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Published: Monday, 9/16/2013


Chaos in Libya

Libya should remind the U.S. administration and Congress of the limits, and risks, of military intervention

The new Libya — in place since leader Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011 by rebels supported by France, Qatar, the United States, and the United Kingdom — has descended into near chaos. As U.S. policies in Syria unfold, the chaos in Libya should remind the U.S. administration and Congress of the limits, and risks, of military intervention.

Without commenting on the appropriateness of Russian president Vladimir Putin passing judgment on overall U.S. foreign policy, he noted Libya’s problems in his recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, adding Libya to the list of countries where U.S. military intervention has made life substantially worse, citing Afghanistan and Iraq as well.

Circumstances in Libya are bad, and becoming worse. Largely through U.S. investigatory efforts, some of the leaders of last September’s still shadowy attack on the American office in Benghazi — which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens — have been identified.

However, given that the accused are members of a militia too powerful for the Libyan government’s own security forces to confront, no arrests have taken place, nor seem to have any prospect of occurring.

A second problem is that the country’s oil production, the mainspring of its economy, has dropped substantially. During the Gadhafi period, it had reached a level of about 1.5 million barrels a day. Now, production has descended to as low as 150,000 barrels a day. This is due to disruptions by various militias who demand money and provoke strikes, and from the general insecurity in the country that has made it too dangerous for foreign managers and technicians to live and work there.

Given that Libyan education, health care, infrastructure maintenance, and post-war reconstruction is almost entirely financed by its oil revenues, the impact of collapsed oil production is catastrophic. It is ironic that one of the motivations of the international community — including American, British, French, and Italian oil companies — in wanting to get rid of the Gadhafi regime was to open up the Libyan oil industry to modernization and thus increase production.

Instead, the removal of most of Libya’s 2 percent of world production from the market has made it necessary for other producers, led by Saudi Arabia, to pick up the slack. Also ironically, one of the goals of Gadhafi’s original 1969 revolution was to get Libyan oil production out of the hands of foreigners and into Libyan hands.

Mr. Gadhafi’s rule had its problems, for Libya and for the world. It becomes arguably less clear by the day that things are better for both now than they were before the United States was involved in removing him. The story of Libya also provides an interesting commentary on the evolution of the United States’ Syria policy.

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