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June 29, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8823

Arab Writers: America Has Abandoned Libya To Russian, Turkish Interference, Is Jeopardizing The Interests Of Its Arab Allies

June 29, 2020
Libya, Russia, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8823

The Arab media has lately been extensively concerned with the Libya crisis, following the dramatic shift in the balance of power there. The Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, which is recognized by the UN as Libya's legitimate government and is supported by Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), has scored a number of victories over the Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by the UAE, Egypt, France and Russia.

This shift in the power-balance was made possible by Turkey's growing military involvement in Libya, which includes the deployment of military forces there and an airlift of weapons in violation of the UN arms embargo on the country.

The GNA's military successes on the ground with the backing of the Turkish forces, as well as the security and naval agreements signed by Turkey and Libya in 2019, are a source of grave concern to many Arab countries, who fear Turkey's growing power and influence in the Middle East. They regard Turkey's policy as a bid to establish itself as a regional superpower and to strengthen the MB throughout the Arab world. 

Many in the Arab world blamed the U.S. for the recent developments in Libya, arguing that the military achievements of the GNA and the Turkish forces there were made possible by America's feeble policy in the region. They accused the U.S. of turning a blind eye to the Turkish ambitions and of jeopardizing the interest of its Arab allies, such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.   

The U.S. reduced its involvement in Libya already in the Obama era, following the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi,[1] and backed the diplomatic efforts of the UN, which, as stated, recognizes the GNA as Libya's legitimate government. The Trump administration seems to be largely following the same policy. Many Arab media see this as support for the GNA and for Turkey, and present as evidence Washington’s recent call for a ceasefire under UN  supervision, as well as America's failure to declare its support for the initiative presented by Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi in early June, which calls for a ceasefire and for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country (i.e., the Turkish forces as well as others).[2] In addition, a statement by U.S. Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland in early June, that the Turkish intervention in Libya was a reaction to the presence of the Russian Wagner forces,[3] was also seen as legitimizing the Turkish presence in Libya.

The Arab concern regarding the U.S. policy on Libya intensified even further following statements made by Erdogan about his June 8, 2020 phone conversation with President Trump. Erdogan said that Trump had described Turkey's situation in Libya good, and that they had agreed on some issues. He added that he hoped a new era between Turkey and the U.S. could begin.[4] Furthermore, according to a report in the Saudi London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily, during a June 22 meeting between  Ambassador Norland, AFRICOM Commander Stephen Townsend and Fayez Al-Sarraj, the latter was told that the Americans oppose the attacks on the GNA and on the Turkish forces. The report also claimed that, during the meeting, Al-Sarraj proposed the establishment of a U.S. military base in Libya. [5]

Criticism of the Trump administration's policy on Libya, especially in light of Turkey's growing involvement there, was expressed in many articles in the Arab press. Examples are an article by Tunisian writer Al-Habib Al-Asoud in the London-based daily Al-Arab, owned by the UAE, which supports Khalifa Haftar, and another by Saudi journalist Mashari Al-Dhaidi in the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. These articles claimed that Turkey, along with Qatar, plays a destructive role in Libya, yet the U.S. turns a blind eye to this, apparently because some elements there regard Erdogan as a strategic political ally who can combat terror and counter-balance the involvement in Libya of America's rivals, such as Russia. They stated further that the American disregard of Erdogan's actions jeopardizes the security of its Arab Allies, and could turn Libya into a magnet for terrorist organizations like ISIS.

The following are translated excerpts from these two articles criticizing the U.S. policy in Libya.

Tunisian Writer In UAE Daily: In Light Of Its Behavior In Libya, America's Friends Should Reexamine Their Position On It

Tunisian writer Al-Habib Al-Asoud wrote on June 2: "The Arab countries, especially those that regard the U.S. as their main ally, will have to seriously examine America's new position on Libya and the dangers it poses to Arab national security by giving Erdogan a free hand and an opportunity to stage a blunt intervention [in Libya] that borders on an invasion, in complete disregard of international law, of UN resolutions and of the interests of the moderate Arab countries who are closer to the U.S. [than Turkey]… Erdogan [dares to] threaten the security and stability of the Middle East because he counts on exploiting Turkey's membership in NATO, as well as the feebleness of the American position and the disputes among the Europeans…  in contrast to the expanding influence of political Islam.  


Al-Habib Al-Asoud (source: alarab.co.uk)

"Many powerful players in the U.S. regard Erdogan as a strategic political ally and who actualizes [America's] economic plans and can restrain the rampaging terror [organizations] and guarantee the security of Israel. They also regard him as a weapon that can deal a blow to America's enemies, especially China and Russia… Over a year ago, America's position on Libya was plagued by domestic disputes, for in April 2019, Trump called Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar and expressed his appreciation for the role played by [Haftar's] armed forces in the war on terror. [Haftar] regarded this phone call as permission to carry out his mission, especially as it came [only] two weeks after the start of his campaign to liberate Tripoli. [In response], the government in Tripoli, the Muslim Brotherhood lobby, the Turkish lobby and the centers of Qatari influence and financing, especially those connected to the Zionist lobby, launched widespread campaigns in the U.S., as part of which they carried out million-dollar deals in order to pressure the White House to express support – even limited support – for Sarraj's Government. The Libyan MB went so far as to announce its willingness to provide the U.S. with a base in western Libya and grant it control of most of the oil and gas investments. It backed up these promises with false claims, that Libya has become [part of] Russia's sphere is influence in North Africa… so as to secure America’s support for a direct Turkish intervention in Libya. [And indeed], since Erdogan began dispatching tens of thousands of mercenaries to Tripoli and Misrata, the U.S. has nor explicitly spoken out against this, but only made some statements about foreign intervention without specifying by whom…

"The U.S. position seems confusing, but it is motivated by [America's] well-known opportunism. Washington wants to achieve its aims by means of Turkish intervention. If Erdogan succeeds, it plans to share influence with Moscow, i.e., to partition Libya… and if he fails, the U.S. will know when to take a step back, while leaving room for [the realization of] its interests, as it did in Syria when it took an isolationist position and left the arena to the Russians and Turks.

"When the U.S. announces its support for a certain party, and then abandons it the minute it is defeated or shows signs of imminent defeat, it suffers no consequences. Nobody thinks that Al-Sarraj’s militias or Turkey's mercenaries are any closer to the U.S. than the Kurds, whom [the U.S.] sold out to be murdered by Erdogan's forces. The question therefore remains: What about the U.S. position towards its Arab allies, whom it once again abandoned when it placed its hand in that of the Turkish regime, which attacks their region and aspires to take over Libya and turn it into an empire of terror that will be like a dagger in the chest and the back [of the Arabs]? 

"[The Arabs] can no longer regard the U.S. as a reliable ally. This has been demonstrated since 2011, and there is no longer any cause to regard it as a strategic anchor for their affairs and interests. Instead, it must be seen as a country that succumbs to the interests of whoever rules it, including people and lobbies who have their own agendas…"[6]

Saudi Journalist: Erdogan Is Already Presenting Himself As The Governor Of Libya; When Will America Wake Up?

Saudi journalist Mashari Al-Dhaidi wrote on June 12 in the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, under the headline "Does the US Understand the Danger Posed by Erdogan's Invasion of Libya?":

"Since the days of [Mu'ammar] Gaddafi and the Arab Spring, Libya has been an especially [painful] wound for the world's first superpower, the U.S. I am not talking only about the Qaddafi era… but [also] of Libya of the Arab Spring or Arab Awakening period… starting in 2011. Now Libya has become a hot tin roof for everybody.


Mashari Al-Dhaidi (source: al-marsd.com)

"The barbaric murder of then U.S. ambassador in Benghazi Christopher Stevens and his diplomatic staff in  2012[7] was a milestone in [the history of presidential] campaigns in the U.S., for Donald Trump long cited it as  proof of the impotence of the Democrat administration of [then-president [Barak] Obama and [his] secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

"Today there is a new discourse about the controversial U.S.-Libya relations. What is America's real position today towards the Ottoman invasion [of Libya] by [Turkish President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

"On the one hand, Erdogan, along with Qatar of course, is proud of [his] 'victory to end all victories' in Libya. The invading sultan Erdogan treats his victories in Libya as though [this country] were an old Ottoman eyalet,[8] while the Americans display only embarrassment and send conflicting signals.

"Egypt, under [President] 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, has submitted a political plan aimed at reaching solution [in Libya, which calls for] a suspension of hostilities, unity among Libyans, and the withdrawal of all foreign forces, [both] Russian and Turkish. What was the response? The foreign minister in Erdogan's administration was quick to oppose the plan and mock it, in complete agreement with the position of the Qatari foreign minister. On the American side the picture is as follows: Trump phoned Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi and told him that he appreciated Egypt's efforts to reach the political solution required in Libya. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said recently – even though his department welcomed the Cairo plan – that it is time for the Libyans to talk [among themselves ] and for the Russian invasion to end, as well as any other invasion –hinting at the Turkish intervention that followed the Russian intervention, and which the U.S. has disregarded. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland said explicitly what Pompeo said only implicitly. That is, he justified the Turkish intervention by noting that ‘it was a response to the Russian intervention." 

"However, according to an investigative article in the London-based Al-Arab daily, some in America are more aware of the danger posed by this disregard of Erdogan’s Turkish invasion. Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, and Charles Wald, the former Deputy Commander of United States European Command, stress that the destructive role played by Erdogan's regime in Libya poses a threat to America's vital interests.  The two were quoted by the Breaking Defense website as saying that Erdogan's actions in Libya provide the ISIS terror organization with an opportunity to regroup, and increase the danger that Europe will  face another torrent of refugees and immigrants, [this time from Libya].

"Yes, this is the main problem: The actions of Sultan Recep [Erdogan] and of his terror gang, [comprising] Al-Qaeda and its ilk, [are tantamount to] an explicit call to turn Libya into a garden of Eden for terrorists,   like Afghanistan, northern Syria, Somalia and Yemen. Is that what the West, led by the U.S., wants [to happen], and this time [right] on the border of the old continent of Europe? When will the U.S. wake up and pull the rug out from under the feet of Russia and Turkey? Assuming it actually understands what is happening in Libya today."[9]

 

[1] The attack, on September 11, 2012, perpetrated by terrorists affiliated with Al-Qaeda, resulted in the death of ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats.

[2] Elaph.com, June 12, 2020.

[3] Ly.usembassy.gov, June 5, 2020.

The Wagner Group is a private Russian military company whose director is known for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and whose activities conform to Russian foreign policy. For more information about Russian military involvement in Libya, see MEMRI Special Dispatch 8771, After Defeat Of Russia's Ally Khalifa Haftar, Russia Sends Planes To Protect Haftar And Its Investment In In Libya Amidst Domestic Criticism, May 28, 2020.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 10, 2020.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 27, 2020.

[6] Al-Arab (London). June 2, 2020.

[7] On September 12, 2012, an Al-Qaeda affiliated group attacked the consulate, killing Stevens and three other U.S. diplomats.

[8] Eyalets were an administrative division of the Ottoman Empire, governed by a pasha. The term was in use until 1864, when it was replaced by the term wilaya.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 12, 2020.

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