Nevada’s own Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) has unfortunately joined the ranks of those not-quite-ready-for-prime-time players in foreign relations. “The fact that the host countries have mildly reacted to the attacks of the past 48 hours makes it abundantly clear that this administration’s support for their rise to power is another example of a failure in policy.” [RGJ] Really?
As the Gazette-Journal correctly points out, should our policy have been to provide continued support for “a murderous dictator in Libya who, by all accounts, was directly responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988, in which 270 men and women died, including 11 on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland. Why? Apparently because there are extremist Muslims in Libya, and they can’t handle freedom?”
The last sentence is particularly insightful, because the internal politics of those nations which have cast off particularly egregious police-state regimes are only beginning to address re-organizing their political institutions, and minority right wing fundamentalist extremism in those countries isn’t helping. Nor can all the difficulties in each of the nations be swept neatly into one pile of conveniently categorized political groups.
The Libyan Example: Oil and Guns
As noted previously, the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was launched by heavily armed militia members in an area of well known radical right wing activity. One group in Libya may be responsible for the attack on the consulate. Ansar Al Sharia rejects the validity of the current Libyan constitution and government, as does an affiliated group in neighboring Tunisia. Two major parties, the moderate National Forces Alliance and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party (JCP) current hold the reins, but as one expert explains:
As a political force, Ansar al-Sharia hold some sway in the political arena. For the country’s major parties – both the moderate National Forces Alliance and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party (JCP) – a small group like Ansar al-Sharia can be make-or-break when it comes to decision making. “Each of these small parties is an important force because everything hangs on just a few voices,” explained Mathieu Guidère. [France24]
A few voices are attempting to hold a fragile coalition government together in a nation awash in firearms and materiél. Libya is also a country with limited economic development. 95% of the nation’s exports are hydrocarbon (fuel), contributing 65% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, and about 80% of the government revenue. The CIA analysis of the Libyan economy is cautiously optimistic:
“Libya faces a long road ahead in liberalizing its primarily socialist economy, but the revolution probably increases the opportunity for entrepreneurial activity and the evolution of a more market-based economy. The service and construction sectors, which account for roughly 20% of GDP, expanded over the past five years and could become a larger share of GDP after political volatility subsides. Climatic conditions and poor soils severely limit agricultural output, and Libya imports about 75% of its food.”
The complications are obvious. The old regime was pleased to receive the oil revenues, and happy to purchase arms from willing sellers in the U.S. and Europe. [HuffPo] [DailyMailUK] U.S. policy changed in 2009 allowing only “non-lethal” military equipment sales, supposedly aircraft parts, but items which some observers suggested could be transformed into crude munitions. [HuffPo] Precious little of the revenues from oil exports under Gaddafi trickled down into the Libyan economy. The unemployment rate, last estimated under the Gaddafi regime, was approximately 30% in 2004.
U.S. policy positions in regard to Libya
Developing a stable moderate-to-conservative coalition government, in a political climate in which few voices are commanding most of the attention, and in an economy previously artificially constricted by a dictatorial regime, is seriously problematic, but not intractable. There are some policy objectives which ought to be crystal clear.
It is in the best interests of the United States to assist in the economic development of Libyan commercial expansion and economic diversification. How they accomplish this is, putting it bluntly, their problem. However, a nation that must feed its people by importing at least 75% of the food required has to find a way to keep famine from the doors. The Libyans must also find a way toward developing public infrastructure, and assist the nascent construction sector, by moving from a focus on military installations and palaces.
Thus far U.S. aid to Libya has been based on identified needs in a nation which still has extremely high unemployment and suffers from the aftermath of a civil war:
“Since February 2011, the United States has provided $170 million in assistance, mostly in response to urgent humanitarian and security challenges in the immediate aftermath of the beginning of the conflict. We have also focused on supporting capacity building efforts within government institutions, developing civil society, and facilitating free and fair elections. All programs advance key U.S. interests by filling critical capacity gaps within U.S.-Libya identified transition priorities. All projects are being coordinated with the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).” [Dept of State]
The projects so far include U.S. participation in constitutional development, election management and monitoring, developing an independent news and broadcast media, disarmament and demobilization, forensic and mass grave technical assistance, technical assistance for public infrastructure projects, assistance with financial management, and entrepreneurial assistance, among other efforts. [Dept of State] Sounds rational doesn’t it.
Here’s an example of irrational: “A group of House conservatives is calling for foreign aid to Libya and Egypt to be stripped from a six-month federal funding bill set for a vote on Thursday.” [The Hill] Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.
Representative Scott Garrett (R-NJ) demonstrated the inadequacy of his understanding of our relations with Libya, saying: “Why is it that the United States is bankrolling some of these countries?” he asked. “Why do we continue to bankroll them at the level that we are? We’re waiting for that discussion from the administration.” [The Hill]
Perhaps Representative Garrett would care to explain why he would object to the Obama Administration’s policy in regard to Libra, and why he objects to the expenditure of funds for (1) constitutional development, (2) election management and monitoring, (3) developing an independent news and broadcast media, (4) disarmament and demobilization, (5) forensic and mass grave identification technical assistance, (6) technical assistance for public infrastructure projects, (7) assistance with financial management, and (8) entrepreneurial assistance?
What Have You Done For US lately?
Representative Amodei seems to have missed the same news as might have been un-noticed by Representative Jeff Landry (R-LA3):
“What is the government doing to prevent it? What is the government doing to arrest these people? What was the government doing to quell those protesters? If someone were to come and invade the embassies of Libya and Egypt here, what do you think would happen? What would our government reaction be? Why can’t we expect the same amount of reciprocity from other governments that we would give them here?” he asked.” [Politico]
First, as the Tea Party Caucus member from Louisiana must have missed, there are TWO governments involved in the identification, capture, and arrest of the people who assaulted the Benghazi consulate — the U.S. and Libya, and the Libyans are cooperating, and have been since immediately after the event —
“President Magariaf of Libya expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation.” [TDS] What’s unclear about this statement?
What should surprise (and please) Representatives Amodei and Landry is that a country still struggling to retrain its police force, up to its ears in well armed militias, and slowing piecing together its civil institutions managed to arrest 4 of of the alleged attackers by September 14th!. [Reuters] One might think that the Tea Party Caucus members would want to express their thanks for the rapid arrests, and support further development of the Libyan law enforcement efforts.
What policy failures are illuminated by the prompt promise of full cooperation by the Libyan government and the arrest of four members of the group which assaulted the consulate — all within a matter of a few days?
In each of the countries in which American, German, and British diplomatic facilities have been assaulted recently there are internal political, economic, and social forces at play which may be generalized accurately under the rubric of disaffected fundamentalists, but which should also be carefully scrutinized as evidence of internal issues unresolved as those governments emerge from dictatorships to democracies.
Let’s Have The Discussion
Which is better for the maintenance of long term American interests in predominantly Muslim nations — that we support dictatorial regimes as those of Gaddafi, Mubarak, Assad, and others — or that we support international efforts to develop democratic institutions and more open and transparent economic systems?
Which is better for the maintenance of long term American interests in predominantly Muslim nations — that we offer economic and humanitarian aid to fledgling democracies in the Middle East and northern Africa or that we leave the field in a fit of pique and thus invite other nations to fill the void?
How might Representative Amodei, or Representative Landry and other members of the Tea Party Caucus respond?