Could a Trump-Macron Initiative Bring Peace to Libya?

On Monday, US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed France’s role in the Libyan conflict. Trump also held a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan last week to discuss the same matter. As Al-Monitor argues, these phone calls are significant because US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien expressed sympathy for France over an incident in which the French Government accused Ankara of harassing French vessels as they sought to prevent a Tanzania-flagged ship allegedly smuggling weapons to Libya.

Although the US President has delegated Libyan matters to lower-level State Department officials, the US has been intervening in the Libyan war more frequently recently. In June, a US delegation pushed militias affiliated with both the Government of National Accord (GNA) and General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to disband.

Macron Has Made Matters Worse

Although NATO is investigating the French-Turkish naval clash, France has issued demands that it wants its NATO allies to fulfill before rejoining the Mediterranean naval operation.

However, this is not the time for France to be pursuing its own economic and security interests, as Middle East Eye’s Jonathan Fenton-Harvey argues. Differences between Macron and Erdogan have exposed NATO’s deep divisions over Libya. After France withdrew from the alliance’s naval operation along the Eastern Mediterranean, it became engaged in antagonizing Ankara instead of seeking a diplomatic solution to resolve the conflict.

Furthermore, Macron’s earlier track record suggests that he is undermining efforts to restore peace in Libya. During the Paris summit aimed at reaching a political solution in 2018, many Libyans were anxious that the French Government intended to supplant UN efforts and steer peace talks towards its own self-interest. They also did not consult enough actors involved in the war.

Macron Has Been Acting in Self-Interest

Although Macron has been clumsy in the way he has attempted to initiate an end to the Libyan war, there is no doubt that he has a desire for peace nonetheless. In a recent joint statement with Italy and Germany, the French leader called on all Libyan actors to return to the negotiating table.

A lack of US involvement in the peace process has enabled Turkey and Russia to become the dominant forces in Libya. Recent events show that there is a need for both Macron and Trump to be more involved in ending the Libyan conflict. For example, Egypt’s parliament has authorized the deployment of troops in a move that threatens the stakes in the proxy civil war by increasing the potential for direct clashes between Egypt and Turkey.

Both France and the US could counter the influence that Moscow and Ankara have over Libya and Trump could use his relationship with Erdogan to help end tensions between the French and Turkish Presidents.

Trump and Macron Have Too Many Differences

The US and the UN could also issue sanctions against Haftar’s LNA considering the Libyan general has violated numerous UN Security Council resolutions.

Despite this, the biggest obstacle a Trump-Macron initiative would face would be the GNA. Macron is more inclined to support Haftar whereas Trump has a history of helping the GNA. In the summer of 2018, both American diplomats and the UN envoy prevented oil reserves from falling under Haftar’s control. The French President’s support for the LNA means that he will find it difficult to collaborate with the US in Libya.

Both the 2015 peace agreement in Morocco and the 2018 Paris summit failed because the Libyan people were not consulted about either one. As Thomas M. Hill of the US Institute of Peace argues, Libyan citizens have played an active role in making peace a reality through initiatives like successfully convincing some youth in the city of Misrata to quit the local militia. Therefore, to prevent a repeat of the mistakes made in 2018, Macron would need more actors involved in any peace process he and Trump supported.

Both Trump and Macron could play an active role in ending the Libyan war, but both leaders will need to find a compromise on their respected positions before they do.