The Benghazi “scandal” witchhunt made the world less stable

In a piece yesterday in The Globalist, David Apgar argues that the Republican obsession with drumming up a scandal over Benghazi has forced the United States to disengage further with the world at a dangerous crossroads in history.

Partly as a result of the hearings, the United States has withdrawn its last 100 military personnel from Yemen, a special-forces group that has been productive in disrupting terror plots if not in stabilizing the poorest country in the region.
What explains the withdrawal is the veiled threat that Congress will hobble the State and Defense Departments with investigations as arbitrary, burdensome and costly as the Benghazi hearings every time someone sets fire to a U.S. base or captured U.S. personnel appear in garish jump suits kneeling on video in front of knife-wielding psychopaths.
Neither the Obama Administration nor future U.S. governments can afford the distraction promised for adverse outcomes of useful risks — risks like contributing to the MNF in 1983 and maintaining a presence in Benghazi, the heart of a nascent Libyan polity, in 2012.

Our retreat from Libya very likely reduced our (already very restricted) ability to keep a lid on the tense national situation and to be aware of rapidly developing situations on the ground. The transition fell apart into chaos. Likewise, while I don’t support most of what the United States has been doing in Yemen for years now, I think it was probably preferable that we maintain a physical and diplomatic presence as long as possible during its sputtering transition.

Every president has been skittish about embassy attacks since the Iranian hostage crisis lasted over a year and helped undermine Jimmy Carter politically as he headed into his unsuccessful re-election bid. But that was a pretty huge crises in its own right, without anyone manufacturing one beyond that. In this case, an already tragic event — the death of four Americans including a veteran diplomat — became such a political battleground, despite the facts and despite the lack of a coverup, that the Obama Administration had to be wary of any elevation of risk at any embassy anywhere in the entire Middle East North Africa region.

And so it is that the people accusing Democrats of “running scared” in the world and not “leading” — or whatever nonsense they’re blowing hard about due to their lack of nuanced understanding of world affairs — are the very same people raising the political risk of doing anything in the world so high that retreat is the only option.

Khalifa Hifter is a poison tearing Libya apart from within

general-khalifa-haftarGeneral Khalifa Hifter (all stories➚) is a poison in Libya. In the first half of last year, the former “Virginia resident” tried to lead two failed coups against the elected, Islamist-led government in Tripoli (see our coverage here and here), and he unilaterally launched a bloody, unprovoked, and unauthorized military assault — called “Operation Dignity” — against Islamist-aligned militias in Benghazi.

Not only did the operation essentially fail to achieve any sort of purge of purported Islamic terrorism from eastern Libya, but I believe that it was a major factor in the uprising that followed the election of the new secularist government later in 2014. Unlike in Tunisia, which saw a smooth transfer of power from Islamists to secularists and had not seen security forces crack down on Islamists before the elections, Libyan Islamists had good reason to fear that a government aligned with Hifter (yes, elected, but under disputed circumstances and for possibly the last time) would pose an existential threat to them. It is quite possible that without Hifter’s ill-advised and ill-conceived unilateral coup attempts in western Libya and counterterrorism offensives in eastern Libya, Islamist militias would not have seized power in Tripoli and Benghazi in the second half of the year and proclaimed a rival government composed of the remainder of the previous government, which he had tried to overthrow.

General Hifter is not even well-liked among many secularists and members of the more recently elected (and internationally-recognized) legislature and cabinet now stationed in Tobruk, near the Egyptian border. He doesn’t respect them either, as far as anyone can tell, despite their international recognition and democratically elected status. He is as deeply anti-democratic as he is anti-Islamist (which, again, I would argue is one reason the Islamist uprising occurred: fear of his illiberalism and targeted hatred of political Islam). Nevertheless, the elected officials have been unable to to get rid of him, even under heavy pressure from Egypt’s military government — which supports his anti-Islamist aims but not his incompetence.

And that last word — “incompetence” — is the other thing it’s important to remember when considering how he poisons Libya: General Khalifa Hifter is not even good at his self-appointed job. It might be another matter — perhaps — if he actually achieved results or had decisively ended the threat of civil war in Libya. Instead, he stirred war up in the first place and then repeatedly botched things. Simply put, he doesn’t win offensives.
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House GOP investigation: No Benghazi coverup. (Duh.)

Seventh investigation is the charm. Oh wait, nope, same result: No improper response and no coverup.

From the Associated Press (with my bolding):

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. […] The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel.

Congrats for wasting our time and money ginning up a ridiculous conspiracy theory that everyone (who isn’t a seething moron) already knew was untrue.


The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.

*Smashes head into desk until senseless.*

Meanwhile, in the land of actual things in real life, the city of Benghazi is on the verge of falling to an unrecognized Islamist-aligned government’s militia, while nearby Derna just became an ISIS exclave in Libya.

But I’m sure they’ll call for years of pointless investigations into that too, after it’s all over, once they’ve finished milking the fictional angles of this tragedy to stir up the base.


Derna: “Islamic State” proclaims 2nd “province” … in Libya

Up to 300 Libyan ISIS combat veterans from the Mosul campaign with 500 backing fighters and official recognition from Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, officially just captured the Libyan city of Derna. This final action apparently followed a two-month stealth maneuver inside the city to pave the way — targeting various rival Islamist leaders and anti-Islamist authorities — which was led by a senior Iraqi ISIS officer. The #Barqa tag on Twitter has a flood of photos showing the ISIS-led troops parading into the city in a large convoy of pickup trucks that have become so synonymous with both Libyan militias and the ISIS brigades in Iraq.

The group is proclaiming Derna the new local capital of the “Barqa Province” of the Islamic State, in emulation of the so-called “Forat Province” in eastern Syria and western Iraq. (As I noted in an earlier post on anti-Islamist secessionists in the same region, Barqa is the Arabic name for the eastern Libyan region usually known in Europe and America as “Cyrenaica.”) The city of Derna was a notorious contributor of foreign Islamic fighters to the Middle East during the Qaddafi years, so these ISIS fighters are mostly all locals coming back home.

Strategically, ISIS-Libya believes that control of Derna will cut off or reduce major highway access between the Tobruk government and the Islamist-besieged city of Benghazi, Cyrenaica’s largest city.

Road map showing ISIS-Libya positions (in Derna) relative to Tobruk and Benghazi within the greater Cyrenaica (Barqa) region of eastern Libya.

Road map showing ISIS-Libya positions (in Derna) relative to Tobruk and Benghazi within the greater Cyrenaica (Barqa) region of eastern Libya.

A statement issued by ISIS-Libya (not central command in Syria) indicates this intent and a wider intent to vigorously counter the anti-Islamist Operation Dignity forces of General Hifter. From analyst Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s translation of the statement:

The sons of the Islamic State in Derna resolved to take revenge on all who participated with, supported or aided Heftar in his war on our mujahideen brothers in Benghazi […] In support of our mujahideen brothers in Benghazi, a great convoy of the lions of the Caliphate came out to cut off the path and resist a great convoy coming out from Tobruq with 15 tanks headed towards Benghazi. On the arrival of the Dawla’s vanguards to cut off the reinforcements, the apostates heard of the arrival of the Islamic State’s convoy, so they sent in their aircraft and returned to Tobruq. And the Islamic State’s convoy returned safely, having accomplished its mission.

Hifter’s personal army and the Libyan military, as I noted in my earlier post, are being more or less crushed in Benghazi, representing eighty percent of all deaths (military, Islamist, and civilians) in Benghazi from mid-October to mid-November alone.

A third putative “Islamic State province” is also emerging in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, as Ansar Beit al-Maqdiss — Egypt’s most prolific terrorist organization since the fall of Mubarak in early 2011 — joins the ISIS fold (France24 video news report), but they are (to my knowledge) all local Egyptians and not veterans of the ISIS campaigns in Syria and Iraq. For the moment, I would not consider them to be fully integrated with the so-called “Islamic State.”

Libya: Will Cyrenaica (or what’s left of it) secede?

If the world switches its recognition from the newly-unconstitutional but 2014-elected and eastern-based House of Representatives (HOR) government to the rump, western-based, Islamist-aligned, 2012-elected transitional “General National Congress” (the GNC, which should have ended already), tribal authorities in the vast, eastern Cyrenaica territory say they will secede from Libya.

I doubt the international community at large is likely to make such a switch, but if things keep deteriorating that might not be needed to trigger the threatened separation…

A council representing the tribes of the eastern coastal region of Barqa [the Arabic name for Cyrenaica] said that it would be obliged to declare the independence of the region in case the international community and the residents of the Libyan capital Tripoli had recognised the congress, instead of the recently-elected House of Representatives.

“We will have to return to the 1949 constitution,” the council added in a statement. Before 1949, Libya was divided into three autonomous regions, including the eastern region of Barqa [Cyrenaica].

Although Tobruk, the current refuge of the “House of Representatives” government, was previously outfitted (decades ago) the royal capital of Libya and could probably stand in again in a pinch if necessary, it’s pretty hard for me to imagine an independent Cyrenaica that doesn’t include Benghazi, its biggest city.

On the military side, the three biggest cities in Libya as a whole — Tripoli, Benghazi, and Misrata respectively — are under full or partial control of the pro-GNC faction and their various aligned Islamist-leaning militias. And the pro-HOR/Hifter forces in Benghazi are reportedly being utterly wrecked by the pro-GNC forces, even while armed with fighter jets and supported by the Egyptian military: In the past month, eighty percent of all deaths (military, Islamist, and civilians) in Benghazi have been from the military or Hifterite militias, according to Agence France Presse, based on Red Crescent and hospital accounts.

Even Tobruk’s calm has been punctured by bombing attacks on temporary government facilities, which began on October 29. (And nearby Derna has reportedly officially fallen this week to a newly recognized ISIS affiliate led by several hundred Libyan combat veterans of ISIS’s Syria/Iraq war.) Perhaps they want to secede, but the pro-HOR tribal authorities of Cyrenaica might not have much territorial control left soon, without a full-scale foreign intervention. And nobody really has the energy or time for that at the moment, including the governments strongly opposed to the GNC backers.

Map of the three pre-1963 Libyan provinces approximated over a map of present-day subdivisions. (Credit: Spesh531 - Wikimedia)

Map of the three pre-1963 Libyan provinces approximated over a map of present-day subdivisions. (Credit: Spesh531 – Wikimedia)

Libya high court scuttles any governmental legitimacy

In the literal battle between two rival legislatures — a Western Libyan “Congress” controlled by the Islamist parties elected previously to lead the transition and an Eastern Libyan “Parliament” controlled by anti-Islamist parties elected in this year’s elections — the country’s Supreme Court has poured gasoline on the fire by invalidating the parliament on an apparent technicality and without explanation…or any followup plan for what should happen now that the only currently elected and internationally-accepted legislative body in Libya is no longer constitutional.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday on the ruling:

Libya’s Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the nation’s isolated but internationally recognized parliament is unconstitutional, a decision that threatens to plunge the oil-rich nation into further political chaos.
The defiant statement [from Tobruk parliamentarians, rejecting the ruling] is likely to heighten tensions in Libya, where the Supreme Court has been seen as one of the few remaining institutions that hadn’t fallen under direct political influence.

The Supreme Court sits in Tripoli and supporters of the Tobruk parliament said it has operated under intimidation by a coalition of armed groups there known as Operation Dawn, raising questions about its ability to rule independently. The court hasn’t responded to any of the accusations.

Late Thursday, the reasoning behind the decision and whether it would result in the dissolution of the parliament, remained unclear. The judges who issued the ruling didn’t offer a public explanation and couldn’t be reached for comment.
The case stemmed from a lawsuit brought by 30 elected members of the House of Representatives who have Islamist leanings and have boycotted the sessions. They argued the legislature is in violation of the constitution because it doesn’t convene in Tripoli or Benghazi.

This ruling just seems like it’s needlessly inflammatory and based on an unreasonable geographic technicality — the emergency evacuation of the parliament to Tobruk from the captured capital of Tripoli and avoidance of the besieged “second city” of Benghazi — a point which they unhelpfully didn’t even confirm or deny.

I predict the international community will ultimately ignore the decision, on the grounds that the parliament is still the (more or less) legitimately elected representative of the people, regardless of its location or any constitutional technicalities about its location. But it will hand a crucial legal victory to all opponents of the parliament and supporters (domestically or abroad) of that opposing camp and its rival government.

Either way, it can only expand the casus belli justifying armed “resolution” to the political crisis, because when neither side wields legal legitimacy for assuming and retaining power, only the use of force remains.

Despite a rising war, Libya’s oil keeps flowing

There are now two rival governments in Libya, an unrecognized one in the western capital and an internationally recognized (and elected) one in the eastern city of Tobruk. From physical infrastructure to virtual infrastructure, everything is a target for the rivals. Politically and militarily, the western faction seems to have gained the upper hand for the moment, but on the economic front, the eastern faction is still maintaining competitive dominance in the battle for control and influence.

Libya is a country with one of the largest oil reserves in the world, and unsurprisingly one of the biggest political struggles between the rival governments is over effective control of the oil production, sales, and revenues — as explained by Jason Pack and Rhiannon Smith:

This battle for legitimacy and power is being played out within Libya’s two most influential institutions: the Central Bank and the National Oil Corporation (NOC). The HoR voted in September to dismiss Sadiq al-Kabir from his position as Central Bank governor, however Kabir appears to still be running the bank. Through him, the Islamist-aligned government has at least some control over Libya’s finances.

Last week, the Central Bank transferred Hassi’s [unrecognized] government enough funds to cover three months of family allowance payments, while a GNC-controlled public spending authority [allied with it] has managed to impose a payment limit of 200,000 Libyan Dinar across the public sector.

Meanwhile, Hassi’s Oil Minister Mashallah al-Zwey has physically taken over the NOC headquarters in Tripoli along with the NOC website. As such, officials are reportedly taking direction from him. Indeed, the official Libyan government website has been taken over by Hassi’s National Salvation government. Those cyberspace realities go a long way to validating the Tripoli government’s claim to sovereignty and legitimacy.

Based on this, one might expect a total breakdown in cooperation on oil between the rival factions. Instead, production is up and revenues are continuing to be distributed across the country. It’s a bit haphazard, to be sure, but they haven’t stopped.

Why? The realities of the complex setup of pre-Gaddafi oil royalty systems and citizen salaries, crossed with the international oversight of the country’s oil sector following the 2011 civil war, have resulted in a bizarre and almost amusing level of cooperation, even as the two factions send wave after wave of militias and soldiers and jets at each other.

Here’s the basic setup according to Reuters:

  1. Oil comes out of the ground all over the country.
  2. Oil is largely shipped to export terminals in eastern Libya controlled by the recognized government.
  3. Oil is sold legally on the international market by brokers.
  4. Money from these sales is deposited directly into an overseas account established by the international community.
  5. The only entity able to access the money overseas to bring it back to Libya is controlled by supporters of the unrecognized government and the western rebels.
  6. Most of the oil money brought back into Libya is paid to average citizens, fighters, soldiers, police, etc. in all areas of the country under a system established by Gaddafi. All beneficiaries nominally “work” for the government (either one) in jobs that may or may not exist.

If you detected a bit of a mutually assured destruction or prisoner’s dilemma-style roadblock in there, so did pretty much everybody involved, which is apparently why the two rival forces haven’t stopped the oil party.

When everyone in Libya is employed in a no-show government job funded by oil revenues, everyone in Libya is committed to keeping the oil flowing and being sold legally, despite their differences, even in the middle of what has clearly become a new civil war. Since Western rebels control the payouts and the Eastern government controls the exports, it’s important for everyone to work together even as they’re at war — or else nobody gets salaries. Without salaries, and barring substantially more proxy aid from the Persian Gulf, both sides would collapse as their hired combatants suddenly exit the war.

Unilaterally halting the exports automatically halts the revenue stream, while unilaterally halting the revenue payouts would trigger retaliatory cancellation of the oil exports. The only self-preserving and logical course, therefore, is for neither side to try to hold the other hostage on the oil cycle, at least until both the revenue transfers and exports are controlled by the same side, whether by force or by the international community intervening on the funds repatriation process.