Accuracy in AcademiaObama’s Failed Libyan War
April 2, 2014, Spencer Irvine
The Libyan civil war did more harm to the country, its people, economy and its neighbors in North Africa when NATO intervened at the behest of U.S. President Barack Obama, concluded a University of Texas-Austin professor Alan Kuperman. He gave his remarks at the libertarian think tank Cato Institute.
Associate professor of public affairs Alan Kuperman is an associate professor of public affairs and he criticized NATO’s intervention in the Libyan civil war. The civil war pitted rebels against government forces loyal to dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Kuperman was grateful to Obama for outlining the definition of success in Libya for the public in order to provide a framework for analysis. He quoted Obama’s own words in outlining success in Libya, which Obama said was based on the need to:
Stop the killing
Facilitate “transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people”
Avert “strains on the peaceful –yet fragile – transitions in” neighboring states
Prevent “repressive leaders conclud[ing] that violence is the best strategy to cling to power””
As with all foreign policy decisions, Kuperman pointed out that Obama and other decision-makers had to make “progress toward these objective that would make these costs worthwhile.” However, no progress could be seen in the aftermath of the Libyan civil war when he compared possible situations with and without intervention, which he called “net impact.” And although it was based on a “counterfactual,” it still provides an important picture of the foreign policy decision to intervene in Libya.
He briefly gave a summary of the civil war and how the eastern-based rebels had driven all the way to the pro-Qaddafi western parts of Libya. Qaddafi had “initially responded with non-lethal force,” but that quickly disappeared when the rebels “made fairly rapid” progress in gaining territory. Kuperman felt that the narrative of targeting civilians was a non-issue because Qaddafi forces were targeting the militants and “not the civilian population.” In the civil war, before the NATO intervention, “in none of those towns was there a bloodbath” where there were clashes between the two sides.
Kuperman predicted that the death toll, without an intervention, would have resulted in about 1,100 deaths and would last about six months. But, with the intervention, the civil war lasted much longer. He said, “Instead of six weeks, the war lasted 36 weeks. Rather than having 1,100 dead, there were in a range of 8,000-11,000 dead” by a variety of U.S. and Libyan estimates.
To make matters worse, Kuperman found that the civil war led to “a lot of negative consequences” such as “a lot of reprisal killings,” “a lot of ethnic cleansing” and “crimes against humanity.” He said, “Benghazi is a disaster, including the tragic killing of ambassador Chris Stevens” and without Qaddafi, “al-Qaeda types are flourishing in Libya.”
The country of Libya has seen its oil output fall to one-sixth of what it used to produce and “the government is not functioning.” At one point, the prime minister was kidnapped, was released and fled the country. Also, Kuperman felt that the destabilization of Libya “caused the destruction of the best democracy in Africa: Mali.” After “we overthrew Qaddafi [the pro-Qaddafi militants] fled back to Mali…the largest safe haven in the world for al-Qaeda.” The formerly shining example of African democracy, Mali, soon became a battleground for al-Qaeda fighters.
When addressing if the NATO intervention deterred other dictators from waging war on their own people, Kuperman was not encouraged by his research. After the intervention, “it sure doesn’t look like” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was deterred from escalating the civil war in his country. In addition, the Egyptian government was overthrown by the country’s military and was not fazed by the NATO intervention in neighboring Libya.
In evaluating Obama’s own guidelines of success, Kuperman was not flattering. Regarding the protection of civilians and civilian life, he said, “No, it increased the death toll by eightfold” and “it lengthened the war by six times.” Obama’s other goal was to establish a legitimate government, but Kuperman said, “There’s no legimitate government and it is not responsive to the Libyan people.” Instead, “it led to the demise of the best democracy in North Africa” in Mali, and no dictator was intimidated by the NATO intervenion. In Kuperman’s words, “Assad went ahead and did what he was going to do.”
He seemingly hedged his answers and questioned, “Maybe it’s too soon to tell” but he still felt that “the NATO intervention in Libya was an abysmal failure.”
This is about as close as we’ve come to finding accuracy in academia in quite some time.