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U.S. and NATO left Libya prematurely after Gadhafi ouster, top Libyan diplomat says

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 6:16 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband
Mahmoud Jibril, president of the Libyan National Forces Alliance, speaks at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

The Obama administration had its own “mission accomplished” moment in Libya, a top Libyan diplomat told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday.

Mahmoud Jibril, president of the Libyan National Forces Alliance, a leading political group, accused the United States and its NATO allies of high-tailing it out of his country as soon as dictator Moammar Gadhafi was deposed a year ago.

In that power vacuum, he said, armed radicals have been allowed to remain, leading to violence such as the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens on the anniversary of 9/11.

“After the collapse of the regime, the immediate task of our friends was to help us rebuild the government before they withdrew from Libya,” Jibril told the Trib. “The moment the regime fell down, they felt that their mission has been accomplished. I think it was a premature decision.”

A White House spokesman referred questions to the State Department, which did not respond to Trib requests for comment.

Former President George W. Bush was criticized for a 2003 televised speech aboard the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq while standing under a banner sign stating “Mission Accomplished.” Insurgent attacks continued and many deaths occurred after that event.

A year after Gadhafi's ouster and death, Libya remains plagued by volatility. The General National Congress on Wednesday approved Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's government nominees, then ended the session as protesters outside battled with security forces.

Though it might be tempting for Libyan leaders to blame outsiders for its struggle to centralize control, the United States and NATO allies have helped to rebuild the country, said Frederic Wehrey, senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“Libyans want to be in charge of their own political destiny,” Wehrey said. “There was a great degree of gratitude there were not more (American and NATO) boots on the ground. … If anything, our presence there would be an irritant and would fuel even greater radical groups.”

Extremists are not likely to take over Libya because its people are not prepared to let anyone rule them against their will, Jibril said. But he warned about the danger of armed groups that refuse to negotiate, perhaps out of religious ideology or fear of marginalization.

Libya has about a year to work out a national dialogue with these factions, he said, and all should be represented.

“What I'm afraid of is when those elements refuse to sit around one table and discuss the future of the country,” Jibril said. “That's a scary scenario. The alternative, unfortunately, is not a good one.”

Jibril said he doubts the arms these groups hold came from NATO's support of rebels.

“I don't think the weapons were from the United States,” Jibril said. “I think they were from a certain Arab country, mainly.”

Asked whether he meant Iran, Jibril responded that Iran is a Persian country. He would not identify the country. “I don't want to get into that. We have enough problems,” he said.

Jibril spoke to the Trib after receiving a distinguished alumni medallion from the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a master's degree in political science in 1980 and a doctorate in the field five years later.

Chuck Dittrich, executive director of the U.S.-Libya Business Association in Washington, agreed with Jibril that the clock is ticking for Libya to form an organized central government. Dittrich, whose group represents U.S. businesses, traveled with Jibril in Pittsburgh.

“The longer there is any sort of power vacuum the more various interests who are using force or power — rather than consensus and rule of law — to further their objectives can become entrenched,” Dittrich said.

“The paradox is, if you want to do this right and avoid the sort of short-term fixes or shortcuts to create a sustainable democracy, it's really hard to do that in an instant.”

Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb.com.

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