At the beginning of June, Joshua Keating discussed why the United States would be unlikely to recognize the Transitional National Council (TNC) in the near future, arguing that recognition of the TNC would go against a ‘long-standing U.S. policy.’ Today, over one month later, not much has changed in Libya. Though the rebels have made gains, the TNC still does not unquestionably control ‘enough territory or population to qualify as sovereign.’ Despite the stalemate, the United States revealed yesterday that it officially recognized the TNC as the legitimate government of Libya. The decision symbolizes how the west – and the US in particular – followed an unwise decision to intervene with cloudy goals and bumbling inefficiencies during the intervention.
It was no secret that I was against the intervention in Libya from the start. American interests were extremely limited, intervention created a precedent that the United States knew it would unable to follow (see: Syria), American involvement was tantamount to picking sides in a civil war, and it was clear that there would be no quick end to the conflict. Moreover, the White House left far to many questions unanswered, such as how to foot the bill and what exactly the goal was. In other words (via Alex Massie), it was “an intervention launched on an untenable premise, conducted lethargically, with little regard to interest and little idea of what the end game should look like in even the most favourable circumstances.”
Importantly, one of the arguments for going to war in Libya was the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Yet the inability to quickly finish off the Qaddafi regime and the wavering support from many intervening forces has pretty much shredded the future use of the R2P, rather than reiterating its importance. Without Security Council authorization the R2P becomes illegitimate (as per its creators) and the blundering intervention in Libya (the “abuse of the authorization provided by UNSCR 1973” according to Larison) and by setting the bar for intervention so low, members of the Security Council – namely Russia and China – will be unlikely to vote in favor of future interventions under the guise of the R2P. Indeed, the Libyan misadventure is partly responsibly for the inability of the Security Council to pass judgement on the actions of the Assad regime in Syria.
And now the United States has recognized the TNC (an organization that is not completely above taking revenge on Qaddafi supporters), bucking historical policy. Keating, in a follow-up to his post in which he declared that the United States would not recognize the TNC, argues that the recognition is being used by the White House as a political tool against Qaddafi, similar to how President Woodrow Wilson withheld recognition from Mexican dictator Vicotriano Huerta (though Larison shows how the Huerta precedent is in fact a good reason for why the United States should not recognize the TNC).
Recognition of the TNC, despite State Department pronouncements, have little to do with the lost legitimacy of Qaddafi or the growing power of the TNC. Rather, the United States has recognized the TNC because the White House has already committed to regime change in Libya (thanks to the fluid, ill-defined goals of the intervention) and must pave the way for the eventual transition. Moreover, the decision to recognize the TNC is confirmation that the U.S. is unable to pull out of its faux war in north Africa, despite its unpopularity at home. As Larison notes, the recognition of the TNC simply confirms the fact that the new Libyan government exists simply due to American (and western) interference:
Now that the U.S. recognizes the council as the Libyan government, it is unlikely that the administration is going to want to halt the war. Instead, the new Libyan government is going to become the collective ward of the U.S. and NATO, not least because so few states outside NATO are going to acknowledge it as the government, and our government and our allies are going to be expected to keep propping it up.
Recognizing the TNC offers some tangible benefits for the war effort; specifically, it legally authorizes the United States to release billions of dollars in frozen Qaddafi assets to the rebel movement (though there are still complications concerning the UN sanctions on the Libyan government). Yet the recognition of the TNC and its implications of continued American involvement demonstrate that the war in Libya is more of a regime change operation under the guise of humanitarian protection. Though the removal of Qaddafi is hardly a bad prospect, the war in Libya – from the start – was an exercise in undermining American and western credibility while embroiling the White House in another interminable war in the Middle East.
Photo from Patriot Update