The Importance of Stabilizing Libya
I have started a multi-pronged campaign to advocate for increased American capacity-building assistance to buttress Libya’s failing security institutions and to follow up on the February 12th Support Libya Conference in Paris. Here is my first salvo fired at policymakers in Foggy Bottom and on Capitol Hill: a special op-ed in Politico based on interviews with the top Libyan political leadership in the run up to the 2nd anniversary of the Libyan revolution. Libya was the real cause of the conflict in Mali and the recent tragedy in Algeria. This op-ed (co-authored with Karim Mezran of the Atlantic Council) outlines a platform of American engagement in North Africa and the Sahel that policymakers need to see.
From Cairo on the Nile to Tunis on the Mediterranean, a political vacuum has descended across North Africa… The spread of Salafist and jihadist groups, the war in Mali and the recent terrorist attack in Algeria are all direct consequences of the overthrow of Muammar Qadhafi. Paradoxically, international action in support of the Libyan people led to this whole mess, yet it is also the key to resolving it.
To help Zidan bring stability, win back the trust of his people and cement his legitimate authority against Magarief’s overreach, a new international coalition must help the Libyan government construct a coherent security apparatus. On Tuesday, representatives of the major Arab and Western powers — including the U.S. — met in Paris under the aegis of the Support Libya conference and finally agreed to “the rapid deployment of European experts” to train and rebuild Libyan security forces. To be effective, the whole process must be initiated, owned and managed by the Libyans, while building upon the international community’s role as guarantors of the Libyan revolution.
The coalition should start by training a new security force, approximately 6,000 strong. NATO countries should lead, but key Arab allies should also be given a prominent role. This force should receive on-the-job training while securing the country’s borders and physical institutions. American know-how is needed to build an army capable of handling diverse threats from nonstate actors, leaving the Europeans to focus on training the police.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron made a savvy surprise visit to Tripoli on Jan. 31. Secretary of State John Kerry should follow suit and go to Libya as part of his first trip to the Middle East. This would signal to the world America’s commitment to engagement. It could also signal the U.S.’s commitment to spearheading the diplomatic coalition and lending its unique technical expertise rather than continuing its role of passively “leading from behind.”