The Real Benghazi Is Stumbling Toward Civil War

But political constraints in Washington make any significant U.S. action in a disintegrating Libya a long shot.

A Libyan woman displays her voting ID during legislative elections at a polling station in Benghazi.
National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
July 1, 2014, 1 a.m.

Since the at­tack that took the life of Am­bas­sad­or Chris Stevens and three oth­er Amer­ic­ans in Septem­ber 2012, Benghazi has taken on a life of its own, serving as everything from a ral­ly­ing cry against the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to a de­ris­ive hasht­ag pok­ing fun at ad­min­is­tra­tion crit­ics. But for all the talk about the year-and-a-half-old scan­dal, what’s hap­pen­ing in the real Benghazi, Libya, today has re­ceived little at­ten­tion. As lim­ited mil­it­ary aid and train­ing flow in­to Ir­aq and Syr­ia, Libya is slip­ping closer and closer to out­right civil war.

After the end of the 2011 NATO mil­it­ary cam­paign in Libya that ous­ted Col. Muam­mar el-Qad­dafi, the trans­ition­al gov­ern­ment that was set up seemed to be poised for a peace­ful trans­ition of power. But be­fore long, former rebels and mi­li­tia groups, un­happy with the slow pace of change after Qad­dafi’s gov­ern­ment was toppled, began to clash with gov­ern­ment forces.

The at­tack on the U.S. Con­su­late in Benghazi promp­ted many West­ern gov­ern­ments to close up their dip­lo­mat­ic mis­sions in Libya, and the situ­ation there con­tin­ued to un­ravel. In Oc­to­ber 2013, then-Prime Min­is­ter Ali Zeidan was briefly ab­duc­ted from a hotel in Tripoli by an armed mi­li­tia; three months later, the coun­try’s deputy in­dustry min­is­ter was as­sas­sin­ated.

Now, a re­tired gen­er­al named Khal­ifa Haf­tar has launched a full-on cam­paign against Is­lam­ist mi­li­tias and what’s left of the Liby­an gov­ern­ment, and a par­lia­ment­ary elec­tion last week drew a weak turnout that re­flec­ted Liby­ans’ lack of con­fid­ence in a tattered polit­ic­al sys­tem. In one dis­trict in Benghazi, Is­lam­ist mil­it­ants fired on a loc­al se­cur­ity headquar­ters on elec­tion day, killing four and wound­ing at least 30. Haf­tar’s prom­ises to rid the coun­try of “Is­lam­ist ter­ror­ists” (in his words) have won him sup­port among Liby­ans who are ex­hausted with the vi­ol­ence and un­cer­tainty that has plagued the coun­try for years.

Des­pite the de­teri­or­at­ing situ­ation, the U.S. has in­dic­ated that it’s un­likely to get in­volved in Libya again any­time soon. “There is an ac­know­ledge­ment that there is only so much we can do,” a U.S. of­fi­cial told Re­u­ters. The farthest the U.S. has been will­ing to go so far is to send spe­cial en­voys to Libya to try to bring to­geth­er war­ring fac­tions, a move that is un­likely to make a dent on its own. A $600 mil­lion in­ter­na­tion­al pro­gram to train a Liby­an “Gen­er­al Pur­pose Force” that was an­nounced last year has yet to get off the ground. The lim­ited scope of an­nounced Amer­ic­an in­volve­ment in Ir­aq and Syr­ia makes clear the lack of ap­pet­ite for fur­ther en­gage­ment in the re­gion. In all like­li­hood, Libya is on its own as it struggles to cre­ate a co­hes­ive gov­ern­ment once again.

What We're Following See More »
PHOTO OP
Clinton Shows Up on Stage to Close Obama’s Speech
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Just after President Obama finished his address to the DNC, Hillary Clinton walked out on stage to join him, so the better could share a few embraces, wave to the crowd—and let the cameras capture all the unity for posterity.

‘DON’T BOO. VOTE.’
Obama: Country Is Stronger Than Eight Years Ago
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

In a speech that began a bit like a State of the Union address, President Obama said the "country is stronger and more prosperous than it was" when he took office eight years ago. He then talked of battling Hillary Clinton for the nomination in 2008, and discovering her "unbelievable work ethic," before saying that no one—"not me, not Bill"—has ever been more qualified to be president. When his first mention of Donald Trump drew boos, he quickly admonished the crowd: "Don't boo. Vote." He then added that Trump is "not really a plans guy. Not really a facts guy, either."

‘HILLARY CLINTON HAS A PASSION’
Kaine Sticks Mostly to the Autobiography
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

Tim Kaine introduced himself to the nation tonight, devoting roughly the first half of his speech to his own story (peppered with a little of his fluent Spanish) before pivoting to Hillary Clinton—and her opponent. "Hillary Clinton has a passion for children and families," he said. "Donald Trump has a passion, too: himself." His most personal line came after noting that his son Nat just deployed with his Marine battalion. "I trust Hillary Clinton with our son's life," he said.

TRUMP IS A ‘CON’
Bloomberg: Neither Party Has a Monopoly on Good Ideas
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

Michael Bloomberg said he wasn't appearing to endorse any party or agenda. He was merely there to support Hillary Clinton. "I don't believe that either party has a monopoly on good ideas or strong leadership," he said, before enumerating how he disagreed with both the GOP and his audience in Philadelphia. "Too many Republicans wrongly blame immigrants for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on climate change and gun violence," he said. "Meanwhile, many Democrats wrongly blame the private sector for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on education reform and deficit reduction." Calling Donald Trump a "dangerous demagogue," he said, "I'm a New Yorker, and a know a con when I see one."

TRUMP’S ‘CYNICISM IS UNBOUNDED’
Biden: Obama ‘One of the Finest Presidents’
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

Vice President Biden tonight called President Obama "one of the finest presidents we have ever had" before launching into a passionate defense of Hillary Clinton. "Everybody knows she's smart. Everybody knows she's tough. But I know what she's passionate about," he said. "There's only one person in this race who will help you. ... It's not just who she is; it's her life story." But he paused to train some fire on her opponent "That's not Donald Trump's story," he said. "His cynicism is unbounded. ... No major party nominee in the history of this country has ever known less."

×