Talking with the wrong Libyans

Brian Klaas and Jason Pack write: In today’s world, internationally recognized governments do not always control their countries. Libya, which is embroiled in a multipolar civil war, is one tragic example.

Rival administrations — one in Tobruk, one in Tripoli — claim to be legitimate nationwide rulers even though neither actually governs the splinters of territory it claims to control. The real power lies with militia commanders and local councils.

All efforts to broker peace have failed. The Tobruk-based administration — having grown spoiled by a surfeit of international support — walked away from United Nations-sponsored negotiations last week, flatly rejecting the latest attempt at a power-sharing plan. Its leaders have hinted that they will resort to a military solution if a political one fails.

Now is the time to play diplomatic hardball; when the Thursday deadline for an agreement passes, the civil war is likely to intensify.

This chaos is dangerous, but not only for Libya. Since late May, ISIS has been on the march — taking over a key airport, overrunning a military base and accepting the surrender of various tribal groups in central coastal Libya. And every day, barely seaworthy boats depart with human cargo toward Europe from Libya’s coastline, which has become an unpatrolled, lawless sieve.

This smuggling of migrants (and, occasionally drugs and jihadists too) is lucrative. It enriches and empowers criminal and militia groups in Libya, which have no incentives to build peace but plenty to prolong the low-level civil war.

Libya’s further collapse is a pressing threat to Western security. But so far, all internationally led diplomatic efforts to stabilize the country have been doomed because they are guided by a narrow anti-Islamist and counterterror ideology.

The political logjam has not been broken because Western diplomacy remains focused on who we want to have in power rather than who actually wields it.

In law enforcement, when hostage negotiators attempt to stave off tragedy, they talk to whoever is holding the hostages, not his distant cousin 500 miles away. Yet Western negotiators in Libya have ignored this approach. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email