Trump undercuts U.N. democratic efforts in Libya, siding with authoritarian dictatorships

President Trump, in a surprise reversal of U.S. policy, has acted to undercut United Nations efforts to build and support a democratic government in Libya.


(1). David D. Kirkpatrick, “Trump Endorses an Aspiring Libyan Strongman, Reversing Policy,” New York Times,April 19, 2019.

Kirkpatrick reports:

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.

(Hifter’s name is also written in English as “Haftar”.)

(2) Borzou Daragahi, “Trump and Libya: White House egged on warlord who intensified attack on Tripoli; Trump didn’t, however, call the country’s UN-backed prime minister,” The Independent, April 22, 2019.

Daragahi, a distinguished foreign correspondent, reported further that on Thursday, April 18, the United States and Russia together blocked a U.N. Security Counsel resolution calling for a ceasefire.  Trump’s call to Hifter was on April 15, but only reported by the White House on Good Friday, April 19, 2019.

Daragahi reports:

A day after the phone call, Mr Haftar’s collection of militias and armed groups, called the Libyan National Army, intensified their assault on the capital, launching airstrikes and rockets deep into the capital, allegedly causing civilian casualties.

Already more than 200 people have been killed and 20,000 displaced in the fighting.

On Thursday the United States joined Russia in scuttling an attempt at the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution calling for an end to the fighting truce, an apparent reversal of years of Washington policy to back Mr Serraj’s government.

A top Democrat on Capitol Hill promptly criticized Trump’s sudden reversal of U.S. policy towards Libya.


Haaretz and Reuter’s, “Top Democrat Slams Trump Over Libya: Supporting an ‘Authoritarian Attacking a UN-backed Government’; Over 210 killed in Tripoli fighting as Trump speaks with Libyan commander Haftar,” Haaretz, April 21, 2019 (3:07 p.m.)

Hifter is surpported ny the authoritarian governments of Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. The U.N.-backed government in Tripoli is the product of long-standing efforts by the United Nations to help develop a democratic national government in Libya.

By his sudden shift in U.S. policy, which previously had been to support the U.N.-backed government, Trump has undercut U.N. efforts while throwing U.S.  support to a would-be authoritarian leader backed by Russia and authoritarian governments in the region.

The Trenchant Observer

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James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.