President Obama regrets not doing more to ensure stability in the aftermath of the Libyan Civil War five years ago. In a recent interview with Fox News, the president called this failure the “worst mistake” of his presidency, though he added that the US intervention in Libya was still, “the right thing to do.”
In February 2011, anti-government protests broke out all across Libya — a result of rampant corruption and unfulfilled promises on the part of Colonel (read: dictator) Muammar Gaddafi and his regime. Inspired by the successful “Arab Spring” uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, tens of thousands of Libyans took to the streets to call for an end to the Gaddafi era.
But after 40 years in power, the Libyan strongman wasn’t too keen on stepping down, and he met the demonstrations with an extremely heavy-handed response that included firing live ammo into groups of protestors (though it’s worth noting that in some cases, the protestors were armed with molotov cocktails and various other weapons).
The situation was monitored closely by the United States and its Western allies, and in March the UN Security Council approved air strikes and a no-fly zone in Libya, with the stated objective of protecting Libyan civilians. The air support helped Libyan rebel groups gain the upper hand in their struggle against the government, and in October of 2011 Gaddafi was captured and killed by rebel fighters.
Then things got complicated. You see, Libya’s anti-Gaddafi rebels were not one cohesive unit with a singular goal in mind. Rather, they were a loose coalition of different groups that were only brought together by their shared desire to see Gaddafi ousted.
The second this desire was fulfilled, the various rebel factions began fighting one another for power. In the years since Gaddafi’s ouster, rival groups have formed two separate governments within the country, and the terrorist group known as ISIS or ISIL has also used the turmoil to gain influence in the country. The UN has has been trying to establish a western-backed unity government in the country since early 2015, but this administration has yet to assume any real power.
In his interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace, Obama expressed regret about not preparing more for Libya’s post-Gaddafi future. When Wallace asked the president what his worst mistake in office was, Obama replied, “Probably failing to plan for the day after, what I think was the right thing to do, in intervening in Libya.”
Wallace also asked Obama what he would miss the most about being president. His response:
“What I’ll miss most is the breadth of interactions you have with the American people. When you are president, you meet people from every walk of life, every region and it gives you a unique appreciation for this unbelievable country of ours.”
You can read a full transcript of Obama’s interview with Fox News here.