Do the UAE’s Airstrikes in Libya Mean the United States Is Losing Influence in the Middle East?

How It Works
Aug. 26 2014 12:17 PM

Do the UAE’s Airstrikes in Libya Mean the United States Is Losing Influence in the Middle East?

Nic6364727
An Islamist fighter from the Fajr Libya coalition flashes the V sign for victory at the entrance of Tripoli international airport on Aug. 24, 2014.

Photo by Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. officials say that jets from the United Arab Emirates, using airbases in Egypt, attacked an Islamist militia in Libya this week in an (apparently unsuccessful) attempt to turn it back from Tripoli. There’s been intense fighting between regional militias near the Libyan capital in recent days, and the group from Misrata, which was targeted in the attack, has now apparently taken control of the Tripoli airport.

The UAE’s foray into Libya feels like a turning point both in the dynamics of the region and regarding the United States’ involvement in the Middle East. Despite all the various ways that regional powers have sought to influence each other’s internal politics, the U.S. and Europe (and on a few occasions Israel) have largely had a monopoly on airstrikes and direct military intervention. With crises elsewhere taking up diplomatic attention, U.S. involvement in the worsening situation in Libya has been limited. It shouldn’t be too surprising that others have stepped in to fill the void.

Advertisement

The New York Times, which originally reported on the strikes, puts them in the context of a larger proxy battle in the Middle East between Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia—which have sought to roll back the gains made by Islamist groups—and Turkey and Qatar, which have largely supported them. This battle will mostly be fought within the region’s most unstable countries, including Syria, Iraq, and Libya.

This isn’t the UAE’s first venture into Libya. The country participated in the air operation that led to the overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011. More recently, it’s believed to be backing militias from the western Zintan region—one of the groups battling for control of the increasingly chaotic country.

The U.S. and four European governments issued a statement warning against “outside interference” in the Libyan conflict, and the strikes apparently caught U.S. officials off-guard, though a skeptical report in Foreign Policy casts doubt on whether this could really have taken place without U.S. knowledge. The UAE has been silent about the strikes, and Egypt has denied direct action in Libya, which leaves open the possibility that it merely supported a strike by another party.

But the big picture here is that while America’s ostensible enemies—Iran and Syria—are carrying out military operations in Iraq, its ally, the UAE, is bombing Libya. And it doesn’t seem like the United States is calling the shots.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Resigns

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Crime
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 4:46 PM Ebola Is No Measles. That’s a Good Thing. Comparing this virus to scourges of the past gives us hope that we can slow it down.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.