With the media spotlight focused on the crisis in Ukraine, and the international sabre-rattling it has generated between Russia and NATO, dramatic events have been unfolding virtually unnoticed in Libya. Since mid-May, a renegade former Libyan general has been waging a military campaign to destroy the Islamic fundamentalist militias that prop up the impotent central government.
Gen. Khalifa Hifter and his followers are not just another band of machine-gun-toting thugs looking to terrorize and plunder helpless civilians. In addition to heavy armoured vehicles, Hifter’s forces include former fighter pilots who have managed to create a rebel air force. Airstrikes have been mounted against Islamist militia bases around the western Libyan city of Benghazi.
By his own claim, Hifter now controls over 75 per cent of Benghazi, and his forces stormed and ransacked the parliament buildings in Tripoli on May 18. The Islamist political parties within the coalition parliament have called out their militias to resist Hifter’s attempted coup, while the more moderate secular political factions are allying themselves with the rogue general.
Hifter has stated that his aim is to rid Libya of al-Qaida-linked terrorists. He also has no love for the Muslim Brotherhood, which holds the largest bloc of power in the current Libyan government. Despite his initial military success, Hifter is seeking the support of the international community. In an interview with The Associated Press, Hifter declared, “We are in a mission of fighting a war against terrorism, against terrorists and al-Qaida groups. The world must take part in it.”
Given those variables, one would expect that Canada’s foreign affairs minister would have no hesitation in committing full political and military support to Hifter’s crusade. By his own recent public admission, we know that John Baird simplifies international conflicts by drawing “white hats” and “black hats” on the protagonists, and then removes all “moral relativism” from the equation.
In this instance, on one side of the ledger you have the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida, so you know Baird would use his black crayon to draw black hats on them. Then, on the flip side, you have a secular military commander vowing to restore law and order, eradicate terrorism and implement democracy, which should definitely merit a finely drawn white hat.
The problem is that when the uprising first began in Libya in the spring of 2011, Baird decided from the outset that Canada would take sides and play a lead role in ousting Moammar Gadhafi.
Armed with a UN mandate to prevent Gadhafi from using his air force to bomb the Islamist militia in Benghazi (which Hifter is presently doing with impunity), the allied NATO air forces, under the command of Canadian Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, took things far beyond that limited scope. For nearly eight months, the collective might of the NATO air armada bombed the Gadhafi loyalists into submission in support of the Islamist militias.
Following the brutal cold-blooded murder of Gadhafi in the streets of his hometown Sirte, Canada celebrated the occasion with a full-scale victory parade on Parliament Hill. Of course, only once that the party was over did the full magnitude of the Libyan hangover become evident.
With no NATO presence on the ground, the disparate tribal and factional rebel militias took the law into their own hands.
Reprisal atrocities against Gadhafi loyalists were rampant and entire districts of sub-Saharan Libyan civilians were ruthlessly ethnically cleansed from their homes. Although post-Gadhafi elections were staged, the central government proved powerless to disarm the militias.
The al-Qaida element within the former Libyan rebels, which NATO armed and supported, has not only continued to wreak havoc within Libya, it has also exported its brand of terror into neighbouring Mali and into the civil war in Syria.
For Baird to now support Hifter in his quest to rid Libya of the terrorists, who have destabilized and bankrupted that once prosperous oil-exporting state, would mean acknowledging the magnitude of NATO’s blunder. Given that Baird’s crayons are difficult to erase, that is not a likely scenario.