Reprinted from Consortium News
Hillary Clinton's signature project as Secretary of State -- the "regime change" in Libya -- is now sliding from the tragic to the tragicomic as her successors in the Obama administration adopt increasingly desperate strategies for imposing some kind of order on the once-prosperous North African country torn by civil war since Clinton pushed for the overthrow and murder of longtime Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The problem that Clinton did much to create has grown more dangerous since Islamic State terrorists have gained a foothold in Sirte and begun their characteristic beheading of "infidels" as well as their plotting for terror attacks in nearby Europe.
There is also desperation among some Obama administration officials because the worsening Libyan fiasco threatens to undermine not only President Barack Obama's legacy but Clinton's drive for the Democratic presidential nomination and then the White House. So, the officials felt they had no choice but to throw caution to the wind or -- to mix metaphors -- some Hail Mary passes.
The latest daring move was a sea landing in Tripoli by the U.S./U.N-formulated "unity government," which was cobbled together by Western officials in hotel rooms in Morocco and Tunisia. But instead of "unity," the arrival by sea threatened to bring more disunity and war by seeking to muscle aside two rival governments.
The sea landing at a naval base in Tripoli became necessary because one of those rival governments refused to let the "unity" officials fly into Libya's capital. So, instead, the "unity" leaders entered Libya by boat from Tunisia and are currently operating from the naval base where they landed.
With this unusual move, the Obama administration is reminding longtime national security analysts of other fiascos in which Washington sought to decide the futures of other countries by shaping a government externally, as with the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s and the Iraqi National Congress in 2003, and then imposing those chosen leaders on the locals.
(When I heard about the sea landing, I flashed back on images of Gen. Douglas MaCarthur splashing ashore as he returned to the Philippines in World War II.)
Making the Scheme Work
But the new mystery is how this Libyan "unity government" expects to convince its rivals to accept its legitimacy without the military muscle to actually take over governance across Libya.
The Obama administration risks simply introducing a third rival government into the mix. Though the "unity government" drew participants from the other two governments, U.S. resistance to incorporating several key figures, including Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman in eastern Libya, has threatened to simply extend and possibly expand the civil war.
The U.S. scheme for establishing the authority of the "unity" government centers on using the $85 billion or so in foreign reserves in Libya's Central Bank to bring other Libyan leaders onboard. But that strategy may test the question of whether the pen -- poised over the Central Bank's checkbook -- is mightier than the sword, since the militias associated with the rival regimes have plenty of weapons.
Besides the carrot of handing out cash to compliant Libyan politicians and fighters, the Obama administration also is waving a stick, threatening to hit recalcitrant Libyans with financial sanctions or labeling them "terrorists" with all the legal and other dangers that such a designation carries.
But can these tactics -- bribery and threats -- actually unify a deeply divided Libya, especially when some of the powerful factions are Islamist and see their role as more than strictly political, though the Islamist faction in Tripoli is also opposed to the Islamic State.
I'm told that another unity plan that drew wider support from the competing factions and included Haftar as Libya's new commander-in-chief was rejected by U.S. officials because of fears that Haftar might become another uncontrollable strongman like Gaddafi.
Nevertheless, Haftar and his troops are considered an important element in taking on the Islamic State and, according to intelligence sources, are already collaborating with U.S. and European special forces in that fight.