A recent very good article in the Spectator claimed that UK prime minister David Cameron, when facing tough times, thinks back to his intervention in Libya as his ‘happy place’ – a place where he can feel assured that he has done some good. Has he read a single news report on Libya in the past three years?
Perhaps Cameron’s advisers have decided to keep his happy place happy by spiking all intelligence briefings from Libya. At least that way Cameron can continue to wallow in his October 2011 moment of post-Gaddafi triumph. ‘People in Libya today have an even greater chance after this news [of Gaddafi’s death] of building themselves a strong and democratic future’, he said at the time. ‘I am proud of the role that Britain has played in helping them to bring that about.’
There must be some explanation for Cameron’s ignorance, because Libya today is about as far from a happy place with ‘a strong and democratic future’ as you can get. And a large part of the reason for this is the short-sighted, half-baked meddling by Cameron and his Western allies, who in 2011 blew Libyan infrastructure to pieces, before making a rapid exit and declaring victory before the dust from their bombs had even begun to settle.
To a large degree, it’s hard even to talk meaningfully about Libya as a nation state anymore. Over the past three years, it has fragmented into city states. There is ongoing speculation that Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata, may declare independence. And Benghazi and surrounding areas in the east of Libya have long been acting autonomously, to the extent that a commentator for the Financial Times recently asked if it’s time for the West to recognise the independence of the eastern coastal region of Cyrenaica.
The central government in Tripoli certainly has little control over events in the rest of Libya, which is ruled by up to a thousand militias. New accounts of the government’s impotence emerge daily, and range from the militia-related kidnap of now-former minister Ali Zeidan from his hotel room last October, to last week’s bomb explosion on the runway of Tripoli International Airport, apparently one of Libya’s most secure sites. The deputy prime minister, Sadiq Abdulkarim, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt at the end of January, three weeks after the killing of the deputy industry minister, Hassan al-Droui, in Sirte.