Ominous signs were growing last week the civil war in Libya between the Tripoli government recognized by most of the world and the rogue general (who has been in touch with President Donald Trump earlier this year) will spring into the next full-blown foreign policy crisis for the administration.
Whether Field Marshall (formerly General) Khalifa Haftar comes to power by force will have a major impact on the refugee crisis that now plagues Europe, modern U.S. insistence on democratic means of changing government, and U.S. relations with Russia, Turkey, and other nations.
Over the past seven days, the Libyan National Army led by Haftar have made in-roads in their latest strike against Tripoli and the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (now recognized as the legitimate Libyan government by the U.S., the United Nations, and the European Union).
Although Haftar's LNA is relatively small, its ranks are enhanced by various militias throughout Libya. More important, Haftar — formerly chief of staff to the late Libyan strongman Muhammar al-Qadaffi who went on to work with the CIA — is backed by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.
"[The LNA] is advancing inside and outside the capital, Tripoli," Haftar spokesman Ahmed Almasmari told reporters Dec. 20, calling on the troops loyal to al-Sarraj to "lay down their arms by midnight Sunday [Dec. 22]."
Al-Sarraj, however, is no slouch in terms of outside support. He activated a military pact Nov. 27 between Turkey and Libya and called on the Turkish military. He also asked for support from seemingly reliable allies — notably the U.S.
It is here one finds the beginnings of a potential crisis for the U.S. president. Three days before Easter, at the urgings of then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, Trump had a telephone call with Haftar.
According to a statement from the White House, Trump "recognized Field Marshall Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya's transition to a stable, democratic political system."
To Libya-watchers on all sides, that statement represented nothing short of a dramatic turnabout from the U.S. policy in the past that recognized the GNA and Prime Minister al-Sarraj as Libya's rightful rulers.
As Haftar's forces move into Tripoli, the question is whether the U.S. will abandon its longtime ally al-Sarraj and embrace Haftar — who is contemptuous of democracy and makes little secret of his intention to rule as a strongman.
"It looks like another Qaddafi is coming to power and there's not much we can do about it," Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Newsmax on Saturday. "We've only looked at Libya, but pretty much ignored it."
Noting Haftar's intention to rule as a strongman, Kinzinger said "it isn't right if we stop standing for self-determination. It sends a message to the dictators of the future that we are OK with what they are doing."
He added, Haftar's taking power in Libya would also mean "[Russia's President Vladimir] Putin has an ever stronger hand in the Middle East."
Radoslaw Sikorski, Member of the European Parliament and chairman of its delegation to the U.S, predicted to Newsmax earlier this month, "if Haftar comes to power, he will send many unfortunate people into the sea" — accentuating the refugee crisis in Italy, Greece, and other European countries.
What happens next in Libya will clearly have widespread impact, and will be a defining moment for the Trump administration.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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