Monday marks the three year anniversary of death of Libya's former president Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed in the midst of a NATO backed war against his government. The United States kept its involvement as low-profile as possible but there was no doubt they launched a war which they supported and were supported by rebel militias which ended in the overthrow and killing of Gaddafi.
After the death of Gaddafi, NATO prematurely announced that its mission in Libya had been “one of the most successful in NATO history.” Today's conditions would point to the opposite conclusion. As underlined by journalist Jon Mitchell, “a continuing and strengthening Libyan civil war poses a significant challenge in the North African and Middle Eastern regions, and even beyond.”
Gaddafi took power in 1967 and run the country up until his death in 2011. And now, Libya is falling apart. There are two governments claiming power with two parliaments and each one with a separate army. Libya is now a failed state in the grips of civil war, its economy is in shambles and oil production, their biggest export has dramatically slowed. Oil exports have fallen from 1.4 million barrels a day from the time of Gaddafi to 235,000 barrels a day today.
People are being tortured and many are being driven from their homes and since the conflict reignited in 2011 there has been 250,000 refugees and in August of this year around 5,000 people were crossing the Tunisian border, forcing them to close the crossing.
In addition, Western embassies have all left, and in addition to Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria have closed their borders and crime rates and impunity are sky high. The war is being fought between various local, tribal, regional, Islamist and criminal militias that have plagued the nation since the NATO intervention.
However many experts could see this outcome, with the tribal structure of Libyan society making it easy to overthrow the government. In fact, the tribal structure of Libyan society was one factor that made it easy to overthrow the government, which had been in the sights of the U.S. global capitalist bloc for years. As the journalist Manlio Dinucci wrote, “The Jamahiriya of Gadhafi’s time, a strange hybrid of Proudhonian anarchy and autocracy, has given way to a liberal chaos where torture and murder have become the norm while the multinationals are on a permanent binge.”
Leaving aside Gaddafi's alleged crimes, Libya had some of the highest standards of living in Africa and health care and education was free, now the health care system is all but collapsed and higher education is shutting down.
However Libya is in a very complicated situation that cannot be fully blamed on the fall of Gaddafi. There are no political stakes, there has been no signs of a strong central government, nor signs of emancipatory or democratic movements rather a complex network of religious and ethnic alliances. But one thing the West has learned is that direct military intervention is bordering on madness, even for them hence treating the nation with kid gloves.
The regime change both in Libya and neighboring nations under the “Arab Spring” was supposed to be a positive outcome for all, but with the situation in Iraq and Syria with the Islamic State now in addition to dictatorial rule in Egypt we can see how what NATO said and intended to do, can result in even bigger failures.
So, on this anniversary of Gaddafi's death, we could ask “Was Libya and the world better off with him?” But it might be better to ask, “Is the world better off without Western intervention?”. While we may not know the answer to the first question, certainly the answer to the second question would be a resounding, no. And Libya is a shining example of this.
But also, we should not place all the blame on outside forces, removing the autonomy from the Libyan people. Part of the reason is indeed that lack of an effective central authority that was able to protect Libya from falling into chaos and become a safe haven for radical Islamist movements which pose a large threat to the region.
There is no easy answer or fix, as Foreign Policy argues, no one faction can achieve victory in Libya. The anti-Islamist side does not provide an answer, and we only have to look to Syria to understand that. And while the UN now is attempting to facilitate dialogue between the two governments, it remains up to Libyans themselves to craft a lasting peace, free of more intervention.