President Trump continues to be one of the world’s biggest fan of authoritarians. From the Times:
President Trump on Friday abruptly reversed American policy toward Libya, issuing a statement publicly endorsing an aspiring strongman in his battle to depose the United Nations-backed government. The would-be strongman, Khalifa Hifter, launched a surprise attack on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, more than two weeks ago. Relief agencies said Thursday that more than 200 people had been killed in the battle, and in recent days Mr. Hifter’s forces have started shelling civilian neighborhoods.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement a few days after Mr. Hifter’s militia began its attack that “the administration at the highest levels” had made clear that “we oppose the military offensive” and “urge the immediate halt to these military operations.” Most Western governments and the United Nations have also condemned the attack and demanded a retreat.
Mr. Trump, however, told Mr. Hifter almost the opposite, the White House said Friday. …
Although this is not the first time Mr. Trump has praised an Arab strongman, his expression of support for Mr. Hifter appears to be the first time that Mr. Trump has embraced an aspiring authoritarian who is not yet in power and may never get there.
At Brookings, Jeffrey Feltman explains why nothing good will come from this:
With the White House now publicly applauding Haftar, a long, drawn-out, devastating battle over Tripoli seems inevitable. Trump has snatched leverage for diplomacy out of the United Nations’ hands. Powerful militias from the coastal city of Misrata, mobilized to defend Tripoli, and others opposed to Haftar (and ostensibly backing the internationally recognized government headed by Fayez Serraj, the authority that—warts and all—the United States and the rest of the international community has heretofore officially supported) show no signs of backing down. Given their fierce animosity to Haftar, they are unlikely to be bought off as some local militias were during Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army’s march south and then west in recent weeks. The indiscriminate nature of the fighting foreshadows the potential of widespread destruction and civilian casualties. Over 30,000 are already displaced out of a city of approximately 1.2 million inhabitants. For all of Libya’s chaos since Gadhafi’s fall in 2011, the number of civilian casualties has remained relatively modest compared to the Syrian and Yemen catastrophes. Unfortunately, that seems about to change.
As appealing as Haftar’s pose as a supposed strongman might be to an authoritarian-infatuated White House, he is not Libya’s savior. The stability he promises would rest on brute force that would incite violent opposition. Posturing as an anti-Islamist to the West, he draws on Salafi support linked to Saudi Arabia. His so-called national army includes militias and those who have committed horrific human rights abuses.