Finally, we have evidence that Islamists and even al-Qaeda supporters will play a central role in Libya’s new regime. Up to now there has been reasonable speculation that the U.S. government and NATO might be installing an anti-Western, Islamist government in Libya. Now there’s proof that this is so.
The actual government remains in the hands of non-Islamists, technocrats, ex-regime officials, and moderates. But the armed rebels who actually made the revolution have voted and their idol is…an al-Qaeda guy. Political power, said Mao Zedong, grows out of the barrel of a gun and in Libya’s case this seems a very reasonable expectation.
According to Al Jazeera, the network recommended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as fair and balanced, Abdul al-Hakim al-Hasadi, also known as Abdelhakim Belhaj, has been named commander of the Tripoli Military Council. He was formerly head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate. Moderates are understandably nervous.
In 1999, the group’s spokesman praised Osama bin Laden (remember him?) and said: “The United States no longer relies on its agents to constrict the Islamic tide; it has taken this role upon itself.” One of its former leaders worked to plan the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, resulting in massive loss of life. In 2003, members were involved in an al-Qaeda terror attack in Morocco.
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In November 2007, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced that the two groups were merging. True, a number of the group’s activists in prison denounced terrorism and made a deal with the Gaddafi regime in order to be set free. But since the organization broke its pledge to Gaddafi in order to overthrow him, presumably that deal no longer stands.
At any rate, the group was still designated as terrorist by the U.S. government. Here it is on the terrorism list (number 26, in alphabetical order) released by the State Department last May.
Of course, the appointment of one leader in an al-Qaeda affiliated group does not an Islamist regime make. But it is an omen and, again, the people who control the guns are more important than those who control the desks. We will have to see how things develop.
But another indication is that there’s more. Who put him in this post? The armed rebels chose al-Hasadi as their commander, not leaving that selection to the NATO-backed Transitional National Council government. Remember, I pointed out that the guys with guns don’t care what the guys in suits say. Some council members complained that al-Hasadi is sponsored by Qatar, which gave a lot of the money and whose rulers like to play radical sheikhs who often align themselves with Iran.
In fact, we can quote on this point Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who told a U.S. official in 2007 — as we now know thanks to Wikileaks– “He was extremely worried about Qatar and its continued support for Hamas and other Islamist organizations in the West Bank and Gaza…claiming that they provide ‘more support to fundamentalists than Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.’”
U.S. policy has given no sense that it is aware of this problem.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of the council, said he introduced al-Hasadi to his group’s NATO allies to show that he poses “no danger to international peace and stability.” Well, that’s reassuring.
We can assume that al-Hasadi said that he was merely young and impulsive, was driven to extremes by Gaddafi’s undeniably horrible dictatorship, and is now mature. But that argument would miss the point. Even if he has outgrown al-Qaeda, does he favor the transformation of Libya into an anti-Western Islamist state? Or perhaps he’s been “bought off” by the Western aid money. What do you think?
But let me explain to President Barack Obama, the U.S. government, and NATO how this thing is supposed to work. Your key liaison, be it the CIA or State Department, goes to see Jalil and says:
“As you know our soldiers, supplies, advisors, and warplanes have put you into power. Therefore, you either get rid of all of the al-Qaeda types—at least in positions of any authority—or we stop all of our support and find someone else to head the Transitional National Council. No, TLC [Tender Loving Care] for our interests; no TNC.”
Now, you could call that bullying or imperialistic if you want, but the TNC doesn’t have a right to being supported. NATO backing is not an entitlement. The purpose of U.S. and European policy is supposed to be to protect those countries’ legitimate interests. When you give the money, diplomatic support, and air strikes, that entitles you to some say in the outcome. For example, on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the killing of 3000 Americans by al-Qaeda, you don’t accept the appointment of an al-Qaeda supporter to run the new Libyan military.
True, in Turkey the Obama administration has supported an elected anti-American Islamist regime; in the Gaza Strip it saved an anti-American Islamist regime; in Syria, it did everything possible to avoid condemning an anti-American pro-Islamist regime; in Lebanon, it stood by and didn’t help the real moderates as an anti-American Islamist-dominated regime came to power; in Iran, it engaged an anti-American Islamist regime; and in Egypt, it said that it had no problem with an anti-American Islamist regime coming to power.
But actually installing an Islamist regime with Western weapons? That’s crossing the line.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). GLORIA Center site is http://www.gloria-center.org.His articles published originally outside of PajamasMedia are at <http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com>