Gaddafi gone, but much more instability, violence in Libya

Reuters / Asmaa Waguih
As Libya has been in disarray since the fall of Gaddafi it’s very hard to say exactly what qualifies a civilian strike, who is combatant and who is not and which side is affiliated with which radical groups, Patrick James, Middle East expert, told RT.

RT:There has been another setback in the eastern-based Libyan government's efforts to retake the capital which resulted in eight civilians dead. Could these civilian deaths lead them to re-think their strategy?

Patrick James: I rather doubt it. Of course one thing we have to be really careful about is breaking news stories in terms of what actually happened. For example, on the American side of things there is still debate and confusion about what really happened with respect to Benghazi, it’s in and out of the politically conservative media with liberals striking back with their own version of the events. It’s very hard to say even what’s happening.

RT:Are civilian casualties simply unavoidable in the ongoing campaign?

PJ: With respect to something that is clearly at the level of a civil war with such confusion it’s very difficult for instance to really identify who might be wearingblack or white hats, accusations from one side or the other about affiliations with radical groups and that sort of thing. In fact one government is recognized more at the UN, and the other perhaps has its own claim to sovereignty. It’s very hard to say exactly what qualifies as a civilian strike at this point, who is combatant and who is not in a place that clearly has been in disarray since the fall of Gaddafi.

RT:This is clearly a highly volatile and complex situation with two rival governments and the threat from Islamic State terrorists. How much of a threat is Libya now to the security of the entire region?

PJ: I would say arguably very little, because the main threats are really elsewhere. Syria for example and what is going on in Iraq, these are much more central concerns. I do not mean to belittle casualties in Libya but it’s a relatively small country. It probably has, because of the chaos, a reinforcing effect on the story line that when you eliminate a particular leader; beware of the consequences of having done so. Gaddafi and of course you can tell I’m referring here to Saddam Hussein I’m recalling when I look at the chaos right now the line that’s normally attributed to Colin Powell but such matters in other words “you break it - you buy it.” And with controversy over the withdrawal from Afghanistan, one has to give pause to how many places at this point the US is capable of managing simultaneously.

RT:The US Ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, has expressed condolences saying "this violence serves no one's interests.” Do you think Washington now recognizes that the military intervention four years ago backfired? Do they regret bringing about the fall of Gaddafi?

PJ: I think that that train left the station a long time ago. I completely agree that at least in the short to medium-term we have much more instability and violence than we would have had in all likelihood. Of course we mustn’t romanticize the past. Gaddafi arguably is a second banana here to say he was a very brutal dictator and absolutely no one ought to be saying “Well, we all miss him,” as people certainly wouldn’t miss his brutality. At the same time I find this tweet [to have] very bizarre of wording I’m not sure what it means to say that “it serves no one’s interest.” What? Would it have been better if the people had been killed and it served as some presumed interest identified by the US leadership when the individuals are clearly designated at least publicly and at least in the media we can see as civilians. I thought that one fell way below whatever words I think I would have urged if I was a person advising her on what to send out.

RT:You said Libya is in chaos now. Is this a reality acknowledged by Washington?

PJ: My short version of an answer to you at this point is that regrettably, and I’m a pretty strong critic of the administration’s actions in the last few years. So much is being done to manage political coalitions at home that probably the Obama foreign policy actions and statements must seem very confusing to those who are located in other countries to really comprehend the tightrope or balancing act that is engaged in at this point by Obama and his surrogates such as Kerry or others who speak for the administration. All of that is to go a step backwards into domestic politics trying to keep key supporters within the Democratic Party not happy necessarily but at least appeased while at the same time not causing a lot of problems that can be exploited and used by the now hostile Republican Congress. It’s a situation politically speaking just as chaotic as one can see it in Libya but without all the casualties.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.