Conflict

John Kasich and Marco Rubio think US troops should be deployed in Libya. Really?

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Two men stand next to destroyed buildings after clashes between military forces loyal to Libya's eastern government and Islamist fighters, in Benghazi, Libya, February 28, 2016.

Two men stand next to destroyed buildings after clashes between military forces loyal to Libya's eastern government and Islamist fighters, in Benghazi, Libya, February 28, 2016.

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Esam Omran/Reuters

Amid the name calling and carnival barking that dominated Thursday night's Republican presidential debate were a few notable comments on the usually starchy subject of foreign policy. 
 
John Kasich made the case for US ground troops in Libya to help rescue the failed state and to staunch the spread of ISIS. "We have to be there on the ground in significant numbers. We do have to include our Muslim and Arab friends to work with us on that. And we have to be in the air." 
 
Marco Rubio said Libya was an "operating space" for ISIS and pushed for ground forces dominated by Sunni Arabs to vanquish the extremist scourge. "This is a radical Sunni movement. They can only be defeated if they are driven out and the territory is held by Sunni Arabs. But it will require a specific number of American special operators, in combination with an increase in air strikes." 
 
Buzzfeed News Middle East reporter Borzou Daragahi says for the moment, he can't imagine sending US ground troops to Libya.

"You have a situation where Libya is so fragmented. You have basically two camps that control huge swaths of the country. They're fighting each other. In addition you have another government, based in neighboring Tunisia, which is the internationally recognized UN-backed government."

He says added to that is a completely unpredictable security situation. "Every single town you go to in Libya has a different security configuration. So it's, like, who would be your partners on the ground there? Who's legitimate? Who has the authority to say yes, American troops are our friends and we want them here."

Daragahi visited Libya in February to take stock of the country five years after the uprising that led to Gaddafi's toppling. He wrote about it in a long piece for Buzzfeed News called Broken Land. What he found was a fragmented country that ISIS has exploited.  

"ISIS is a real force." They control the city of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, and about 100 miles of coastline on either side of the city. They also have a presence in Derne, Benghazi, Tripoli and Sabratha. "They do launch attacks. They are drawing recruits from other countries as well as Libya. It's a serious concern."

The last time the US intervened in Libya was in 2011, when Washington and its NATO allies used air strikes to halt a planned assault by Gaddafi's forces on Benghazi.  Shortly after, Gaddafi's government fell, and the operation was deemed a success. Hillary Clinton was secretary of state at the time and she championed the move. 

"There's the whole argument that Hillary pushed us into toppling Gaddafi and now Libya is a mess just like George W. Bush pushed America into toppling Saddam Hussein and now Iraq is a mess. I don't think it's comparable." Borzou Daragahi says the decision to invade Iraq came from the United States, without an invitation from Iraqis. It was different in Libya. 

"The Libyans themselves rose up and they took up arms and they formed themselves into units and they went to war against Gaddafi, who was a brutal tyrant who was about to commit a major war crime against the city of Benghazi.The Libyans went to the international community and asked for help. Can you imagine if the United States had said 'no, we're not going to help you.' Imagine what the consequences would have been and how that would have gone down historically in terms of US mistakes and US acquiesence in atrocities abroad."

Daragahi says the real mistakes in Libya were made in the first few months after Gaddafi was toppled.

"America sort of lost interest and didn't focus on rebuilding institutions in that country and helping it get back on its feet after 40 years of dictatorship."

But Daragahi doesn't blame just Hillary Clinton or the Obama administration. "It was really the Europeans who said, 'we got this one,' because they traded with Libya, had historic ties with Libya, relied on Libya for oil and gas. They're the ones who I think share a huge amount of blame for not being more actively engaged."

 

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Tagged: libyaGaddafiISIS.