Even as the Benghazi scandal is growing in the United States, the situation in Libya is deteriorating further. Ignoring the actual threat of revolutionary Islamist militias—and attributing problems to a video—plus the botching of the investigation of the attack—due to the cover-up–has also led to a mishandling of post-attack U.S. Libya policy. As a result, the terrorists who murdered four Americans are going free; the group that carried out the attack is still enjoying popularity and even playing a role in running Benghazi. Libya itself was the biggest donor to the Muslim Brotherhood-led, U.S. handpicked Syrian opposition and a source of a massive outflow of arms to terrorists.
Consider the Benghazi scandal from the standpoint of Benghazi–where the militia that murdered the Americans is one of the most powerful forces in the city–and Libya itself. Suppose that from the beginning on September 11, 2012, the U.S. government announced that the US facility was under attack by a militia group linked to al-Qaida. It would have had to explain why it had hired members of that militia group to guard the facility, a scandal in itself. We know 100 percent that this is true but it hasn’t become an issue.
Next, there might have been a rescue attempt and a fire fight between American forces and that militia group in which casualties would have occurred on both sides. Note that as far as we know the militia took no killed or wounded, meaning that in its own eyes it achieved a total victory at no cost. At any rate, the United States would then have been in a military conflict with that militia. It would have to demand that the Libyan government take action and cooperate with U.S. efforts to punish it. On one hand, that would have been a headache for the Libyan government; on the other hand, it might have brought welcome aid to suppress a troublesome militia and help in getting control of the anarchy in the country (see below).
Congress would have given full bipartisan support to punishing those found responsible–by a quick and conclusive FBI investigation, including putting forces on the ground in Benghazi.
Note–and this is very important–that the scandal is not restricted to what happened on September 11, 2012, and the Washington cover-up that followed. As a result of the cover-up there has been no effort made to punish those who we know now to have murdered four Americans. Meanwhile, Libya is suffering serious problems that are undoing whatever good the Obama Administration’s intervention to overthrow the old regime achieved.
In other words, as a result of the policy failure and cover-up, Libya faces a much greater threat of a revolutionary Islamist takeover, anarchy, and even becoming an al-Qaida base. (Imagine, for comparison, the situation if the U.S. government had denied al-Qaida involvement in earlier terrorist attacks.)
Here are some of the current developments in Libya where, a recent article in the Egyptian newspaper, al-Ahram, explains, “militias at the command of various ideological camps and rival interest groups” increasingly dominate the country’s politics.
–“Since last week, the ministries of foreign affairs, justice and the interior in Libya have been under siege by armed militias demanding [passage of a] law that would ban all associates of the former regime from positions in government….”
–There was a recent terrorist attack on the French embassy in Tripoli.
–“As though the situation were not fraught enough, more than 100 policemen stormed the Ministry of Interior headquarters…where they began an open-ended sit-in to press previously voiced demands for adequate protection for the police in the course of the performance of their duties, health insurance, better job and pay conditions, and the restoration of the prestige and full rights of policemen.”
–“The following day…other militia bands stormed the Ministry of Finance located in downtown Tripoli and began to assault the guards. These quickly withdrew in order to avoid a confrontation with their attackers.”
–A band of armed men attacked a Ministry of Justice police vehicle that was transporting prisoners and three escort vehicles.” One prisoner was killed and several others were severely injured during the attack.
–Prime Minister Ali Zeidan warned that “if the violence and security breakdown continue, the international community may be compelled to intervene.”
–Despite Zeidan’s threats the militias are not scared.
–The Birka Police Station in downtown Benghazi was struck by a massive explosion that destroyed the building.
–In southern Libya, Chadian forces advanced 100 kilometers into Libyan territory without even encountering the Libyan armed forces. As al-Ahram remarks:
“The incursion further throws into relief Libya’s weak security at a time when neither the army nor the militias are capable of controlling the country’s far-flung borders….
“Yet, it appears that the militias nevertheless have the upper hand. They are better armed than the government forces and they are also said to possess sophisticated eavesdropping equipment which they use to spy on government officials.”
–As a result of the violence the German embassy has suspended operations. British Petroleum has evacuated non-essential personnel.
What does this mean that NATO will return to shore up the regime it put into power? The UN resolution permitting intervention in Libya is still operative. But one additional element of the Benghazi cover-up is that it allowed the U.S. government to ignore the serious state of Libyan security. Remember that the Libyan operation was another of President Obama’s supposed successes that must be made to seem triumphant during the 2012 election.
About Barry Rubin
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist for PajamasMedia at http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan)