A Plan B for Libya

Navigating out of a Dead End

A Libya Dawn fighter surveys ISIS positions near Sirte, March 2015. Reuters / Goran Tomasevic

When it comes to Libya’s year-old civil war, the international community has all but openly admitted that it’s out of ideas. The UN-led negotiations, which are formally aimed at reaching a peace deal by mid-June, have produced no positive developments or even meaningful cease-fires. They are presently on the brink of collapse. On Tuesday, the Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni barely escaped an assassination attempt, and a parliamentary session was stormed by gunmen. Yet despite how dire the situation has become, many Western officials reject the very idea of a plan B, arguing that the current talks represent the only way forward and that seeking alternative paths would weaken the willingness of the warring parties to negotiate.

This thinking is dangerously flawed. True, some kind of mediated solution represents the only way to resolve the crisis—since no side enjoys a clear military advantage—but the current UN talks rest on a faulty foundation. Specifically, the international community has failed to offer Libya’s two competing governments adequate incentives to search for a lasting compromise. And that, in turn, is because certain powerful global stakeholders are clearly biased toward one of the two sides: the exiled House of Representatives, which rules from of the eastern city of Tobruk, is recognized by the UN and is supported by General Khalifa Haftar, its anti-Islamist commander in chief. The rival governing body, based in Tripoli, counts many of Libya's most powerful regions and players among its fractious stakeholders but does not have similar weight at the international negotiating table, due in no small part to its Islamist leanings and lack of electoral legitimacy.

The West’s approach to Libya fits with its broader strategy toward Middle Eastern turmoil—namely, backing anti-Islamist actors against competing groups at almost any cost. For another example, look to the support that the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi enjoys from key global players—including France and Italy—in return for publicly embracing the fight against the Islamic

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