France, UK should learn from Libya fiasco

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France, UK should learn from Libya fiasco
Published 25-03-2016, 17:00

Martin Sieff

Martin Sieff is a Senior Fellow of the American University in Moscow and former Managing Editor, International Affairs at United Press International. He is the author of Cycles of Change: The Three Great Cycles of American History and the Coming Crises That Will Lead to the Fourth (2015) available from

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

 Western leaders need to take honest look at mess they made of Libya

 2016/03/18  Issue: 48  Page: 7

 The Arab Weekly
 Martin Sieff

US President Barack Obama’s comments to The Atlantic magazine that British Prime Minister David Cameron and then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy failed to recognise the responsible role they needed to play in rebuilding Libya after toppling its longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi have soured relations between the countries.

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

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

Instead, the same pattern of reckless use of US military force followed by inept bungling we saw in Iraq after 2003 was repeated in Libya. The Islamic State (ISIS) took advantage of the chaos to terrorise and exploit the Libyan people as they never could have while Qaddafi 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 10th that the European nations were repeating their familiar pattern of selfishness and irresponsibility in failing to come to the support of Tunisia when it was threatened by terror and economic crises.

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 region on a scale not seen since before the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

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 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 teacup”.

Tell that to the people of Libya.

As Le Monde rightly observed, since 2011, the Libyan people have endured 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 François Hollande need to take an honest, hard look at 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 folksong says: "Oh, when will they ever learn?

"Oh, when will they ever learn?”

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