President Donald Trump indicated in a phone call with Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar last week that the U.S. supported an assault on the country’s capital to depose its United Nations-backed government, according to American officials familiar with the matter.
An earlier call from White House National Security Adviser John Bolton also left Haftar with the impression of a U.S. green light for an offensive on Tripoli by his forces, known as the Libyan National Army, according to three diplomats.
It seemed clear at the end of last week that Trump had thrown the administration’s support behind the assault on Libya’s capital, and this report confirms what many of us assumed. The White House’s public acknowledgment of Trump’s conversation with Haftar was an indication of that support, but it seems that the president offered a much stronger endorsement of the offensive than the official readout suggested. Now that Bolton and Trump have both encouraged Haftar in his current course, that will make it even more difficult to prevent Libya’s civil war from escalating further. Haftar’s patrons will take U.S. support as a license to increase their own military assistance. There have already been reports of the use of armed drones, almost certainly from the UAE, in launching attacks on Tripoli. There will presumably be much more of that in the weeks and months to come.
The U.S. shouldn’t be taking sides in a Libyan civil war, and it certainly shouldn’t be aligning itself with the forces trying to overthrow the internationally recognized government. If the U.S. wanted to have a constructive role, it would be using its influence with Haftar’s patrons to rein him in and halt the offensive, but of course Trump isn’t interested in doing that. In addition to being a destabilizing and reckless move, Trump’s support for Haftar aligns the U.S. with a known war criminal responsible for many outrages in Libya. If the U.S. provides Haftar and his forces with any assistance, our government would be aiding and abetting their crimes.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the administration’s foreign policy and that of the despotic clients that seem to have extraordinary influence with the president. Apparently all that it took for Trump to change U.S. policy practically overnight is a couple conversations with the Egyptian dictator and Mohamed bin Zayed:
Trump’s conversation with Haftar took place after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with the U.S. president on April 9 and urged him to back Haftar, according to two people familiar with the matter. Trump also spoke with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a Haftar supporter, the day before the White House issued the statement acknowledging the call with Haftar.
It is bad enough that the U.S. has been supporting these abusive and despotic governments, and siding with their failing effort to impose a new strongman in Libya makes it even worse.