Last week, the White House released its readout of a call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan commander currently engaged in a violent effort to seize Tripoli and overthrow the internationally recognized government there. During their conversation, the two spoke about “the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya,” and the president “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and … discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.” It amounted to an endorsement of Haftar’s five-year quest to establish himself as Libya’s leader.
U.S. policy had previously been to support the Libyan government that Haftar has been seeking to depose. Indeed, just a week before the phone call—which took place on April 15 but was not revealed until April 19—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again said that there was no military solution to Libya’s crisis. The entire episode reinforced the impression that Trump has broken the foreign-policy process and replaced it with presidential whim. And yet Trump’s support for Libya’s would-be strongman is perfectly consistent with the president’s own track record—and past U.S. practice.
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