BY GENE HEALY:
Libya suffered through an eventful St. Patrick’s Day on Monday: car bomb attacks in Benghazi killed at least eight people, and the U.S. Navy SEALs scored “one for the Morning Glory” by capturing the runaway oil tanker bearing that name in order to return it to the Libyan government, such as it is.
Earlier this month, the North Korean-flagged tanker switched off its satellite transponder — a device that could probably do without an “off” button — and sneaked into Libya’s largest oil port, whereupon Libyans linked to a breakaway eastern militia made off with millions of dollars in oil. But the return of the Morning Glory hardly fixes the problems confronting Libya.
Three years ago today, President Obama announced that America would “not stand idly by in the face of actions that undermine global peace and security;” he’d decided to order military action in “support for a set of universal values.” The next day, the bombing began.
How did that work out? Splendidly! says one of the principal architects of the war, former National Security Council official Samantha Power. Last summer, after becoming U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Power tweeted: “Great example: Qadhafi fell because the Libyan people bravely stood up, the U.S. stood strong, and the Arab League stood united. #Results.”
Let’s test that self-congratulatory hashtag against what a top official from the previous administration once contemptuously called the “judicious study of discernible reality.” “Political Killings Still Plaguing Post-Qaddafi Libya” is the headline from the New York Times last week, reporting, “[M]ore than 100 prominent figures, senior security officials, judges and political activists have been assassinated in two years, and the wave of killings is decimating local leadership and paralyzing the government and security forces.” Unrest has likewise decimated Libya’s oil production, and “militias hold 8,000 people in prisons.”
But didn’t we at least stop a genocide? That’s what State Department legal adviser Harold Koh suggested in an interview. Koh, previously an ardent opponent of presidential warmaking, gave Obama legal cover for Libya, arguing that bombing Libya didn’t count as “hostilities” under the War Powers Resolution.
Koh defends that decision by insisting that “thousands of lives were saved” — which isn’t much of a legal argument. It’s also not true.
As political scientist Alan J. Kuperman pointed out at the time, Obama “grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya.”
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