Post-Conference Interview with Edward P. Joseph on US-Libya Relations

During our annual NCUSLR conference held on November 13th, 2018 in Washington DC, many participants raised questions to the speakers that we could not respond to due to time limits.

As such, we have initiated a series of follow up interviews with our conference speakers to answer these lingering questions.

As you go through these questions and answers please keep in mind that neither the questions nor answers reflect the opinions of NCUSLR.

  • Dr. Hani Shennib

Presenter featured in the following interview:

Edward P. Joseph, Senior Fellow and Lecturer, JHU School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

Edward P. Joseph is a is a non-profit leader, as well as a foreign policy lecturer, analyst and field practitioner. In his dozen years in the Balkans, he served during the wars in each conflict-afflicted country, including assignments in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. He has served shorter missions as well in Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Edward teaches Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and is a Senior Fellow in the School’s Foreign Policy Institute. He formerly served as Executive Director at the Institute for Current World Affairs and the National Council on U.S.-Libya Relations after returning from Kosovo where he served as Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission.

Joseph presented at the 2nd Annual NCUSLR Conference on Panel I, The Libyan Political Process: Quo Vadis. The topic of his presentation: “Current US Policy on Libya: Why should it be different?" Edward gave verbal remarks only at the conference.

Post-Conference interview with Edward P. Joseph

  • Why and how should US policy on Libya be different today?

The US has three reasons for caring about what happens in Libya. First, as the head of the UN Mission stated to the Security Council, the country is well on the way to becoming a haven for all sorts of terrorist groups. ISIS remains active, with a recent deadly attack on the foreign ministry. The 2017 Manchester (Ariana Grande concert) attack that killed 22 people proved that there really can be a link between developments in a country like Libya and an attack in Europe. There is a near-wholesale security vacuum as well in the south of Libya that simply invites more instability and risk. Second, a number of outside players, some of them with interests inimical to those of the US, are maneuvering in Libya. Third, the US was the crucial player in the 2011 intervention that led to the demise of Gaddafi, and therefore shares, with Washington's European allies, a continuing responsibility for the aftermath. The tragic loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans to an extremist attack in Benghazi is reason not to curtail our interest in the country, but to vindicate their dedication. Ambassador Stevens was devoted to Libya and to the country’s people; indeed, that was the impetus for his fatal visit to the East. While US AFRICOM is active on counter-terrorism, the US government needs to be far more involved in the confused, mostly moribund international political process. The US is the only country that can stem the cross-cutting and sometimes malevolent influence of the several outside players that make carrying out a stabilization plan so difficult. There is no call for 'boots on the ground', but rather high-level presence and commitment to working with an array of partners and the UN to achieve some basic stabilization priorities.

  • The US has already spent 6 million dollars on aid to Libya, how effective has it been and how should it be different?

Six million dollars in a country the size of Libya is not a great deal of money. Given the abject deterioration in the country in virtually all development indices -- health, education, infrastructure, economic development, security, governance -- it is clear that development assistance has not been commensurate with the need. This is particularly the case in Derna, a town in the east notorious as the source of extremists. Particularly given that dubious background, It is not clear why USAID and OTI, in particular, have not seized the opportunity to assist the people of Derna after the departure of the al Qaeda-linked Shura Council, which was itself preceded by ISIS. In contrast, NCUSLR’s founding President, Dr. Shennib, took it upon himself to visit Derna last September, to meet with prominent figures, to visit the hospital, and to get a sense of the beleaguered town’s critical needs.

  • Does the US have the appetite to escalate involvement in another country like Libya?

'Escalate' is a charged word, usually suggestive of an increase in military posture. That is not what is needed of the US in Libya today. What is needed is to increase Washington’s level of interest in the country's development and in the wholly inadequate international political processes that have been promulgated for the country by rival European interests and the UN. The UN, for example, undertook a laudable effort for widespread soundings of Libyan society. UNSMIL promised there would be a ‘National Conference’ as part of its overall effort to break the country’s political deadlock. The Conference was slated for January and we are rapidly approaching April. UNSMIL’s leader and his deputy are talented, dedicated diplomats who bring a strong grasp of the country’s complexities. And yet the Mission continues to founder. And that poses risks for the US, its allies, Libya’s neighbors and of course for Libya itself. The US should begin now to re-engage politically in and on Libya, as US AFRICOM continues to press on the counter-terrorism front.

The views shared in this published interview reflect those of the guest contributor and not necessarily the views of the National Council on U.S.-Libya Relations.

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