MACRON’S “DANGEROUS GAME”
Libya, struggling with civil war since the toppling of Ghaddafi in 2011, once again under the spotlights after the Libyan government with Turkish support repelled a large UAE-backed attempt to install a North Korean-style regime in Tripoli.
From diplomatically shaping Haftar’s self-perception of being the supreme leader of Libya to a one-sided attempt to cut arms flow to Libya in favor of Haftar’s military dominance, France also unethically took sides with the notorious dictator.
After the defeat of a large coalition of forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, it was also expected to see various media outlets start accusing Libyan Government and Turkey of being “radical Islamists” without proper reasoning.
Why was it so predictable from France to use such a useful lie?
The first reason is its simplicity.
Macron knew that most Europeans were not very interested in Libya’s internal politics, just as they did not fancy other post-war countries. In Macron’s book, it was an opportunity to exploit.
The narrative itself provided Macron an excellent excuse to evade the limitations of “the European Values” since fearmongering on Islam became a powerful tool that can reach a wide range of audience from the leftist who despise religious influence on politics as a global principle to the conservatives who think the existence of Islam is a worldwide threat to Christianity.
The second reason is its “combat proven” status.
“Tagging politics” is a layer of the Russian Information Warfare concept known as “Active Measures”. The reason why the concept was called “Active Measures” is that its appliance “freezes” the opposition to Russian influence whenever they need to make a solid move. That way of information warfare gained the ground initiative for Russian forces on several occasions.
In early 2014, DAESH first took control of the major cities in Iraq, they turned their eyes on Eastern Syrian territory. That was a harsh signal for Russians and Iranians to increase the pace of military support to the Assad regime.
Meantime, a campaign of targeted news on both mainstream media and social media started to be published on western capitals. It was heavily implied in the Russian sponsored articles that all Syrian opposition groups were radical Islamists, they had little or no difference from DAESH and Al-Qaeda itself. Russian operations conducted against groups had no links with anti-DAESH operations until the western vision on Syrian opposition blurred to total blindness.
Doubts and division among backers of Syrian opposition left Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian opposition, vulnerable to waves of DAESH attacks in the whole eastern Syrian theater when the foreign assistance to defeat DAESH needed the most.
That was the starting point, leading to the division and collapse of FSA from being a nation-wide alternative to Assad to local resistance forces overshadowed by DAESH and Al-Qaeda military dominance. Those series of events ended up with emerging of Russia as a new kingmaker in Syria.
Macron’s expectation from marketing Haftar as “the only possible leader to crush religious extremism in Libya” was reaching similar success to Russian psy-ops on Syria.
He attempted to freeze diplomatic moves of all nations with interest in Libya including the US. When he was done, notorious dictator Haftar expected to reach “point of no return” controlling whole Libyan theater without any opposition.
A valuable time expected to be lost for all states which expect a sane and stable government in Libya while the tides turning in the favor of France, Haftar had to act swift on Tripoli before other states could come into a conclusion on ” What is actually happening at Libya?”
Field reports proved French claims beneath contempt, what are the key events to remember?
It was Haftar’s excuse for his premature leave from General National Congress, which is the first-ever democratic assembly found post-Ghaddafi era, with the narrative of linking conservative politicians representing Misrata city to Islamist groups.
The first incident refuting Haftar’s alternative reality was the fall of Sirte to DAESH, heavily linked with Saudi originated Madkhalism but opposite stance in the Misrata city where Haftar insistently highlighted.
Misratan forces, which Haftar desperately wanted to mark as a terror-linked group, stood strong against DAESH influence in their city and took part in the liberation of Sirte, with the help of US Special Forces assistance.
After the defeat of DAESH in 2016, disparities between Misrata and Tripoli also re-emerged. In the absence of a common threat, an unfortunate armed conflict took place between GNA and General Salvation Government formed in Misrata, caused serious security concerns in Tripoli.
Another key event refuting desperate attempts to link GNA to religious extremism took place there. Contrary to the reports linking GNA to Muslim Brotherhood roots, Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and some key GNA officials were still in office when the armed conflict between GNA and Misratan Libyan Dawn forces erupted.
The UN’s initiative and inclusive GNA approach to all Libyan parties put an end to the conflict in late 2016 before clashes turned into military scale interventions. A political understanding was reached between political representatives of cities of Tripoli and Misrata as it should be exemplary to the whole of Libya.
What was expected afterward was to reach a similar agreement with Aguila Saleh Issa led Tobruk’s House of Representatives, recreate the ties between Libyan capital Tripoli and Eastern Libya for the sake of peace and unity in Libya.
Nonetheless, Tobruk’s priority wasn’t Libyan peace but pleasing its foreign backers.
Undermining the UN-supervised process, LNA politicians described the peace as “an agreement reached at gunpoint of Islamist militias”. However, they ignored that clashes between GNA and Libyan Dawn outskirts of Tripoli ended up mostly with GNA victories.
GNA kept a diplomatic initiative with Tobruk’s House of Representatives which has a strong presence in eastern Libya and prevented a military confrontation with Haftar to take a sensitive approach to LNA operations to defeat Al-Qaeda linked Shura council in Benghazi.
However, Haftar took GNA’s diplomatic initiative as a sign of weakness rather than a goodwill gesture.
After 2017 Haftar started to play its petty role in psy-ops masterminded by his foreign backers. The first target was the tribal guard forces in Eastern Libya and in the area known as petroleum crescent, albeit a political agreement came swiftly, Haftar was then enjoying both political-military support from tribal forces he was accusing as “Islamist militias” just a little while ago.
Probably without firing a single bullet after Benghazi, Haftar marketed his advances as another blow to Islamist militias at Eastern Libya.
After the liberation of Sirte from DAESH in 2016, forming a unit recruiting from locals was obligatory for GNA. Since maintaining order in a freshly captured city with the forces solely from other towns was impossible in the nature of Libyan society.
As Haftar is pushing west, the 604th Brigade formed by GNA in the strategic town of Sirte was the next target of propaganda operations. Pro-LNA media outlets were not retiring to describe 604th brigade as “Remnants of DAESH”
Another irony of fate, through the UAE dollars and ties found on Madkhalist ideology, 604th brigade switched sides and pledged allegiance to Haftar’s LNA in early 2020.
Haftar again found himself joining forces with fighters his failure media team once described as pro-DAESH. Then Madkhalists all around Libya became the favored batch of fighters for the Haftar’s cause.
Inconsistency in Haftar’s modus operandi was so weird that when an armed pick-up belonging to LNA’s 128th Brigade was captured by GNA at the outskirts of strategic Watiyah Air Base, a book written by sectarian Islamist Rabee al-Madkhali and a poster of communist revolutionary Che Guevara found on it.
Also for the Russian mercenary group Wagner, from now on designations like “Wahhabi gangs” or “Salafist gangs” were no more adjectives for the enemies in Syria but their brand new allies in Libya.
How do the relations between Saudi Arabia, Madkhalism, and Haftar work?
When we talk about Madkhalism, we need to address its founder Rabee A-Madkhali, an Islamist scholar from Saudi Arabia. He had a salient career among Sharia branches of Saudi Universities, most notably the Islamic University of Medinah, where he held a chair for long and lived through Saudi paychecks.
His popularity among common citizens coincides with worries on the growing influence of Sayyid Qutb, who is largely acknowledged as the main ideologist of Muslim brotherhood and offering a tough political challenge to Gulf monarchies and Baathist rule in the Arab World in the sake of Islamism.
Madkhali opposition to House Saud can be emphasized as leverage to Qutb, Madkhali took an extremist and sectarian approach on trivial matters to gain popularity among the common citizens, but practiced mild or no opposition key political issues, leaving a large operating space for House of Saud, mostly on the Kingdoms relations with Israel or the US.
Nevertheless, his influence on religious matters on a national scale was not enough to counter Qutbi influence. Eventually, international recognition was necessary for Madkhali’s reputation.
This is where House of Saud started covertly supporting Madkhalism on international scale campaigns. That covert support was enough to reserve him a place among the list of most influential 500 Muslims worldwide.
Madkhali extremism was advocated as a diamond to cut a diamond, an international cure against Qutbism in the Islamic world from East Asia to Balkans.
In the latest instance, Madkhali extremism once again became a political tool in Libya, bringing another aspect to the nation’s long-standing civil war.
What is the GNA approach to religious matters?
GNA’s aim on Libya is to reach a national consensus for the reconstruction of Libya, GNA officials are realistic enough to understand it has no benefits to create new disparities on religious tendencies.
Since severe state surveillance on religious affairs backfired on many occasions, it is not the GNA’s priority to judge Libyan people on religion but to create an environment of trust where religious extremism can no longer exist.
President Fayez al-Sarraj, a prominent businessman and architect, who held critical offices at Housing Ministry in his political past, clearly offers a lot brighter and modern leadership for Libyans than his French-backed alternative Haftar, who has an obsession to make people forgot his military failures with the creation of more and more armed conflicts and encircled by a war cabinet unqualified to prove solutions on Libya’s civilian matters.
When did the chain of errors make France reliant on baseless accusations started?
Turkey’s calls for restraint before the 2011 French-led NATO intervention largely perceived as disunity among NATO members, created discomfort among alliance members, especially in France. However, the fall of major cities like Sirte and Benghazi in the radical Islamists hands a short while after intervention proved Turkey’s concerns were legit and should’ve been taken into account far earlier.
Decisive victories against pro-Ghaddafi forces, very close to perfection in military standards, followed by a hollow understanding of post-war politics, led to a decade long chaos claiming countless lives and ended up with nationwide destruction of Libya, became a further stain to NATO image worldwide.
Ignorance and cluelessness in the Western World were so worrying, even after the took over of Al-Qaeda linked Shura Council in Benghazi, US diplomatic mission was operating without any extra security measures which led to the killing of US Ambassador to Benghazi, John Christopher Stevens, among four other US officials, symbolically at 11th of September 2012, at the eleventh anniversary of Al-Qaeda attacks on World Trade Center.
A post-war scenario where tribes and religious communities, including the extremists like Al Qaeda and DAESH became new centers of power in Libya at the absence of a strong central government, should have been the most studied one but somehow gone unnoticed.
Rather than acknowledging and correcting past mistakes, the French response was to cover up what is happening in Libya, through the instruments of further mistakes.
French arguments to start an operation to topple Ghaddafi in 2011 were basically as follows:
- Having deep ties with Russia risking European security
- Disrespecting democratic values
- Providing unfair advantages to his inner circle
- Using military power to suppress his opposition
- Using religion as a political tool
The answer is quite worrying when someone simply asks “Which of those five traits Haftar didn’t have?”
Democratic enough to even prevent the works of pro-Haftar Tobruk’s House of Representatives, promoting his sons to the rank of general without seeking any service standards, inviting shady Russian mercenary group Wagner on the brink of southern European borders, declaring Jihad on Turkish missions at Libya, Haftar proved to be no less notorious than what Ghaddafi was once.
Eventually, France owes an explanation to the rest of the world, what was the decade long destruction of Libya for if their best alternative for Libya’s future is simply Haftar, a delusional dictator candidate. Moreover, Macron’s foreign policy team unwilling to confess it.
This is the point where conflicting accusations came in handy particularly for French foreign policy. Now we just wait which new low Macron will push French and European diplomacy into.
Author: Hüseyin Öztürk