This went unmentioned during President Obama’s big “Hey, Let’s Not Freak Out” address last night, but something happened over the weekend that, more than any number of airstrikes or special forces raids, could really be a blow to ISIS’s plans:
Libya’s two rival parliaments have reached an initial agreement aimed at resolving the political crisis that has plagued the country for years.
The deal, agreed at talks in Tunis, is intended to lead to a single government and elections within two years.
It needs to be endorsed by both the internationally recognised parliament in eastern Libya and the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC).
Initial agreements often stay “initial,” so it’s important to take this one in stride, but if this deal actually leads to an end to the Libyan civil war, it’s potentially huge for the anti-ISIS fight. Libya has been the focal point for most of ISIS’s non-Syria/Iraq activity, and it’s been looking more and more like the organization sees Libya, with its near-anarchy and its proximity to Europe, as its next major base of operations, either in conjunction with Syria/Iraq or as a fallback if the situation in Syria/Iraq becomes untenable. Ending the civil war and putting a stable, functional Libyan government in place could cut that country off to ISIS entirely, or at least make it much, much less appealing/accessible to them.
This is how you have to fight a group like ISIS. Yes, the military has to be involved, to stop the group’s territorial progress and degrade its military infrastructure, you can’t just rely on brute force to get rid of these guys (not unless you’re planning on another Iraq War-style invasion, and that’s how we got here in the first place). You only defeat ISIS by starving it of the two things that it needs to survive: recruits and safe havens. And you achieve those things in large part by fixing problems of governance. The two things that would do more damage to ISIS than just about anything else are a negotiated settlement to the Syrian civil war and a complete reform of Iraq’s broken government. Achieving either would mean far more to the anti-ISIS fight than piling British airstrikes on top of French airstrikes on top of Russian airstrikes on top of American airstrikes, and achieving both would be crippling to the group’s survival. Unfortunately, neither of those things seems likely to occur anytime soon, but a peace deal in Libya would be pretty good news too.
Oh, and, just as an ancillary benefit, it would also be good news for the Libyan people, about 5000 of whom had been killed in fighting just over the past year, and who are experiencing an increasingly desperate humanitarian crisis thanks to the war. I know we Americans often don’t pay attention to that kind of thing when we look at what’s happening in the world, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that lots of people in lots of other places around the world are suffering far worse than we are at the moment.
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