BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD
MAY 19, 2016
Announcements of American government willingness to sell arms to two questionable clients — one of three governments claiming legitimacy in war-torn Libya and the corrupt and incompetent military of Nigeria — raise serious questions about what is going on in Washington in the final months of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the United States was willing to provide arms to one of the three governments claiming power in Libya. Libya has fallen into chaos since a passel of rebels, the United States, European ex-colonial powers France, Italy and the United Kingdom, and a few Middle Eastern states overthrew Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. He had been in power since 1969.
At present in Libya there are three governments. One is based in Tobruk in the east of the country. It is dominated by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, an ex-CIA asset whose current relationship with the United States is not clear. A second government is based in Tripoli, the former capital. A third, recently baptized and currently protected by the international community, was brought to Tripoli and installed in hypothetical power.
It is this third government that Washington has now indicated its willingness to arm, ostensibly to provide it means to exercise authority over the other two putative governments, including disarming or incorporating them and the numerous other armed militias operating in Libya.
To provide arms to this regime is simply to inject more arms into an already weapons-rich environment. Providing it arms and the supply and training components that inevitably go with such sales is also to put money into the hands of U.S. arms producers and the contractors who go with the weapons concerned.
The second, perhaps even more dubious proposed sales are of 12 A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft, manufactured by Sierra Nevada Corp. of Florida to Nigeria. The ostensible purpose of this sale is to help Nigeria fight Boko Haram, which has operated for several years in the northeast of Nigeria. Boko Haram is certainly bad news. Its banner is one of Islamic extremism. Its most noteworthy crime was the kidnapping of some 276 Nigerian girls from a school in Chibok in 2014. It claims adherence to the Islamic State, although it is not clear that Boko Haram and the leadership of the IS are even pen pals and share more than a loose common theology.
Nigeria is, and has been for years, one of the most corrupt states on Earth. What its governments have been particularly adept at is taking the country’s very substantial oil wealth and not using it to meet the still basically poor country’s needs. It has been doing marginally better under a new president, an ex-general, Muhammadu Buhari, a U.S. Army War College graduate elected in reasonably democratic elections in 2015. Mr. Buhari has been saying some of the right things, but has yet to make any profound changes in how Nigeria operates. Why the United States should enter into an arms relationship with Nigeria on the basis of a conflict that basically has nothing to do with America is hard to understand.
Both the Libya and Nigeria proposed arms sales should not be pursued further. One has to wonder whether Washington politicians are not courting large contributions from America’s arms industry in this campaign year.