Does Current Instability In Libya Prove Supporters of the 2011 Military Intervention Wrong?

After the ousting of Col. Qaddafi, Libya has experienced a constant state of instability. The latest round of confrontations marring the North African country pits forces loyal to a former Libyan military officer, Khalifa Heftar, against a number of Islamist militias. Ongoing violent confrontations in Libya recently spurred the United States to evacuate its staff from the US embassy in Tripoli.

Following are two interesting articles providing opposite assessments about the overall effect of the 2011 UN-sponsored NATO-led military intervention in Libya.

Conor Friedersdorf on The Atlantic criticizes the “successfulness” of 2011 intervention:

Most of all, I am struck by the willingness of prominent interventionists to have publicly declared their instincts in Libya vindicated when the country’s future remained very much in doubt, as if they couldn’t conceive of an intervention that would result in more lives lost than the alternative even as the possibility of that outcome was extremely plausible. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Washington, D.C. foreign-policy establishment seemed to perform no better at foreseeing how events would unfold than non-expert commentators who simply applied Murphy’s Law.

Hisham Matar on The New Yorker presents a different view:

Those who regret the end of Qaddafi’s regime ignore how the current chaos is the product of four decades of oppression. ‘Wasn’t Qaddafi better?’ is the wrong question, because it doesn’t illuminate the objective reality of post-revolutionary Libya. To understand today’s events, one must remember what life was like under Qaddafi. The state was designed around an individual and his family; it resembled more a Mafia than a political structure. And so ending the dictatorship meant ending the state […]  In light of this history, creating a political atmosphere that permits and encourages difference and plurality will be difficult



  1. Khalid Ahmed Chaudry

    I just want to say ” NATO-Led UN-backed military intervention in Libya had no legal and moral grounds” which resulted in to thousands of causalities( according to a us professor, who I met here in The Hague, during a seminar at the Institute of Social Studies, ” there were only few hundred people killed during uprising before NATO attacks but these attacks added more then 30 thousand deaths”) and not only that ongoing repression, torture, extra judicial killing in Libya are in credit to/for military intervention.


    • eugeniolilli

      Dear Khalid, from your comment I assume you espouse Friedersdorf’s view. I am also aware of the data you refer to, but some people may argue that without the international intervention the “few hundred people killed during the uprising” would have been much more, and that the city of Benghazi, with its 650,000 inhabitants, would have witnessed a massacre of civilians reminding of Srebrenica. How would you respond to that?


  2. Paul

    I think it is important to remember what the UN resolutions and NATO intervention was intended to achieve – the immediate protection of civilians who were being threatened by the Gadaffi regime. It did achieve this. Nothing in the UN mandate looked at the long-term stabilisation of the country – the failure to address this is, in my view, a separate issue. Yes, the intervention changed the situation, but I’m not sure we can say for sure that the current situation was wholly the direct and predictable result, nor that any alternative would have been measurably better or worse.


  3. Charles

    Eugenio’s blog is excellent, and he has a plethora of vignettes that are easily digestible. Worth reading.

    The Libyan intervention just shows how easily humanity is devilishly forked on the tines of chance and emotion in Clausewitz’ Holy Trinity. You send over a Typhoon and you pave the way for it to rain in blood. Doesn’t it make you think that the only rational military instrument is “a shot across the bow”? Of course you need a force in place not just to be able to make that shot, but also to smoothly escalate with credibility. Where does it end?


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