Last month, the Fajr Libya Coalition cemented its control over Tripoli after seizing the Tripoli International Airport. Now in a position with significant leverage, the group has demanded that the current government be dissolved and replaced with the General National Congress led by Omar al-Husseini. While other major events around the world--from a destabilizing Ebola outbreak in West Africa to the transpiring situation in Iraq--have captivated our attention, one must ask if our intervention into Libya was even worth it in the first place.
When the Arab Spring ripped through Libya in 2012, Western nations pursued a strategy of regime change thinly veiled as a Responsibility to Protect operation. Leading from behind, President Obama cobbled together an international coalition to establish a No-Fly Zone over an embattled Libya. Empowered by air support, rebel coalitions broke through and succeeded in defeating Gaddafi's military. While a Constitution and Parliament were created, Libya's nascent government struggled to establish an atmosphere of security for the population to live under. Rebel factions clashed with one another over territory and resources, and Eastern Libya declared independence from the government. Islamist organizations took advantage of the power vacuum to consolidate power and use the nation's lawlessness to its advantage.
Vast weapons caches left unguarded in the civil war's wake were quickly disseminated across the region. Egyptian Islamists currently combating the military-backed government in Cario have received a copious amount of their weapons from Libya and Tuareg rebels in Mali were emboldened by combat hardened insurgents and weaponry left over from the civil war. As with many conflicts, Libya's instability has not remained localized. Rather, it has been the pinpoint of destabilization across Africa and the Middle East.
But what tangible benefits from Libya have we ascertained following our intervention? According to Carl von Clausewitz, war is an extension of foreign policy by other means. Military force should only be utilized to attain a clearly defined national objective, which was absent when we initially established our No-Fly Zone. The language of political leaders was vague and short-sighted. Regime change is only half a policy. There needs to be a coherent plan outlining the steps a country needs to take in days preceding conflict, during conflict, and after conflict. If American leaders have learned anything from our adventure in Iraq, it's that conflict does not end when a government collapses. It continues to exist as competing entities brought together by the desire to defeat a common enemy begin fighting one another over political control. Libya was no different. Much like Syria, various groups had different ideologies dictating their political principles. While many have found common ground, like the National Front and National Centrist parties, others find their positions to be philosophically incompatible. Religious extremism, tribalism, and political heterodoxy once suppressed by Gaddafi's comprehensive control mechanisms have now been allowed to flourish as an incapable central government struggles to coordinate operations and allocate resources to its military.
Revolutions are tricky beasts. On one hand, they carry with them a hope of change. Tunisia has emerged from its political upheaval fairly stable and prosperous. While it faces problems from Islamist groups and chronic unemployment in some areas, its overall future does not seem very bleak. However, most do not end so happily. Too often they are either crushed or bring about even worse situations. In 1975, Pol Pot overthrew Lon Nol's government and established Democratic Kampuchea. The four years his Communist government was in power resulted in the destruction of important aspects of Cambodian culture and a quarter of the population dying from starvation and state executions.
Policymakers and the civilians who elected them must remember that the world is not a domain which is completely malleable to American or even Western interests. There are situations which are out of control for various cultural or political reasons. We should strive to mold situations where can make a difference to our interests and stay out of ones where meddling will only produce negative results. Above all else, we need to avoid creating situations which are out of our control entirely. Gaddafi was a devil who we could influence and even work with, the maelstrom we replaced him with is neither.