The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Libya is horrific, as CNN reported last week:
Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — “Eight hundred,” says the auctioneer. “900 … 1,000 … 1,100 …” Sold. For 1,200 Libyan dinars — the equivalent of $800.Not a used car, a piece of land, or an item of furniture. Not “merchandise” at all, but two human beings.One of the unidentified men being sold in the grainy cell phone video obtained by CNN is Nigerian. He appears to be in his twenties and is wearing a pale shirt and sweatpants.He has been offered up for sale as one of a group of “big strong boys for farm work,” according to the auctioneer, who remains off camera. Only his hand — resting proprietorially on the man’s shoulder — is visible in the brief clip.After seeing footage of this slave auction, CNN worked to verify its authenticity and traveled to Libya to investigate further.Carrying concealed cameras into a property outside the capital of Tripoli last month, we witness a dozen people go “under the hammer” in the space of six or seven minutes.“Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he’ll dig,” the salesman, dressed in camouflage gear, says. “What am I bid, what am I bid?”Buyers raise their hands as the price rises, “500, 550, 600, 650 …” Within minutes it is all over and the men, utterly resigned to their fate, are being handed over to their new “masters.”…Each year, tens of thousands of people pour across Libya’s borders. They’re refugees fleeing conflict or economic migrants in search of better opportunities in Europe.Most have sold everything they own to finance the journey through Libya to the coast and the gateway to the Mediterranean.But a recent clampdown by the Libyan coastguard means fewer boats are making it out to sea, leaving the smugglers with a backlog of would-be passengers on their hands.So the smugglers become masters, the migrants and refugees become slaves.
There are many factors at play here. The presence of so many migrants moving through Libya in the first place is a product of severe political conflict and economic impoverishment elsewhere on the African continent. That conflict and impoverishment were, in large part, wrought by colonialism (much of North Africa, including Libya, didn’t gain independence until after World War II, following decades of resource extraction and sociopolitical domination), as well as by the same system of global capitalism that produced the Transatlantic Slave Trade and, in turn, huge portions of the wealth of the Western world. The result, now, is millions of people who are desperate to find a way to something better, as well as a handful of people who are desperate and evil enough to traffic other humans for profit.
There seems to be no question that the political instability of post-2011-uprising Libya has abetted the process:
Human Rights Watch senior Libya researcher Hanan Salah said she hopes the Libyan authorities will handle the situation in a timely manner.“Libyan interim authorities have been dragging their feet on virtually all investigations they supposedly started, yet never concluded, since the 2011 uprising,” Salah told CNN. “We urge Libyan authorities to take this matter seriously, and make good on their pledge to investigate such allegations by conducting a speedy and transparent inquiry into alleged ‘slave auctions.'”
The United States government, of course, aided the forces that ultimately removed Muammar Qadaffi from power. (Obama was not shy about admitting that he poorly handled the aftermath — a display of thoughtfulness and contrition that are in short supply in the current White House.) And because Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the time, Glenn Reynolds would like you to know that the emergence of slave markets in Libya are all her fault:
Black Africans are being sold in open-air slave markets right now, and it’s Hillary Clinton’s fault.
I bet you thought I was simplifying a more nuanced argument. (Well, given the source, maybe not.)
First off, let’s dispatch with the obvious: Glenn Reynolds gives precisely zero shits about African slaves being sold in Libya, other than to the extent that it gives him an excuse to vomit up the 750-word equivalent of a “LOCK HER UP!” chant in a major national newspaper. This is a guy who doesn’t even take seriously black freedom in his own country — including suggesting that people who disagree with Black Lives Matter activists should run them over with cars. Suffice to say that I find his concern with black Africans 100% disingenuous.
1) Yes, regime change in Libya appears to have made a bad situation worse, which is in line with the U.S. history of foreign regime change more generally. This was true under Obama/Clinton. It was also true under Bush/Cheney and pretty much every presidential administration since the beginning of the Cold War.
2) Although Glenn Reynolds appears to think that the intersection of U.S. foreign affairs and Libyan political history begins in 2011, the United States has been meddling in Libyan politics, with an eye variously toward stabilizing or destabilizing them, since at least the 1960s. This is not conspiracy theory, but simply the citing of evidence — evidence from the State Department’s own primary source files, no less.
For instance, here’s Kissinger, et al, discussing options a couple of months after the 1969 coup that brought Qaddafi to power:
The State Department’s online files are a fascinating way to try to piece together the picture of US interventions in places like Libya, which were oftentimes explicitly considering ways of destabilizing the regime there and, at other times, considering ways of working with the regime — despite its human rights violations — because doing so enhanced American interests. The documents related to Libya from the late-1960s to the mid-1970s can be found here. The silences are also important. I’ll leave it to you to imagine what the many and various redactions might be covering.
Regardless, the upshot is that Obama and Clinton appear to have bungled things in Libya. They don’t deserve a pass. Nor do they deserve the weight of blame that Reynolds wants to assign.