Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Late on Saturday night, as many as 950 men, women, and children perished in the Mediterranean 60 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa in the greatest sea disaster since the Second World War. Last week, two separate shipwrecks off the coast of Libya claimed an estimated 400 lives. The Italian coastguard has rescued nearly 10,000 people this month. In Sicily and Lampedusa, medical teams regularly treat migrants who have been tortured by their smugglers.
Postwar Europe has never confronted a population movement like this. A human wave from the failed states of the Middle East and Africa has resulted in a 50-fold increase in migrant and refugee deaths since last year. There will be many more. The state apparatus has collapsed in Libya. There is no Libyan coast guard. Last fall, Italy ended the “Mare Nostrum” search-and-rescue operation, which had saved 100,000 lives in 2014; Italian naval units have instead been deployed off Libya’s eastern coast to guard against sea-borne attacks from the ISIS-occupied ports at Derna and Sirte. ISIS, meanwhile, is beheading Christians on Libya’s beaches, and Italian police have just arrested 15 Muslims on charges of throwing 12 Christians from a migrant boat.
To say these refugees are unwanted in Europe is an understatement. EU governments have until now refused to fund search-and-rescue operations on the grounds that the prospect of being rescued only encouraged more to venture the journey. Overland routes are impenetrable: Greece has fenced off its border with Turkey, and Spain has sealed off Ceuta and Melilla.
In the wake of Saturday’s shipwreck, there are calls for “something to be done.” Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat said, “What is happening now is of epic proportions. If Europe, if the global community continues to turn a blind eye… we will all be judged in the same way that history has judged Europe when it turned a blind eye to the genocide of this century and last century.” Pope Francis has appealed for “much broader involvement.” “Illegal immigration is about to reach the top of the scale of the multiple crises Europe is facing,” wrote Le Monde’s editorial board this morning. “It is a crisis … of catastrophic proportions … a challenge not only to the dignity of man, but to the values and economic rationality on which the European Union is based.”
But there is no rational solution. Europe has only two options: let migrants drown in the hundreds or thousands, or open the gates to hundreds of thousands of immiserated refugees–along with an indeterminate number of refugees who throw Christians overboard en route. The latter will not happen.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is correct to say that the problem lies in Libya, which is now a failed state. Italy is contemplating a military mission there, possibly under a United Nations mandate. “If we cannot remove the problem in Libya, we will never succeed in solving this terrible problem,” he said, and he is correct.
When Obama explained the US intervention in Libya, these were the words he used:
To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and -– more profoundly -– our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.
And here is Hillary Clinton:
I was in complete agreement with Adam Garfinkle when he wrote this in February:
Personally, I’m not enthusiastic about the prospect of Mrs. Clinton as President; nor do I think she was such a good Secretary of State. But it is a fantasy, and a lurid fantasy at that, to try to hold her personally accountable for what happened during and after September 11, 2012, in Libya.
More than that, it is a distraction from the key policy lesson we should by now have learned from that whole unfortunate episode. Whatever the real mix of reasons that went into it, the Libya war was a mistake. It has touched off a cascade of completely predictable misanthropies (if I predicted them, which I did, I take it for granted that others, not least then-Defense Secretary Gates, did too). It has, to take just one example, ensnarled the French in a real mess in Mali, probably made things worse in increasingly ghoulish northern Nigeria, and it is already washing back into Libya, threatening to alienate the southwestern, Tuareg chunk of Fezzan permanently from the Libyan state (such as it is). The sin that Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton (and others) committed was starting this stupid war in the first place, and then having no plan whatsoever for a post-Qaddafi “Phase IV” (remember Iraq?). That is the decision that began the sequence of events that got Ambassador Stevens and three other American officials killed.
Why aren’t Republicans on the make making this argument?
It should also be noted that Garfinkle opposed the intervention. He predicted this outcome in lucid detail:
Of course, if democracy breaks out in a post-Qaddafi Libya, everything will be sunshine and roses—except that is about as likely to happen as a hookah-smoking caterpillar offering you a tuna on rye, with a pickle. Or about as likely as a clean and clear endpoint to the battle in Iraq ever was. Whenever there is a conflict in a far-off land between some protesting horde and some morally unaesthetic incumbent government, the Manichean American mind rushes ineluctably to the conclusion that the throng in the street has to be a democracy movement. It’s the Children of the Sons of Light against the Children of the Sons of Darkness over, and over, and over again, except of course that it’s never that clear-cut. This amounts to a pre-adolescent understanding of any region, and the Arab world isn’t just any region.
As noted, there is a regional and tribal element to the fight in Libya. It is unlikely that the Benghazi-based rebels could by themselves establish stable control over the whole country. It is almost as unlikely that the Tripolitanian tribes could re-establish firm control over Cyrenaica. Qaddafi managed the feat through a combination of patronage, terror and cooptation. That will be a very hard act to follow in the wake of so much bloodletting. We are therefore looking into the maw of a Libya that may well be divided, in the throes of some kind of protracted, at least low-level civil war, and that could very easily produce an insurgency spilling over the Egyptian and Tunisian borders—complete with refugees, the usual dysfunctional NGO triage operations and all the rest. And in due course, if the fractious mess lasts long enough, there is a reasonable prospect that al-Qaeda will find a way to establish a foothold amid the mayhem.
Who will want to send in peacekeepers to baby-sit a Libya that looks like that? Who’ll want to go to the UN to get the job authorized? The African Union?
Now, given that this sort of problem is foreseeable, and that it was also foreseeable before the cruise missiles started flying on Saturday, it stands to reason that a responsible, serious government will have thought about all this in advance, and come up with some plan for the post-combat “Phase IV” of the Libyan War, right? Not on your life; the President and his war council almost certainly have not even begun to think about this sort of thing, because they’re still in denial that it could happen. This is, after all, just a limited, humanitarian mission as far as they’re concerned. They don’t realize it yet, but these guys are on a path to make even Donny Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks look good—and you thought that was impossible.
So if anyone says this outcome was unlikely or unpredictable, they are wrong. As Garfinkle continued:
These three observations do not, of course, exhaust the madness of what the Administration has done. This Libya caper will constitute a huge, compound distraction. Not only will it distract us from longer-term challenges, mainly in Asia, that will determine the success or failure of America’s grand strategy of forward presence on the flanks of Eurasia, it will also distract us from even more portentous Middle Eastern dangers. Just yesterday the head of the Yemeni army withdrew his support for President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This portends a major, multifaceted tribe-and-clan based civil war with a potential to put core U.S. security interests at risk—for an anarchic Yemen, a mountainous country with four times the population of Libya, can host a sanctuary for al-Qaeda that will make their Taliban-era digs pale by comparison. And in Yemen, al-Qaeda already has a kind of defense-in-depth across the Bab al-Mandeb in what’s left of Somalia.
He wrote those words on March 22, 2011.
Perhaps this latest news will inspire someone, somewhere, to connect the dots. The scandal isn’t Bengazigate. It is Libya itself.
Update: Three more boats are reported to be sinking right now, one with 300 people on board.