Should the U.S. support air strikes in Libya?
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi thinks so, calling on the U.N. Security Council to authorize military action in Libya. This, after Egypt bombed alleged Islamic State targets there in response to the depraved beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. Egypt and its Libyan allies urged the U.S. and anti-IS coalition to expand their bombing campaign from Iraq and Syria to Libya.
Comment: Think first, act smartly. The U.S. and others should resist the potential rush to failure. Air strikes in the absence of a proper strategy carry high risk of unintended consequences that could make matters worse. The February – October 2011 military-centric NATO campaign (Unified Protector) ultimately helped remove Libyan dictator Moammar Qadhafi, but left a political vacuum in its wake. Managing the aftermath and growing internal crisis was outsourced to the U.N.(UNSMIL) with predictable results — especially as key international actors have provided little to no substantive backing.
Complicating matters is the fact that Libya is a country without a state. In fact, it has two coalitions at war with one another, both claiming to be the legitimate government. The international community recognizes the Dignity government, which is based in the Eastern city of Tobruk, and is supported by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. Turkey (a NATO ally) and Qatar (a key Gulf partner) support Libya Dawn, a collection of militias and Islamist groups in Tripoli that formed a ruling coalition after Qadhafi’s death. The Libyan branch of Islamic State has grown in the chaos of civil war.
These internal and external rivalries, and our ignorance of local realities, heighten the likelihood that any U.S. or coalition military efforts will be exploited cynically to advance partisan agendas. We have fallen victim in Afghanistan and Iraq to such tactics as rivals were labelled as “al Qaeda” in score-settling feuds. Islamic State is the new bogeyman.
Nonetheless, the chaos in Libya and the growth of Islamic State affiliates there merit considered action.
If we are serious about stability in Libya, let’s develop and execute a proper strategy. Such a strategy should integrate all relevant elements of national power — political, diplomatic, economic, military, etc. — into a coherent whole. We may find that we do not need U.S. or NATO military force at all. Our best strategy, in fact, might center on diplomatic and economic efforts to facilitate and then help enforce a durable political solution.
We should also begin coming to grips with the fact that our national security structures are not fit for purpose. Built to manage the Cold War and, if necessary, to wage war against the Soviet Union, these structures are proving inadequate to manage the proliferation of small wars. This problem needs serious attention.
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Christopher D. Kolenda is President and CEO of Kolenda Strategic Leadership which helps NonProfits maximize their impact and leadership. He commanded Paratroopers in combat and served as Senior Advisor to the Department of Defense Senior Leadership and to three Commanders of International Forces (ISAF) over four tours in Afghanistan. See his two books on applied leadership: Leadership: The Warrior’s Art and The Counterinsurgency Challenge. Follow me @KSLCEO