President Trump’s Libya Strategy

President Trump’s Libya Strategy

President Trump’s Libya Strategy

Earlier in the week, General Haftar of the Libyan National Army (LNA) conceded control of four major oil fields in Libya’s oil crescent region: Ras Lanuf, Es Sider, Zueitina and Hariga. Three weeks ago, these fields were seized from the internationally recognized, Tripoli-based National Oil Company (NOC), causing oil production to abruptly stop and costing the Libyan economy roughly 1 billion USD. In response, the international community quickly condemned the move on the LNA’s part and encouraged states to only interact with the Tripoli-based NOC. Across the Atlantic, however, President Donald Trump reportedly sent a letter to Speaker of the House of Representatives Aqailah Saleh and Chairman of the Presidential Council Fayez Sarraj, both leaders of the LNA. In this letter, Trump demanded that the oil fields be returned to the Tripoli-based NOC, threatening sanctions and international prosecution if the LNA did not comply. With the new prospects of Libyan oil production restarting, oil prices dropped from $78.86 to $70.38 a barrel overnight.

Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, Trump made it explicitly clear that the U.S. will be involved in the Middle East and North Africa to counter terrorist networks and deter the Islamic Republic of Iran. One and a half years after his inauguration, Trump’s two pillar strategy remains steadfast. Of course there are other policy priorities following, but these two pillars are at the core of Trump’s regional strategy. In April 2017, President Trump said, “I do not see a role in Libya. I think the United States has right now enough roles. We’re in a role everywhere. So I do not see that. I do see a role in getting rid of ISIS.” So how does Trump’s letter to LNA leaders fit into his strategy? From 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it seems to look like placing pressure on rogue actors to influence the price of oil is one signal to Iran that the U.S. is active in the region. American encouragement of oil trade through the Tripoli-backed NOC allows for a greater supply of oil to be available, leading to a lower public demand and lower prices, all of which would hurt the Iranian oil industry.

For strategies to come into fruition, there are ideas and leaders, and a developing factor in the Trump Administration is the recent arrival of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. As a congressman, Secretary Pompeo was deeply involved in the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi. With unwavering persistence, Pompeo questioned the motives for the U.S.’s strong, brave and risky diplomacy in Libya. For better or for worse, a more critical lense will be brought to U.S. diplomacy with this mindset and experience leading the department.

The Trump Administration’s involvement in Libya stems from a  desire to counter terrorism and deter Iran, both of which fail to acknowledge the multifaceted complications hindering the development of the North African state. In part it is dangerous to look at a failed state through two preconceived policy platforms; yet, in a case like Libya, is any action better than no action?  


Morgan Bedford is a Summer Associate at PDC.


%d bloggers like this: