Ted Galen Carpenter
November 24, 2017
The National Interest

When the Obama administration led a 2011 NATO military intervention on behalf of rebels seeking to overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, there was considerable optimism that the move would produce a much better country. Although U.S. officials and their media cheerleaders acknowledged that significant challenges remained for a post-Qaddafi Libya, they argued that the outcome could scarcely be worse than the oppressive status quo. Events over the past six years have proven their assumptions spectacularly wrong. Libya is now a cauldron of turmoil and Islamic radicalism.

As Qaddafi’s rule teetered, optimism in U.S. political and journalistic circles was pervasive. “Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant,” President Obama stated in August 2011. “The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.” Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were equally gratified and positive. “The end of the Gadhafi regime is a victory for the Libyan people and the broader cause of freedom in the Middle East and throughout the world,” they concluded. The two senators, along with their Republican colleagues, Mark Kirk and Marco Rubio, gushed during a visit to “liberated” Tripoli that the rebels had “inspired the world.”

In his remarks regarding the dictator’s capture and gruesome death in October, Obama asserted that “the dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted” from Libya. He urged the citizens of that country to “build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke” to the former oppressor. Ivo H. Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, and Adm. James Stavridis were equally enthusiastic. Describing the intervention as “an extraordinary job, well done,” they called it “an historic victory for the people of Libya who, with NATO’s help, transformed their country from an international pariah into a nation with the potential to become a productive partner with the West.”

Much of the American news media chimed in about the glorious outcome of the U.S.-NATO intervention. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was euphoric about how the people he encountered in Libya loved America. “Americans are not often heroes in the Arab world, but as nonstop celebrations unfold here in the Libyan capital I keep running into ordinary people who learn where I’m from and then fervently repeat variants of the same phrase: Thank you, America!”

Read more