America’s Cycles of Change

Britain, France Need to Learn from Libyan Fiasco to Support Tunisia

Tue, 15 March 2016

Trans-Atlantic relations have been embarrassed by US President Barack Obama’s petulant comments to The Atlantic magazine published on March 10 that British Prime Minister David Cameron and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy failed to recognize the responsible role they needed to play in rebuilding Libya after toppling its longtime ruler Muammar Qadhafi with their air campaign in support of rebel forces in 2011.

Obama’s comments were in fact perfectly true. But he neglected to note he had even more responsibility for the anarchic chaos that Libya has suffered since.

The United States has vastly more resources than Britain and France. But Obama and his top policy makers also failed to show any adequate interest in Libya after 2011.

Instead, the same pattern of reckless use of military force followed by ignorant, inept bungling we saw in Iraq after 2003 and in Egypt after the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 was repeated in Libya. ISIS took advantage of the chaos to terrorize and exploit the Libyan people as they never could while Qadhafi was alive.

London and Paris have nothing to pride themselves on in this same old, sorry story. Their failure to show even cursory interest or responsibility for Libya acquires new urgency today in light of the growing crisis in Tunisia.

Le Monde rightly pointed out on March 10 that the European nations are repeating their familiar pattern of selfishness and irresponsibility in failing to come to the support of Tunisia when it is threatened by terror and economic crisis.

In other words, the European establishment, complacent, hypocritical and passive as usual, is once again failing to see the other shore beyond its nose.

The Americans are no better and arguably worse. But that does not absolve the Europeans of their responsibility, especially as the anarchy spreading from Libya to Tunisia directly threatens them.

Europe now faces the threat of collapsed states that are havens for jihadist and criminal groups actively spreading violence and terror across the southern Mediterranean littoral on a scale not seen since before the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

David Cameron has even admitted that he stopped paying attention to Tunisia soon after the 2011 air operations because he became “distracted by a range of other things.”

But admitting to the affliction of attention deficit disorder (ADD) is no excuse for the leader of a major nation.

Revealingly, all of the media attention in Britain and the United States on Obama’s comments has focused on what they did, or did not do, to the venerable US-British “special relationship.”

US ambassador to Britain Matthew Barzun memorably tweeted that the row was just a “storm in a tea cup.”

Tell that to the people of Libya.

As Le Monde rightly observed, since 2011, the Libyan people have suffered unprecedented suffering and fear: No “storm in a teacup” for them.

Trying to defend the indefensible, a Cameron spokesman told Agence France-Presse, “As the prime minister has said many times before, coming to the aid of innocent civilians who were being tortured and killed by their leader was the right thing to do.”

Then why isn’t he doing it now?

Obama, Cameron and current French President Francois Hollande need to take an honest, good, hard look the mess they made of Libya and start taking urgent action to support the beleaguered government of Tunisia.

The last thing they should do is to seek to undermine Tunisia in the name of saving it by trying to yet again force their “democratic values” on a hapless country. They need to strengthen Tunis, not fatally weaken it.

But as the old American folk song says, “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”