Barack Obama became president in no small part by castigating the Bush administration for its errors in Iraq. Now, ironically enough, as president he appears bent on repeating the biggest Bush error of all—namely toppling an existing Middle East strongman without doing enough to build up a stable state in his wake.
Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times has filed a disturbing report from the southern Libyan city of Sabha that vividly shows the consequences of administration inaction. He finds, almost a year and a half after Muammar Qaddafi’s demise, a total absence of Libyan security forces. Instead ill-armed, unpaid militiamen are “battling smugglers, illegal migrants bound for Europe and armed extremists who stream across a swath of the Sahara near the porous intersection of southern Libya, Chad, Niger, and Algeria.” That is, they are battling these threats when they are not battling each other—which is a more common occurrence.
This is a matter that should be of urgent attention to the United States. As Fleishman notes:
Even under Qaddafi, the nation produced Islamic militants who reached well beyond the country’s borders. Libyan extremists are now connected to an Al Qaeda branch in Algeria, rebels in Syria and the fighters trying to establish an Islamic caliphate in Mali. Security officials also are concerned about reports of militant training camps with caches of weapons hidden in the desert south of Sabha. Government officials in the south shy away from discussing the region’s chaos. An activist was recently shot and killed after publicly criticizing the lack of law and order. Much of the danger stems from tribal animosities that were suppressed during four decades of Qaddafi’s rule and are now playing out in the kind of security vacuum that Islamic militants have exploited in countries such as Somalia and Yemen.
Yet the Obama administration is doing far too little to buttress the pro-Western government of Libya so that it can field security forces capable of controlling its own soil. We have already paid a heavy price for this inaction with the death of our ambassador and other government employees in Benghazi last September 11. The price of a hands-off American policy will only continue to grow if, as appears likely, Islamist militants have greater success in the future in exploiting the Libyan security vacuum.