Three cheers for the U.S. Navy’s courageous commandos, who Monday thwarted an attempt by a rogue Libyan militia leader to sell stolen oil on the black market. The Pentagon said President Barack Obama authorized the Mediterranean intervention Sunday night. Within hours, a Navy SEAL team on the guided missile destroyer Roosevelt had boarded and taken control of the Morning Glory in the Mediterranean near Cyprus.
No one was injured in operation, which was executed with the characteristic SEAL efficiency.
It was a rare show of resolution by an administration that has often appeared uncertain, if not impotent, during the recent international crises that have stretched from Crimea to Venezuela.
The action signaled rebels that the United States will defend Libya’s new government, which desperately wanted to keep the militia from selling the oil worth several million dollars.
The tanker, according to the Pentagon, had been stolen by three armed Libyans this month and then sailed into Sidra flying the North Korean flag, although the government in Pyongyang immediately denied any connection with the tanker or the plot to sell the stolen oil.
Apparently the militia had hoped to find a buyer somewhere in the Mediterranean and use the proceeds to enhance its standing in the ongoing conflict with the new government in Tripoli that has been struggling to restore Libya’s financial well-being since Moammar Gadhafi’s brutal dictatorship was overthrown in 2011.
The Navy described the capture of the tanker as a blow to the political ambitions of a militia leader named Ibrahim Jathran, who is said to portray himself as something of a latter-day Robin Hood, stealing from the government in order to improve the lives of those under his command.
For eight months, Jathran has led a blockade of Libya’s main oil ports, hoping to bring the Sidra area more political autonomy and a larger share of the country’s oil revenue. His reasoning included the fact that most of Libya’s reserves are in Sidra.
Jathran’s antics put the shaky Libyan government at risk because it badly needs the oil revenue to help it meet operating expenses.
But the crisis was also a threat to Americans and other foreigners with a financial stake in the Libyan oil business.
That the U.S. Navy stepped in to thwart Jathran’s bold scheme is a welcome triumph for the United States at a time when success on the international front seems increasingly hard to achieve.
But the action should not mislead anyone. The president needs a foreign policy that demands respect even when the SEALs are not involved.