Reprinted from Consortium News
Sirraj, after being picked to lead the U.N.-U.S.-brokered "unity government" in January, reached out to Haftar in a face-to-face meeting that infuriated U.S. officials who preferred isolating Haftar and felt that the get-together with Sirraj would create confusion among anti-Haftar forces in Libya's west.
Rather than pursue such negotiations, the Obama administration's strategy has focused on using coercion, such as financial sanctions and threats of arrest, to force the chaotic Libyan water "droplets" into the U.S.-dug "channel."
Although the purported reason for the "channel" in this case is to promote positive goals such as political reconciliation and economic development for all Libyans, a troublesome question about the tactic is where -- in reality -- does the "channel" go. Some Libyans suspect that the "channel" may lead to a neoliberal end that would privatize the nation's oil wealth, rather than sharing it with the people in an equitable way.
There's also the issue of how such a strategy of financial and legal inducements can be used in other undemocratic or even imperialistic ways, benefiting outside powers or coercing the people of a country into policies that they otherwise would reject. Like any weapon, the sophisticated application of sanctions and other pressures can inflict harm in the wrong hands.
"Work in Progress"
In the case of Libya, the wielding of such "smart power" risks further deepening the country's bitter divisions and making the building of bridges between the various factions even harder. That, in turn, could leave the Libyan crisis as a sore point for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in which she has tried to put the best face on the bloody mess, presenting Libya as a "work in progress."
But "progress" has been slow when detectable at all. Sirraj and the GNA have struggled to assert their authority in the west, while the HOR government in the east continues to insist on its legitimacy.
This past week, central bank officials in the east announced that they had printed 4 billion Libyan dinars through a Russian company while bank officials in the west said they had a British company print dinars for them. The U.S.-backed GNA denounced the eastern dinars as counterfeit, but last year, the U.S.-based International Monetary Fund recognized the central bank governor in the east, Ali Salim al-Hibri, as its sole contact and ended ties to a rival bank operation in the west.
Summing up the confusing situation, The New York Times reported on June 2, "One Western official who recently visited the country said the political mood in Libya had become increasingly confrontational during recent months as the United Nations, acting under pressure from the United States and its allies, has struggled to win acceptance for the unity government."
The ongoing violence and chaos in Libya is a far cry from what Hillary Clinton's State Department team envisioned when the "regime change" was being accomplished in 2011 and the expectation was to announce a "Clinton Doctrine" based on the use of "smart power," according to State Department email exchanges.
Clinton and other "liberal interventionists" around Obama had pressured the President to intervene in Libya supposedly to protect Libyans from a possible slaughter at the hands of Gaddafi, who was mounting an offensive against what he described as Islamic terror groups around Benghazi. The Western bombing campaign decimated the Libyan army and cleared the way for the rebels to seize Tripoli and murder Gaddafi.
However, with Gaddafi and his largely secular regime out of the way, Islamic militants expanded their power across country, with some proving that they indeed were terrorists, just as Gaddafi had warned. One Islamic terror group attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel, an incident that Clinton called the worst moment of her four-year tenure as Secretary of State.
As the violence spread, the United States and other Western countries abandoned their embassies in Tripoli. Once prosperous with many social services, Libya descended into the category of failed state with the Islamic State taking advantage of the power vacuum to seize control of Sirte and other territory. In one grisly incident, Islamic State militants marched Coptic Christians onto a beach and beheaded them.