Now The New York Times Wants Us to get Involved in Libya

Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.

Who would have thought that the most hawkish people in the United States would have their offices at 620 Eighth Avenue in New York City?


The Editors of The New York Times were aghast when President Trump said that he was going to pull our troops out of Syria:

Trump’s Decision to Withdraw From Syria Is Alarming. Just Ask His Advisers.

This isn’t the first time the president and his administration have sent mixed messages.

By The Editorial Board | The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section. | December 19, 2018

It was less than three months ago that John Bolton, the national security adviser, declared an expanded objective for American troops in Syria.

The goal is not just defeating the Islamic State, but also ensuring that Iranian forces leave the country, he told reporters in what seemed like an authoritative statement of official policy.

Only, as is so often the case with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, it apparently wasn’t.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump summarily overruled Mr. Bolton and the rest of his national security team. He ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 American ground troops from Syria within 30 days.

That abrupt and dangerous decision, detached from any broader strategic context or any public rationale, sowed new uncertainty about America’s commitment to the Middle East, its willingness to be a global leader and Mr. Trump’s role as commander in chief.

The Editors go into their position further, but it’s clear: they wanted the United States to stay in Syria, which, at least so far, we have.


Adam Johnson of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) noted that the Editors seem never to oppose fighting:

Left unmentioned in the editorial: from Afghanistan (both the 2001 invasion and Obama’s 2009 surge) to Iraq (the 2003 invasion and Obama re-entering the country in August 2014 to fight ISIS) to Syria (both CIA-backed regime change and bombing ISIS) to Korea to our drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the New York Times has endorsed and often cheered every of these “forever wars.” And the “engagements” theTimes didn’t expressly support (Thailand, Jordan, etc.), because they’re so routine as to not merit mention, there’s no record of them opposing. Indeed, as FAIR (3/27/17) has noted previously, theNew York Times editorial board has not opposed a single US war since its equivocal and lukewarm opposition to Reagan’s invasion of Grenada 34 years ago (10/30/83).

So perhaps I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised at this one:

Libya Is Entering Another Civil War. America Can Stop It.

The Trump administration must act fast to stop the escalating conflict in Libya, which will subvert ongoing efforts for a peaceful settlement and strengthen the Islamic State.

By Frederic Wehrey and Jeffrey Feltman¹ | April 5, 2019

Well, at least it wasn’t the Editorial Board this time!

On Thursday General Khalifa Hifter, the leader of eastern Libya militias, ordered his forces to advance on Tripoli, the capital, where the country’s internationally backed Government of National Accord is led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Ghassan Salame, the United Nations envoy to Libya, had recently urged opposing Libyan factions to come together at a U.N.-brokered national conference in mid-April to lay the groundwork for elections and pull Libya back from the brink. By ordering his forces toward Tripoli when U.N. Secretary General António Guterres was in the city to help organize the national conference, General Hifter has made his disdain for the peace efforts clear.

The septuagenarian commander, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, France, Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia, was aiming to scuttle the conference in a brazen bid for power. But he has encountered more resistance than he expected.

Despite appeals from the United Nations for stronger American diplomatic engagement, especially to restrain meddling by General Hifter’s foreign backers, the Trump administration has long been uninterested in Libya. Recently, it seems to be warming to General Hifter, according to foreign diplomats we have spoken with. Such support from the Trump administration aligns well with the White House’s ties to General Hifter’s backers in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, and President Trump’s preference for authoritarian leaders.


The authors are urging increased American diplomatic pressure, but let’s tell the truth here: diplomacy doesn’t stop wars, and any increased American diplomatic effort would have to be matched by a willingness to commit military forces if General Hifter continues with his “disdain for the peace efforts.”  And why shouldn’t he; right now, it seems as though he might well win.

The American commitment in Syria had metastasized into a war against Da’ish¹, because, as has been the case in so many other instances, wars are simply not neat, and often take turns unforeseen by national leaders. The civil war started as the so-called “Arab Spring” movement deposed several dictators, though most of those nations have replaced the dictatorship of one man with the dictatorship of another. The Obama Administration was surprised by the uprisings, but quickly turned in support of them. When the uprisings spread to Libya, NATO bombed some targets.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was another really bad guy in the region, though somewhat less flamboyant than other dictators, and President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were more than happy to push him to step down. Of course, seeing what happened to Muammar al-Qaddafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, it was understandable that President Assad was unwilling to quit power; all that awaited him would have been the jail cell or the noose. Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton tried every diplomatic and financial support mechanism that they could to support whoever they thought the “good guys” were in Syria, and were stymied by one fact: there were no good guys! President Obama drew his famous “red line” over the use of chemical weapons by Mr Assad’s forces, and then when Syrian forces used those weapons, the US did nothing.


Still, a few thousand troops were sent, and we started expending American tax dollars there, with no truly defined mission, no real definition of victory, and no exit strategy. The Syrian government now controls more territory than it did when Mr Obama sent the troops in.

Perhaps, at some point, we might do something really radical like leaving things alone?

The United States has tried to use diplomacy to end conflicts all over the world. We’ve been involved in trying to find a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian fight since 1967, without success, because the Palestinians are still more interested in victory than in peace. The US has been trying to find diplomatic solutions in the Balkans, which only worked after President Clinton sent in troops. Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho did negotiate an end to the Vietnam war, only to see North Vietnam use the respite to get the US out and retool their forces before invading and finally conquering the South.

The end of a war comes with victory, not negotiation, and as long as one side or the other is winning, there is no real reason for the side with the advantage to stop fighting. Getting more deeply involved in Libya will only result in embarrassment, at the least, and a possible commitment to military force. For once, can we just leave this foreign problem to other people?
¹ – I am not particularly fond of the initials ISIS, and the reduction to just IS, for Islamic State, seems even worse. Da’ish is an acronym for the Arabic al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham. According to the BBC, the group “objects to the term and has advised against its usage,” and therefore, I shall use it.
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