified that country’s killing rate by tenfold.”

There was virtually no legal basis for what the U.S. ended up doing in Libya. There ended up being no net benefit for Libyans or for U.S. interests as defined by Washington. It was a failure and its consequences continue to haunt us.

Invariably, however, the lesson Americans and future political actors in Washington will take from all this will be to continue to intervene militarily wherever we want and never consider whether it’s legal and simultaneously disregard the potential untended consequences.

11 thoughts on “The Libya Intervention Was an Illegal Failure. Thus: Hooray for Intervention!”

  1. I often sigh when reading blos that say US is failing in its empire attempts; first off thr Empire is secodary and but a tool being used by both US and other nations economic interest ,not of nations but of financial iterest.
    Lots of talk about now leaving Afghanistan but we did not lose we helped energy firms from mainly Europe;Chevron Shell Bp allt the big ones have less than 15% american ownership including investors of retirement and Univercity and Colleges.
    The occupation of Balkans lead to a buy out by US of an old Russian base to give old BLACKWATER firm that now controls a multi national military that patrols the highways americann money paid for that pRrLlel one of Worlds largest natural gas and oil pipelnes.
    The highway is also oused by all the Caspian sea basin nations except for Iran to truck mi erals and rare earth minerls to Black Sea then accross Balkans and through Greater Albanias ports.
    Europe especially France in Libya is reviving its African Conquest dreams in Mali and Libyan oil fields.
    Ho get oil on the cheap in exchange for luxurybribes and weapons.Libya now buys hundreds of millions in Euro and US weaponry as do all North American nations at an increase in sales over 10% yearly.
    Libya now spends less than half of old government outlays upon its citizens while their liberators now need French and German advisors .

  2. You mean it 'empowered' Putin to intervene in the Ukraine's problem? He at least had an invite from the denizens.

  3. I don't recall being vetted prior to Obama firing US cruise missiles into Libya. It seems to me going to war with another nation is kind of a "big deal"….

    Did Libya pose an "imminent" and "immediate" threat to the US? Do the "American peoples" have no say in these matters? Does the US Congress have no say…even when no 'threat'…imagined, invented, or otherwise…even exists???

    As an "American people" in almighty "democracy" I though I at least deserved the basic decency of being given advanced notice by our head of state prior to going to war…particularity when there is no foreseeable, or even conceivable, "imminent" and "immediate" threat….

    Does Obama consider this dictatorial "relationship" between the state and the American peoples "dignity"???

    Is this so-called "democracy"? I guess so…

    Now that I think about it…I believe Obama's entire rationale for continued US "operations" in Libya was based on the assumption Libyan forces could not/did not threaten the American people and/or US vital interests….

    In fact…if I remember correctly…the Obama Administration and its affiliated stooges seemed to go so far as to argue that as long as Libyan forces could not 'shoot back, it was 'okay' for POTUS to continue bombing…in addition to arm and provide 'support' and "aid" to mercenary terrorists who actually do pose a threat to the US….

    So….I guess Obama has now set the precedent it's "okay" for the US to openly attack another nation as long as it can't fight back…

    WTF is so-called "democracy" in the first place, and how does force spread it??? Has anyone even asked Obama this question???

    WTF is the man even talking about??? This is something I would like to know…

  4. Libya did not do anything to any other nation including those that declared war on them. There was no genocide going on either. It was an unprovoked war. Ehud Barack Obama declared war without any votes in the Senate or Congress. No nation bombed the USA during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations nor the LA riots in '92.

  5. What's with this tiresome FOX News/GOP obsession with Benghazi? For no legal or moral reason, the US/Britain/France decided to enact regime change in Libya by getting rid of the only man, longtime ruler Gadhafi, who could hold that country together. Then, after Gadhafi was murdered like a dog in the street, the USG had the nerve to claim that those who killed our Ambassador and three others, were "terrorists." Why couldn't they have been distraught Libyans out for justifiable revenge? Given the daily bombing from the sky, who were the real terrorists? Only a small mind could believe the flimsy USG story that this NATO aggression was warranted to "head off an allegedly imminent bloodbath" in Benghazi by Gadhafi.

  6. You have not gone back far enough in describing illegal wars under false pretext the former Yugoslavia,Iraq,the sanctions on Iran over a non existent nuclear weapons program,the ongoing blockade of Cuba and on and on.

  7. There was virtually no legal basis for what the U.S. ended up doing in Libya. There ended up being no net benefit for Libyans or for U.S. interests as defined by Washington. It was a failure and its consequences continue to haunt us.

  8. Harold Wenglinsky's research, "Does it Compute: The Relationship between Educational Technology and Scholar Achievement in Mathematics," concluded that for 4th and 8th graders expertise has "constructive advantages" on achievement as measured in NAEP's arithmetic take a look at

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