senate dems call on white house to sanction haftar - washington has a major opportunity to unite over libya and play major stabilising role
Leading Democrats in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee are pressuring the White House to leverage existing Russia Sanctions legislation from 2017 in order to sanction Haftar.
Sen. Chris Murphy, (D-CN) at a senate testimony delivered by Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, David Schenker, pressed the administration as to why they weren't applying the mandatory legislation on Haftar. Wagner Group, a main private military contractor reported to be operating in Libya, was sanctioned in 2017 under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act - CAATSA. The sanction's language "mandates secondary sanctions on those who conduct significant transactions with the Russian defence and intelligence sectors". Wagner is believed to have close connections to the Kremlin. Murphy also wrote to Secretary of State Pompeo requesting a "comprehensive summary" of US efforts to counter Russia in Libya, and a "detailed analysis" of Haftar's relationship to Wagner, and whether this triggers CAATSA sanctions.
Schenker deflected the inquiry, noting Haftar was participating in the UN peace talks, and the White House did not want to discourage him. New Jersey Senator (D) Robert Menendez, who drafted the legislation, shot back that "CAATSA, it is not voluntary... it is not discretionary. It is mandatory." Menendez also pushed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who enforces sanctions, on the matter. Mnuchin replied that the decision to activate sanctions is a foreign policy one that must be made by the president, and that he only executes the directive.
Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine accused the administration of sending "mixed messages" on Libya.
Al Monitor reports that Congress' new and aggressive focus are the result of a major GNA PR push in Washington to pressure Russia and Haftar. Mercury Public Affairs, the group leading the lobbying efforts, is placing a spotlight on Haftar's connections to Wagner Group, and pointing to legislation that instructions the Director of National Intelligence to report on Wagner's role in Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
Republican Lindsey Graham (SC) also included Wagner Group in a new sanctions bill on Russia.
Al-Monitor points out, that the Trump Administration has also resisted pressure to sanction Turkey under CAATSA for its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system. The report claims that Secretary of State Pompeo essentially "moved the goal posts further back" in activating the sanctions from Turkey's purchase to when it decides to "operationalise" the system.
The US has been wary to get dragged into Libya, save for efforts to push back ISIS and other Islamic militant groups. Ironically, this is one issue that seems to have Democrats and Republicans united, even if they do not yet realise it. With Democrats pushing for pressure on Haftar and Russia, even if it is due to GNA lobbying efforts, and Republicans working to sanction Turkey, there is a rare opportunity for a divided Washington to come together, and help stabilise Libya in the process.
Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, should demand the White House investigate and sanction any outside actor providing mercenaries to the Libyan conflict. From a variety of international media reports, this most certainly includes the Russians with Wagner Group and others on Haftar's side, but also Turkey's introduction of Syrian militants in the past two months on the GNA's side. Both efforts are egregious violations of UN resolutions and US law.
We have seen from other instances, Iran being the best known, that US financial sanctions can be quite effective. As destabilising regional and international actors aggressively stake their claim on Libya, a stabilising American presence would be more than welcome, especially as the Europeans seem to be faltering in pushing back the Russians and Turks from overtaking the Libyan conflict. Moreover, at a time of great divisiveness in Washington, this could be a foreign policy issue that unifies both sides of the aisle, showing American leadership without dragging the US into another unnecessary conflict.