Barack Obama has committed American lives to building an Islamic state in Libya. In making their case for U.S. intervention in Libya, conservatives who support the action generally acknowledge that the biggest problem with it is what may come after Gaddafi. However, they then dismiss this concern by minimizing the presence of jihadists and Islamic supremacists among the Libyan rebels, and pointing to a U.S. intelligence study that purportedly shows that there is no significant presence of jihadists among the rebels. Unfortunately, that’s not really true.
A recent Los Angeles Times piece describes a “U.S. intelligence-gathering effort that began shortly after anti-Gaddafi forces started seizing towns in eastern Libya last month” as finding nothing to be concerned about: It “has not uncovered a significant presence of Islamic militants among the insurgents.” Coming from an intelligence establishment whose chief, James Clapper, thinks the Muslim Brotherhood is a “largely secular” movement, it’s unclear what value this “U.S. intelligence-gathering effort” really has. For one thing, what would these U.S. intelligence-gatherers take as evidence of “Islamic militancy”? Actual membership in al-Qaeda or another jihad group? That seems to be the implication of the title of the LA Times article: “ U.S. finds no organized al-Qaeda presence in Libya opposition, officials say.” But does the absence of an “organized al-Qaeda presence” mean the absence of people who are pro-Sharia and have Islamic supremacist aspirations? That is unlikely.
In other words, the intelligence-gathering effort likely suffers from the same defect that has marred all U.S. responses to the jihad threat since 9/11 (and before that too): a focus solely on terrorism, with no attention whatsoever paid to efforts to advance the goal of the terrorists (which is the imposition of Sharia upon states where it is not fully enforced) through means other than terrorism. For government analysts, one is either an “extremist” or a “moderate,” with an entirely unsupported assumption made that a Muslim who is not in al-Qaeda and may even disapprove of it must therefore necessarily also embrace secular, pluralistic, democratic principles. The possibility that Muslims may favor Sharia—including all of its repressive elements, its denial of the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience, its oppression of women, and the rest—without supporting terrorism or being a member of a terrorist group never seems to occur to them.
What’s more, this “small minority” of al-Qaeda fighters among the Libyan rebels is in reality large enough to have attracted the attention of neighboring Algeria. Abdelkader Messahel, Algerian deputy foreign minister, recently expressed concern about “the increasingly noticeable presence of AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaeda’s north African wing) in Libya.” Journalist John Rosenthal recounted that “whereas American officials have been straining to make out ‘flickers’ of intelligence suggesting a jihadist influence in the eastern Libyan rebellion against the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi,” French journalist Julien Fouchet traveled to Libya, where he “encountered a flagrant jihadist presence and met with participants who talked openly about their dedication to jihad and/or their desire to establish an Islamic state.”
Meanwhile, a jihadist who was released from Guantanamo in 2008, Sufian bin Qumu, is training the Libyan rebels. The Muslim Brotherhood is on the upsurge in Libya too, and envisions a post-Gaddafi government based on “Koranic principles.”
Gaddafi is bad. What will follow him is likely to be worse. Eastern Libya, where the anti-Gaddafi forces are headquartered, is the most fanatically anti-American and pro-al Qaeda region in Libya, and that’s saying a lot. West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has released a report revealing that more jihadists per capita entered Iraq from Libya in recent years than from any other Muslim country—and most of them came from this same part of the country that is now leading the revolt against Gaddafi.
These are the people who will take power in a post-Gaddafi Libya—and while that was already the likely outcome before the U.S. intervened, now Barack Obama has committed American blood and treasure to an enterprise that amounts essentially to aiding the global jihad in Libya. The result cannot be good for the United States by any calculation. While it may be true that the jihadists will cut our throat, we don’t have to hand them the knife and point out our jugular vein.