The history of US foreign policy in Libya leading up to Benghazi

libya_2271890bOur post WWII involvement with Libya began in 1954 when the United States backed a U.N. resolution granting Libya its formal Nation status. Then Vice President, Richard Nixon was dispatched to start the ball rolling for the establishment of formal relations by opening up a consulate with full State Department staffing.

Of course, this also meant opening the doors to the U.S. Treasury in order to buy our way into their hearts and minds. From 1954-1969, Libya was a monarchy led by jolly old King Idris; a typically strong-armed war lord of Saharan Desert roots. As was the norm with our foreign policy, our diplomatic “support” was not to go unrewarded. Big Oil was to have unfettered access to the Libyan oil fields.

Things were going well until a young upstart war lord, also of desert roots mounted a successful coup d’état in 1969. Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem for the U.S. as its foreign policy was flexible enough to be able to switch horses in mid-stream and go with the new regime.

Only one little problem happened: Muammar Gaddafi. The new regime instituted a policy of nationalizing industry within its borders; including the oil industry. The United States and its oil companies lost access to Libya’s oil fields and also lost a very large military installation as well.

As noted in’s rendering of events “Upon seizing power nearly 42 years ago, Gaddafi nationalized Libya’s foreign-controlled oil industry and ordered the closure of the Wheelus Air Base, one of the largest US facilities in the world. Despite this antagonism, Gaddafi’s anti-Communism allowed for some initial, cautious optimism from the United States about the new regime, but diplomatic relations were downgraded in 1973 and were formally broken eight years later.”

The downturn in relations progressed to the point where in 1979 a group of Libyan Nationals set fire to the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and we withdrew our diplomatic presence altogether. It was at this point that the U.S. designated Libya as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”.

Muammar Gaddafi
Muammar Gaddafi

August 19, 1981 brought about the Gulf of Sidra incident, followed five years later by the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing which killed two American servicemen and then the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103. All of these incidents brought about swift, knee-jerk military reactions which were different from the ones we see currently.

These reactions were short, sweet, and to the point. No ballyhoo, no marching bands, no empty saber rattling. The measured military response in each case was acceptable to the international community as a whole, so the U.S. didn’t lose anything in the world of international diplomacy.

At the end of 2003, something changed inside the Gaddafi regime. Mild mannered Muammar saw the writing on the wall and seemingly out of the blue announced he would dismantle all his “WMD’s”. Licking its chops, the U.S. jumped in with both feet again and normalized diplomatic relations.

Three years later, Libya’s sanction as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” was lifted. The Libyan government satisfied its responsibility for the Lockerbie Bombing, and paid the remaining amount of money it owed (total of $1.5 billion) to the victims of several acts of terrorism in October, 2008.

Then along came the “Arab Spring” and the U.S. was all hyped about the possibilities of nation building as it had attempted to do in Egypt and Tunisia. Things were pretty much going to plan when someone left the back door open, and the US Consulate in Benghazi was attacked, killing four Americans on September 11, 2012.

To better understand the recent turn of events regarding Libya, you need not look further than the money and politics. The oil money coming out of Libya in recent decades is equal to that of the Arab States to the east, and has generated similar incomes for the ruling aristocracy.

OilCompaniesThe Libyan oil company has recently held discussions with Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Texaco, BP and Shell to name a few. Libya’s oil will soon be back in western hands.

There is a myriad of aid packages that are being made available to the new rebel regime over and above the existing foreign aid that flows into the country. This aid, mostly from the U.S., will amount to about t $1.5 billion over the next five years. This includes the continuance of military aid that has been flowing for over a year now.

When it comes to Northern Africa, the intention of U.S. Foreign Policy takes a little twist from that in the Middle East. The emphasis is on the almighty dollar more than any strategic military advantage. Once again, we will alienate a government and a people who wish us no harm, but who would be happy to partner with us. They tend to have a problem when they feel dominated by us. This is the line that America can no longer afford to cross.

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