Canada may have to answer for its role in Libya
By SCOTT TAYLOR
Then Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 2012. Baird was one of Canada’s fiercest supporters of regime change in Libya, change which Scott Taylor argues ultimately led to the chaotic state of the nation today. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
It has been six years since the NATO-supported Libyan uprising murdered President Moammar Gadhafi and toppled his regime. Canada was proud of the fact that the big boys — namely the U.K., U.S. and France — had let us appear to be leading the charge against Libya.
Canada’s then-foreign minister John Baird was the loudest among the chorus of NATO voices bellowing for regime change, Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard was publicly named the allied force commander, our CF-18 fighter jets were among the first in operation in the skies above Libya, and the RCN frigate HMCS Charlottetown plied the Mediterranean coastline to enforce the UN arms embargo.
While it was never admitted at the time, the fact that members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment marched in the Nov. 24, 2011 victory parade on Parliament Hill would appear to confirm that we also had special forces boots on the ground during that conflict.
In addition to that parade, complete with a ceremonial flypast of fighter jets and helicopters, Canada also fast-tracked the Order of Canada process to bestow this honour on Lt.-Gen. Bouchard in recognition of his glorious victory in the desert.
That is an awful lot of glory for such a one-sided martial contest, which pitted the world’s most capable military alliance against a fourth-rate developing-world African security force. It was also a very premature exercise in self-congratulation.
It quickly became evident that what NATO achieved was not regime change. In the absence of a replacement administration, we plunged Libya into a state of violent anarchy.
The disparate militias that had fought together against Gadhafi loyalists refused to disarm and they immediately began fighting among each other.
A British parliamentary report into the Libya intervention was tabled last September and it was a scathing indictment of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. The report concluded that the collective intervention of the U.K., France and the U.S. (no mention of Canada) resulted in Libya’s “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gadhafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL (Islamic State) in North Africa.”
Former U.S. president Barack Obama summed it up much more succinctly when he described the 2011 Libyan intervention as a “shitshow” and called it the low point in his foreign affairs legacy.
To be fair to Obama, Libya was then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s personal pet project. Anyone doubting this need only watch the famous video clip of Clinton during her Oct. 20, 2011 CBS television interview. At one point during the taping the secretary of state learns that Gadhafi has just been murdered in the street by a rebel mob. She throws her head back, laughs and says triumphantly, “We came, we saw . . . he died,” followed by more unrestrained laughter. Laughing at news of a murder — any murder — is clinically sociopathic. But I digress.
Although Libya is not in the news much these days, there have been some significant developments in that war-ravaged country of late, not the least of which is the release of Saif al-Islam Gadhafi from captivity last June.
Gadhafi’s second-oldest son had been held prisoner by a militia group in the city of Zintan since his capture in the waning days of the civil war. Saif had always been seen as the heir to his father’s throne. Those familiar with the Libyan uprising of 2011 know that it was primarily an inter-tribal affair, aided and abetted by Islamic extremists and the might of NATO.
The six years of subsequent anarchy have left Libya a failed state, with a citizenry longing for stability. For this reason alone, Saif has already become a political force on the embattled Libyan landscape.
Last week he announced his intention to run in next year’s presidential election. With the backing of the Warfalla and Qadhadhfa tribes — Libya’s two most powerful tribes — and former loyalists of his father flocking to his banner, Saif has a strong shot at winning at the ballot box.
If that scenario does evolve, Canada will have to do some serious soul-searching into our own allegedly lead role in that disastrous 2011 intervention. It is never too late for us to follow Britain’s lead in conducting an extensive parliamentary review into how we could have gotten it so wrong in Libya. So wrong that it looks like Gadhafi’s son will get the last laugh.