When Libya appeared on the edge of a humanitarian disaster during its 2011 civil war, President Obama and other Western leaders sent in the cavalry: NATO warplanes with orders to protect civilians from slaughter by the country’s longtime leader, Moammar Kadafi.
But though worsening violence this week brought new calls for foreign intervention, world powers are unlikely to fly to the rescue again. In the view of U.S. officials and allies in Europe and the Middle East, an outside force would be costly, hard to organize and deploy, and could deepen Libya’s divisions.
The chance of a new intervention “is pretty remote,” said Frederic Wehrey, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
It’s far more likely, say diplomats and analysts, that the United States and other world powers will continue their long, so far unsuccessful, search for a diplomatic solution to the country’s post-Kadafi civil war, possibly backed by economic sanctions to enhance leverage.
U.S. officials are closely monitoring the growing influence of Islamic State in Libya and could decide to use counter-terrorism tools, such as drone strikes and special forces, as they have done in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.
But “no decisions have been made to expand the fight against [Islamic State] beyond Iraq and Syria,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday.
Libya, Egypt, Italy and France all called for some kind of foreign intervention after Islamic State released a video Sunday that purports to show masked militants beheading 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach.
Advocates say an outside force is needed to halt Islamic State from expanding in Libya. Some also argue that foreign intervention can provide enough security to allow government institutions to take root amid the chaos.