Jason Pack: "The United States Made The Opposite Mistake In Libya To That Of Iraq And Did Not Assume Any Responsibility"

Jason Pack, author of the book 'Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder'

Libya has convened for next December 24 its first presidential elections. Its objective is to lead the country out of a decade of chaos, conflict and division unleashed after the assassination of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. However, its celebration is still in the air and the elections could be delayed due to the legal doubts of the candidates who can be presented. Meanwhile, Libya remains divided into two governments vying for power: a UN-recognized government of national unity and a government led by General Khalifa Haftar, who is in turn running for election.

Jason Pack, author of the book Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder (Libya and the lasting global disorder) and president of the consulting firm Libya-Analysis LLC, argues that we no longer live in the post-cold war world in which the US was a “hyperpower”, but that the current system is based on a “disorder lasting global “characterized by the absence of a leader and in which certain actors deliberately promote chaos. “If we look very closely at Libya, we can see the main trends in this enduring global disorder. Libya is a microcosm of these changes,” he says.

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Why are there forces that promote this disorder? What interest do they have?

Neopopulists who are in charge of many key countries worldwide are interested in a messy world. They want the world to be a terrifying place, with many immigrants and many threats so that their constituents are willing to accept their government. This is the case of Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey, Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Orban’s Hungary, trumpism or even the Brexit Party or part of the UK Conservative Party. Neopopulists create and promote exactly the problems they claim to solve.

You even connect Brexit or the election of Trump in 2016 with what is happening in Libya. What is that relationship?

If there had been no Arab Spring, there would be no Brexit and no Trump. Brexit is very clear, because it is the migratory pressure and the disorder of a chaotic world after the implosion of the Libyan and Syrian states that allows Nigel Farage and other neo-populists to say that Brussels and the global order are to blame with their horrible asylum policies.

In the case of the United States, the issue is the accusations against Hillary Clinton. It all starts with the assassination of the US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. Normal Republicans like Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney would never have sunk low enough to call for the arrest of Hillary Clinton. However, neo-populists like Trump or Congressman Jim Jordan are willing to do so. They also say that the Clinton mail issue is one of the worst things that has ever happened, although it really is a totally irrelevant issue. All this allowed the rise of the neo-populist movement.

Why do you think the US is absent in Libya?

They were already absent in 2011 due to the mistakes made in Iraq, where we had a hegemonic overreach. In Libya we made the opposite mistake and we do not assume any responsibility. Obama did not want to do what Bush had done by imposing the reconstruction of a state.

The US is assuming its new position in the last 10 or 15 years in which it is no longer the hyperpower capable of establishing the conditions of the global order.

Going to the current situation in Libya. How does the country get to these elections?

14 months ago a roadmap was established with the ceasefire of October 23, 2020, but it has not been fulfilled. Stephanie Williams, head of the UN special mission, pushed the roadmap, but when she left in early 2021, her successor hasn’t had the strength, vision, or even the desire to follow that roadmap.

In the same way, several Libyan actors have wanted to derail the road map, in particular the head of the House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh Issa, who understood that if this process culminates with a non-transitory government and a new Parliament, he will lose his post. That is why it made an electoral law to hold presidential elections, but not parliamentary, and in which it is very difficult to know who can stand and who cannot, as well as who decides who can stand, which makes its implementation not viable. These elections in Libya were never implementable.

We now have a debate on the candidates, but we don’t have enough time to see if they can come forward, so many advocate postponing the vote. All of this was planned in the process, which has been deliberately messed up to keep Libya in chaos.

What could be the consequences of the elections?

We are already seeing them. This week the prime minister’s office was attacked and other groups have tried to raid polling stations. There are people trying to block any transfer of power.

If there is any kind of voting, very few people will participate, they do not know what they are going to vote for, everything is poorly managed, it is a great confusion and it is very likely that either Haftar’s Libyan National Army in the east or various militias in the west does not accept the results.

It would be great to have a transition to a new government in Libya that is united and legitimate, but it is not the case. It would have to be elections with a very rigid and clear structure with a single vote, without challenges and with the guarantees of the international community. That is not what has happened.

Why do you think the western powers are not agreeing on Libya?

Because of the global disorder. If we had Libya in its current state in 1974 or 1983, there would be a US-led coalition determining the policy. It could be the wrong policy, but we would have one. Not so now, because we live in this crazy non-polar world where the French and the Italians are on opposite sides of a civil war. That was impossible in the Cold War period.

Now there is a feeling that you can do whatever you want. Macron wants to be a global leader, holds a conference and says that he is the one who is really pushing for these elections. But then the Germans say they are the ones who can lead the process. As a result, coordination suffers. It is very surprising that we cannot even have coherent statements between the US and the UK on what they would do if the elections are delayed.

But do they all have opposing interests in Libya?

I think that the interests of all western countries in Libya coincide between 95% and 98% and all countries of the world have approximately 90% of the same interests. All that is wanted in Libya is for peace, economic growth, oil production and to stop the expansion of the jihadists. There is no such thing as a French interest as opposed to Italian or American, let alone Russians and Turks. There are differences in details such as having an Islamist or an anti-Islamist government. But none of that matters. Libya is one of those strange cases of a rich country without great sectarian divisions that has a solution. Libya’s problem is that due to long-lasting global disorder everyone tries to promote their little micro-interests instead of coordinating for the common good.

What is your assessment of the role of the UN in the whole process?

If the UN were a solid and strong institution that could sanction opponents and block spoilers, the UN could lead the international community. But the UN does not work when the Russians veto any proposal from the West. And of course it doesn’t work either when the French are on the opposite side of the conflict from the United States and the United Kingdom.

There have been cases where France has vetoed British resolutions. There was a vote in which the United States and Russia were on the opposite side of the British, French and Chinese. It is the only example of such a vote that I am aware of. The UN is a good forum to coordinate, but it doesn’t work if the main veto member states have opposing policies.

What is your opinion on the controversial candidacies of Saif to Islam Gaddafi and Khalifa Haftar?

I see them as ‘spoilers’. Saif al Islam is Russia’s candidate. Their goal is not to win the elections, but to provoke protests and make sure that there are boycotts and that the process is not seen as legitimate. The interview he gave to New York Times it’s incredibly stupid and patronizing. It shows that you have no idea what you are doing. Russia is manipulating it.

Haftar is a little different. It serves some of the interests of Egypt and the Emirates, as well as Russia, but it doesn’t really want to win the election. What he wants is to mobilize his base so that, if they are not happy with the results, they can have a breakout situation in eastern Libya and try to sell oil or get the eastern central bank back on track. They do not intend to win and both candidacies illustrate the issue of global disorder. None of them have financial plans. Neither has a left or right ideology.

What we have in Libya is a system in which a few elites benefit from the status quo. They have preferential access to oil, they get credit deals, or they have connections with the people who run multi-million dollar semi-sovereign institutions. What’s fascinating in my interactions with some American oil companies, which I used to represent, is the extent to which they don’t want to compete in an open market. If I have access to the best crude in Libya and I have a favorable agreement that I signed in the 1960s, maybe I don’t want to have to invest more or I don’t want to have to compete with a European company, but I’m just happy sitting in the current situation. The battle continues, I took the oil and I sell it. We don’t want to have to invest or renegotiate. We don’t want to have open market competition.

This is what people don’t understand about capitalism. Capitalism in American neoliberal parlance leads to monopolies. Does Facebook really care about improving its product? No. It already has 2 billion users and controls the entire space. What she has to do is block a new social network that comes to compete with her. This creates a perverse incentive structure where the people in power just want things to stay the way they are.

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