Reprinted from Consortium News
The Obama administration is hoping that it can yet salvage Hillary Clinton's signature project as Secretary of State, the "regime change" in Libya, via a strategy of funneling Libya's fractious politicians and militias -- referred to by one U.S. official as chaotic water "droplets" -- into a U.S.-constructed "channel" built out of rewards and punishments.
However, so far, the "unity government" -- selected by U.S. and United Nations officials -- has floundered as the leaders of two rival governments bristle at demands for their compliance and show little interest in being good little water "droplets" flowing through the Obama administration's "channel."
In recent days, competing militias, supporting elements of the three governments, have converged on Sirte, where the Islamic State jihadists have established a foothold, but the schisms among the various Libyan factions have prevented anything approaching a coordinated attack. Indeed, resistance to the U.S.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) appears to be growing amid doubts about the political competence of the hand-picked prime minister, Fayez Sirraj.
Jonathan Winer, the State Department's special envoy on Libya, voiced some of the U.S. government's frustrations during a May 20 panel discussion at the Middle East Institute in Washington as he explained the U.S. strategy for reunifying Libya under the GNA.
"It's a bit like water hydraulics," Winer said. "You can't predict where an individual particle is going to go when water is flowing through something turbulent, that's the core of chaos theory, right? But if you dig a trench, you know most of the water's going to go down that trench, and if you turn it into a channel, more of the water's going in. And then after you dig the channel, you then coat the channel and put in filters and a variety of things to then get that water looking good and useful for more purposes.
"So what we're doing with the Government of National Accord is we're trying to create a channel, for national unity and reconciliation, and for building the institutions Libya needs, for building enough stability so the economy can come back, so they can pump oil, which Libya needs for Libyans, distribute the wealth fairly, equitably, in a way that brings people in, and take advantage of Libya's natural resources to rebuild the country. "
"Libyans overall can be quite fractious, so carving that channel in a way that's good, that they're going to say is good, is what we're trying to do, even if we can't predict where individual droplets are going to go, even if it's going to take time, which it is and it will."
Thus far, however, many Libyan political figures have been unwilling to jump into the "channel," which has led the Obama administration to both impose and threaten punishments against these rogue water "droplets," such as financial sanctions and even criminal charges.
"We've sanctioned [Aguila Saleh] the speaker of the parliament of the government in Libya we had recognized prior to the GNA after he undertook a series of activities to prevent people [in the parliament] from voting, which included substantial threats of violence and intimidation when a majority was ready to support the Government of National Accord," Winer said. "We sanctioned him."
The European Union also imposed sanctions on Saleh, whose government is known as the House of Representatives (HOR), based in Tobruk, as well as on Nouri Abusahmain and Khalifa al-Ghwell, the president and prime minister, respectively, of another rival government in Tripoli.
That government denied Sirraj and other GNA officials the right to land at the Tripoli airport in March, forcing the U.S./U.N.-backed "unity government" to arrive by sea and set up shop at a heavily defended naval base. The GNA threatened to deliver its rivals' names to Interpol and to the U.N. for "supporting terrorism."
Support from a Jihadist
Ironically, even as U.S. officials confront defiance from the rival Libyan leaders in Tripoli and Tobruk, they have won cooperation from Abdelhakim Belhadj, who was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a jihadist militia whose members were once driven out of Libya by Col Muammar Gaddafi and developed close ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
After the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Belhadj was tracked by the CIA and captured in Malaysia in 2004 before being renditioned back to Libya, where he was imprisoned until 2010. In 2011, after Secretary of State Clinton convinced President Obama to join an air war against the Gaddafi regime on "humanitarian" grounds, Belhadj pulled together a jihadist force that helped spearhead the decisive attack on Tripoli.