By Imran Barlas
November 10, 2014
It has now been three years since Muammar Gaddafi was assassinated at the climax of a NATO-supported rebel insurgency. It is an apt time to trace the change in the situation of the Middle East since then. Back then, the assassination of the Libyan leader was welcomed as an act worth celebrating by the NATO-Saudi-Qatari nexus. Hillary Clinton gleefully boasted at a press conference, “We came, we saw, he died,” revelling in the apparent ease with which they swept him off the board. They had only to lift a finger and all was done. With a move here and a move there, Libya would now turn over a new democratic chapter and blossom into a NATO-allied state. The affairs of the Middle East would thereafter be theirs to direct. The over throwers of Gaddafi were in awe at their own omnipotence. But now, the chickens have come home to roost.
After the assassination of Gaddafi, many jihadists and foreign mercenaries, encouraged by their success in Libya, moved on to fight in Syria and Iraq. Libya has been left in shambles; the situation there is so bad that it resembles the world depicted in a Mad Max movie. The country has become a post-apocalyptic arena for mercenaries, factions and even government institutions to fight each other out for control over everything. The UN just recently declared that Libya is “near the point of no return”.
That is a redundant observation. The objective reality is that the point of no return was already crossed three years ago with the overthrow of Gaddafi’s government. The humanitarian crisis in Syria is calamitous. Ten million people have been displaced by warfare and have become refugees; that is almost half of the country’s entire population. The deaths are in the hundreds of thousands. Infrastructure, power networks and residential blocks have been largely destroyed. Iraq is doing no better; the Iraqi state is on the verge of being overthrown and is incapable of fending off the jihadist offensive on its own. A future of chaos and dissolution was foreseeable back then by those who opposed the war against Libya and wars in the Middle East in general. Policymakers in Washington, London, Paris, Ottawa and Rome, on the other hand, always wanted “quick grabs”, the future be damned. They were too drunk on their power to envision that their deeds in Libya would come back to haunt them.
The offensive of the Islamic State (ISIS) into Iraq and Syria would have been unlikely had the jihadist fighters not received their initial impetus in Libya. Libya was the flash point. Victory in Libya provided a major morale boost, a rallying call to jihadists all over the Middle East, who suddenly realised their ambitions for ultra-conservative caliphates were within reach. Thus, they migrated from Libya and from all over the Middle East, Asia and even Europe, to descend on Syria and Iraq. When Syria became the new centre of conflict in the Middle East, NATO’s number one priority instead was to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s secular government, which was fighting the jihadists. As happened with Gaddafi’s government, the multi-pronged offensives by NATO, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to weaken the Syrian government correlated with the strengthening of Islamist militant groups. Over the course of warfare, the Islamic State emerged as the dominant faction and began assimilating all other groups, including militants from the western-backed Free Syrian Army.
Their operations in Iraq grew stronger in parallel also, culminating in the raid of the bank of Mosul, which netted them over $ 400 million, making the Islamic State the richest terrorist group in the world and also one of the biggest employers in the world. Their sustainable revenue generation is estimated to be in the millions of dollars per month from road tolls and taxes levied on the territories they control. With the wealth currently at their disposable, it is suggested by some that ISIS could buy 60,000 fighters at the rate of $ 600 a month for a year. From the sack of Mosul, they also picked up equipment and armaments provided by US forces for Iraqi troops, such as 1,500 Humvees and 52 Howitzers. Besides small arms and shoulder-mounted launchers, they also have in their arsenal T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank missiles. ISIS is now an army of international calibre, easily capable of conquering Iraq if the country received no outside defensive assistance. Remember, the Islamic State is an organisation that al Qaeda split with because its tactics and ideology were deemed too extreme. Roughly a third of Syrian and Iraqi territory is now in their hands.
Such is the state of the Middle East, three years after the west’s overthrow of Gaddafi. Far from securing a triumph in Libya, which Hillary Clinton presumed when she gloated over Gaddafi’s death, far from securing their strategic interests in the region in general, which the Obama administration presumed they were a hair’s breadth away from, a protracted and painful period of embroilment now awaits the country that is perpetually at war, at a time when its working citizens can ill-afford it. The citizens of the US are still suffering from the effects of the recession of 2008; the US economy is still in a slump. Its growth has averaged only two percent over the last five years despite starting from a depressed state in 2008. According to exit polls in the recent US mid-term elections, 70 percent of US voters felt that the state of the economy was bad. The peace and prosperity promised by Obama never came, and he was punished for it by voters. The cost of interfering in Libya three years ago may have seemed small at the time but will balloon up to gigantic proportions if Iraq and Syria fall to jihadists in the near future. By overthrowing Gaddafi and meddling in Syria, the US has not secured a triumph; it has complicated its own position on the world stage.
Everything that Midas touched turned to gold. The decades since the last world war demonstrate that whatever region is touched by the US or, rather, attacked with “humanitarian intentions” suffers from the opposite curse: it is utterly ruined for a lifetime. An entire generation of young adults in the world now has seen no two years go by in peace, only ceaseless wars inflicted upon other states by the policeman of the world. With any luck, the US administration will recognise its folly and cease aiding rebellions and attacking stable governments in the Middle East.