Libya’s eastern commander Khalifa Haftar has hired a former Republican congressman and former aide to President Bill Clinton for a lobbying campaign aimed at shoring up political support and influence ahead of elections later this year.
According to documents filed with the US Justice Department, Lanny Davis and former congressman Robert Livingston have both agreed to a six-month contract worth nearly $1m, in which the two will arrange for Haftar to visit Washington and meet with officials at the White House, state department, and defense department.
The two lobbyists will also attempt to arrange meetings with “key members of US Congress”, as well as think tanks in Washington.
Defense department spokesperson Cindi King told Middle East Eye in an email, however, that the Pentagon has “no plans for hosting Khalifa Haftar”.
While the date of the visit is not clear, the documents state the visit will be an attempt for Haftar to meet with high-level officials in the US prior to Libya’s elections on 24 December.
Haftar has not declared his candidacy for the election, although analysts have said he plans to do so and has been working to improve his image after a failed offensive to capture the Libyan capital Tripoli ended last year.
In a statement shared with Middle East Eye, Davis and Livingston said that their lobbying efforts are “limited to expressing Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s support of free and fair, UN-supervised elections on December 24 – to facilitate a peaceful, stable, unified, democratic Libya, under the rule of law”.
The two said that Haftar’s senior advisor told them the general “categorically denied” all the allegations brought against him in US courts, saying that they “would not have undertaken this representation” without that denial.
Haftar has agreed to pay them $160,000 a month for a total of six months, the documents show, and after that, the two sides will meet to agree on the terms for continued representation.
A person familiar with the agreement told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that the lobbyists intend to emphasise that Haftar worked with the US to overthrow former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Their priorities will also be to stop the label of “warlord” from being applied to the general since he launched his own military campaign in 2014, according to the WSJ.
Haftar’s PR campaign
Haftar lived in the US for more than two decades after failing in a coup attempt against Gaddafi in 1987, returning to the country following the Libyan leader’s removal in a Nato-backed uprising in 2011.
Haftar initially served as the head of the military for Libya’s internationally recognised government, the Government of National Accord (GNA), but later turned on Tripoli, launching a 14-month offensive on the capital in opposition to Libya’s Tripoli-based government.
When this failed campaign ended with a ceasefire in October 2020 and accusations of war crimes were made against the military commander’s forces, Haftar embarked on a lobbying campaign aimed at regaining the influence he has lost.
Human rights groups have accused his forces of indiscriminate shelling, torture, and summary executions. A prominent commander of Haftar’s forces was indicted by the International Criminal Court for the suspected killing of more than 40 captives. He was assassinated in March.
Haftar has hired US-based lobbying firms in order to shore up support over the past several years and had made significant strides under the Trump administration.
Trump called Haftar in April 2019 and said that Washington needed his “support in building democratic stability there in the region”.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has not so far emphasised Libya in its foreign policy and Washington has largely focused on China.
A state department spokesperson previously told MEE that the US goal was to establish a “sovereign, stable, unified, and secure Libya with no foreign interference, and a democratically elected government that supports human rights and development, and that is capable of combating terrorism within its borders”.
Source Middle East Eye