Euro-US War on Libya: Official Lies and Misconceptions of Critics
One of the basic flaws of the arguments of critics of Euro-US wars is their resort to clichés, generalizations and arguments without any factual bases.
The most common line on the US-Euro war on Libya is that it’s “all about oil” – the seizure of oil wells.
On the other hand Euro –US, government spokespeople have defended the war by claiming it is about “saving civilian lives facing genocide”, an act of “humanitarian intervention”.
Following the lead of their imperial powers, most of what passes for the Left in the US and Europe, ranging from social democrats, Marxists, Trotskyists and other assorted progressives claim to see and support a revolutionary mass uprising and not a few call for active intervention by the imperial powers, or the same thing, the UN, to presumably help the “social revolution” defeat the Gaddafi dictatorship.
These claims and variations of these arguments are totally without substance and belie the true nature of US-UK-French imperial power, based on rising militarism as evidenced in all the ongoing wars over the past decade (Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc.). What is revealing in the context of militarist intervention in Libya is that all the major countries which refused to engage in the war are motivated by a different type of global expansion: economic and market forces. China, India, Brazil, Russia, Turkey, Germany, the most dynamic capitalist countries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East are, in part, all opposed to the self-styled “allied” military response because they see (with solid reasons) no threat to their security, an open door for access to oil, a favorable investment climate and no signs of any progressive democratic outcome among the disparate elites competing for power and Western favor among the media labeled “rebels”.
(1) The Six Myths about Libya: Right and Left
The principle imperial powers and their mass media mouthpieces claim they are militarily assaulting Libya for “humanitarian reasons”. Their recent past and present history argues the contrary. Interventions in Iraq resulted in over a million killings, four million displaced civilians and the mass destruction of an entire civilization including water, electricity, research centers, museums…
Similar outcomes resulted from the invasion of Afghanistan. What was dubbed a humanitarian intervention resulted in a human catastrophe. In the case of Iraq the road to imperial barbarism began with ‘sanctions’, progressed to ‘no fly zones’, then to partition, then to invasion and occupation and the unleashing of sectarian tribal warfare among the ‘liberated’ rebel para-military death squads. Equally telling, the imperial assault against Yugoslavia, also justified as a “humanitarian war” against a “genocidal regime”, led to the 40 day massive bombing and destruction of Belgrade and other major cities, the imposition of a gangster terrorist regime (KLA) in the separatist province of Kosova and a huge US military base in the latter.
The bombing of Libya has destroyed major civilian infrastructure, airports, roads, seaports, communication centers as well as military targets. The sanctions and military attacks have driven out scores of multi-national corporations and exodus of hundreds of thousands of African, Middle Eastern and North African immigrant workers and technicians, devastating the economy and creating mass long-term unemployment. Moreover, following the logic of previous imperial military interventions, the seemingly ‘moderate’ call to patrol the skies via “no fly zone”, leads directly to bombing terrestrial civilian as well as military targets, onward to overthrowing the government. The imperial warmongers attacking Libya, like their predecessors, are not engaged in anything remotely resembling a humanitarian gesture: they are destroying the civilian lives they purport to be saving – as was the case in Vietnam earlier.
(2) War for Oil or Oil for Sale?
One of the most often repeated clichés by leftists is that the imperial invasion is about “seizing control of Libya’s oil and turning it over to their multi-nationals”.
The facts on the ground tell us a different story: the multi-national oil companies of Europe, Asia, the US and elsewhere have already “taken over” millions of acres of Libyan oil fields, some are already pumping and exporting oil and gas and are reaping hefty profits for almost the better part of a decade. Multi-national corporate (MNC) “exploitation by invitation” – from Gaddafi to the biggest oil companies- is an ongoing process from the early 1990’s to the present day. The list of foreign oil majors engaged in Libya exceeds that of most oil producing countries in the entire world. They include; British Petroleum with a seven year license on two concessions with one billion dollars in planned investments. Each concession involves BP exploiting enormous areas of Libya, one the size of Kuwait, the other the size of Belgium (Libyonline.com). Five Japanese firms, including Mitsubishi and Nippon Petroleum, Italy’s Eni Gas, British Gas and Exxon Mobil secured exploration and exploitation contracts in October 2010. In January 2010, Libya’s oil concessions mainly benefited US oil companies, especially Occidental Petroleum. Foreign multi-nationals gaining contracts also include Royal Dutch Shell, Total (France), Oil India, CNBC (China), Indonesia’s Pertamina and Norway’s Norsk Hydro (BBC News, 10/03/2005).
Despite sanctions imposed by Reagan in 1986, Halliburton has worked on billion dollar gas and oil projects since the 1980’s. During former Defense Secretary Cheney’s tenure as CEO of Halliburton, he led the fight against sanctions, arguing that “as a nation (there is) enormous value having American businesses engaged around the world” (Halliburtonwatch.com). Sanctions against Libya were lifted under Bush in 2004. During the current decade Gaddafi invited more foreign companies to invest in Libya than any other regime in the world. Clearly, with all the European and US imperial countries already exploiting Libya’s oil on a massive scale the argument that the “war is about oil” doesn’t hold water or oil!
(3) Gaddafi is a Terrorist
In the run-up to the US military assault, Treasury led by Israeli super-agent Stuart Levey, authored a sanctions policy freezing $30 billion dollars in Libyan assets claiming Gaddafi was a murderous tyrant (Washington Post, 3/24/11). Yet precisely seven years earlier, Cheney, Bush and Condoleezza Rice took Libya off the list of terrorist regimes and told Levey and his minions to lift sanctions. Every major European power followed suite: Gaddafi was welcomed in European capitals, prime ministers visited Tripoli and Gaddafi reciprocated by unilaterally dismantling his nuclear and chemical weapons programs (BBC, 9/5/2008). Gaddafi bent over backwards in co-operating with Washington’s campaign against groups, movements and individuals on Washington’s arbitrary “terror list” – arresting, torturing and killing Al Qaeda suspects; expelling Palestinian militants and criticizing Hezbollah, Hamas and other Israeli adversaries. The United Nations Human Rights Committee gave Gadaffi a clean bill of health. Western elites welcomed Gaddafi’s political turnabout but it did not save him from a massive military assault. Neo-liberal reforms, political apostasy, anti-terrorism, eliminating weapons of massive destruction, all weakened the regime, increased its vulnerability and isolated it from any consequential anti-imperialist allies. Gaddafi’s concessions made his regime an easy target for militarists in Washington, London and Paris.
(4) The Myth of the revolutionary Masses
The Left, including the principle social democratic, green and even left socialist parties of Europe and the US, tail-ending their imperial mentors, and susceptible to the massive media propaganda campaign demonizing Gaddafi, justified their support for military intervention, in the name of the “revolutionary people”, the peace-loving masses “fighting tyranny” and organizing popular militias to “liberate the country”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The root base of the armed uprising is Benghazi, a hotbed of tribal backers and clients of the deposed King Idris who ruled with an iron fist over a semi-feudal backward state, who gave the US one of its biggest air bases (Wheeler) in the Mediterranean basin. Among the feuding leaders of the “transitional council” (who purport to lead but have few organized followers) are neo-liberal expats who promoted the Euro-US military invasion and can only envision coming to power on the bases of Western missiles .They look forward to dismantling the public oil companies engaged in joint ventures with foreign MNC. All independent observers report the lack of any clear reformist set along revolutionary organization or social-political democratic movement.
The armed militias in Benghazi are reportedly more active in rounding up, arresting and executing any members of Gaddafi’s national network of civilians active in his “revolutionary committees”, arbitrarily labeling them “fifth columnists” than in engaging the regimes armed forces. The top leaders of the “revolutionary” masses in Benghazi are two recent defectors of what the Left dubs Gaddafi’s “murderous regime”, Mustafa Abdul Jalil a former Justice minister (who prosecuted dissenters up to the day before the armed uprising), Mahmoud Jebril a top Gaddafite neo-liberal prominent in inviting multi-nationals to take over the oil fields (FT, March 23, 2011, p. 7) and Ali Aziz al-Eisawa, Gaddafi’s former ambassador to India who jumped ship when it looked like the uprising would succeed. These self-appointed leaders of the “rebels” are staunch backers of Euro-US military intervention just as they previously were long-term backers of Gaddafi’s dictatorship and promoters of MNC takeovers of oil and gas fields. The heads of the “rebels” military council is Omar Hariri and General Abdul Fattah Younis former head of the Ministry of Interior, both with long histories (since 1969) of repressing any democratic movements. It is not surprising that these top level military defectors have been totally incapable of arousing their troops, conscripts, to engage the loyalist forces backing Gaddafi and all look forward to riding the coattails of the Anglo-US-French armed forces.
The absence of the minimum of democratic credentials among the leaders of the anti-Gaddafi rag tag forces is matched by their abject dependence and subservience to the imperial armed forces to bring them to power. Their abuse and persecution of immigrant workers from Asia, Turkey and especially sub-Sahara Africans, their false accusations that they are suspected “mercenaries”, augurs ill for any possible new democratic order, or the revival of an economy dependent on immigrant labor, any vestige of a unified country and anything resembling a national economy.
The composition of the self-appointed leadership of the “National Transitional Council” is neither democratic, nationalist nor capable of uniting the country. Least of all are they capable of creating jobs lost by their armed power grab and sustaining the paternalistic welfare program and the highest per-capita income in Africa.
(5) Al Qaeda
The greatest geographical concentration of Al Qaeda terrorists is precisely in the areas dominated by the “rebels” (Cockburn: Counterpunch, March 24, 2011). For over a decade Gaddafi, in line with his embrace of the Bush-Obama “anti-terrorist” agenda, has been in the forefront of the fight against Al Qaeda. They have now enlisted in the ranks of the “rebels” fighting the Gaddafi regime. Likewise, the tribal chiefs, fundamentalist clerics and monarchists in the East have been active in fighting a “holy war” against Gaddafi and welcome arms and air cover from the Anglo-French-US “crusaders”, just as the Taliban and the Islamic fundamentalists welcomed military support from the Carter-Reagan White House to overthrow a secular regime in Afghanistan. The imperial intervention is based on ‘alliances’ with the most retrograde forces in Libya, with uncertain outcomes as to the future composition of the regime, and the prospects for political stability allowing Big Oil to return and exploit energy resources.
(6) “Genocide” or Armed Civil War
Unlike all ongoing mass popular Arab uprisings, the Libyan conflict began as an armed insurrection, directed at the violent seizure of power. Unlike other autocratic rulers, Gaddafi had secured a mass regional base among a substantial sector of the population on the bases of a well-financed welfare and housing program. Violence is inherent in any armed uprising and once one picks up the gun and tries to seize power, there is no basis for claiming one’s “civil rights” are being violated. The rules of warfare come into play, including the protection of non-combatants-civilians-as well as respect for the rights and protection of prisoners of war.
The unsubstantiated Euro-US claims of “genocide” amplified by the Western mass media and parroted by “left” spokespersons are contradicted by the daily reports of single and double digit deaths and injuries, resulting from urban violence on both sides, as control of cities and towns shifts between one side and the other.
Truth is the first casualty of civil war and both sides have resorted to monstrous fabrications of victories, casualties, demons and angels.
The fact of the matter is that this conflict began as a civil war between two sets of elites: an established paternalistic burgeoning neo-liberal autocracy with substantial popular backing and the other, a western imperialist financed and trained elite backed by an amorphous group of regional tribal, clerical and neo-liberal professionals lacking democratic and nationalist credentials
If not humanitarianism, oil or democratic values, what is the driving force of Euro-US imperial intervention?
A clue is in the selective bases of armed intervention. In Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Qatar, Oman, ruling autocrats allied with and backed by Euro-US imperial rulers’ arrest and murder peaceful protestors, with impunity. In Egypt and Tunisia, the US financially backs a conservative self-appointed civil-military junta, to block a profound democratic, nationalist, social transformation in order to facilitate neo-liberal economic “reforms” run by pro-imperial electoral officials. While liberal critics accuse the West of “hypocrisy” and “double standards” in bombing Libya but not the Gulf butchers, in reality the imperial rulers are using the same imperial standards in each region. They defend autocratic strategic client regimes where they possess air force and naval bases, run intelligence operations and logistic platforms to pursue ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to threaten Iran. They attack Libya because it still refuses to collaborate with Western military operations in Africa and the Middle East.
The key point is that while Libya allows most of the big US-European oil multi-nationals to plunder its oil wealth, it is not yet, a strategic geo-political imperial asset. As we have written in many previous essays the driving force of US empire building is military not economic. In fact billion dollar economic interests were sacrificed in setting up sanctions against Iraq and Iran; the Iraq war shut down most oil exploitation for over a decade.
The Washington led assault on Libya – the majority of air sorties and missiles are carried out by US warplanes and submarines – is part of a general counter-attack against the most recent Arab popular pro-democracy movements. The West is backing the repression of pro-democracy movements throughout the Gulf; it is financing the pro-imperial, pro-Israel Egyptian junta; it is intervening in Tunisia to ensure that any new regime is “correctly aligned”. It backs Algerian despotism and Israel’s daily assaults on Gaza. And now, in Libya, it backs an uprising of ex-Gaddafites and right-wing monarchists who promise to militarily align with the US-European empire builders.
Dynamic market driven global and regional powers refuse to join in this conflict which jeopardizes their access to oil, including current large scale exploitation of energy sources under Gaddafi. Germany, China, Russia, Turkey, India and Brazil are growing at fast rates by exploiting new markets and natural resources, while the US, English and French spend billions in wars that de-stabilize markets and foment long-term wars of resistance. They recognize that the “rebels” are not capable of a quick victory, or of creating a stable environment for long-term investments. The “rebels” in power would become political clients of their militarist imperial mentors. Moreover, the military thrust of the imperial invaders has serious consequences for the emerging market economies. The US supports holy-roller rebels in China’s Tibetan province and Uyghur separatist “rebels” elsewhere. Washington and London back separatists in the Russian Caucasus. India is wary of US military support for Pakistan and its claims on Kashmir. Turkey opposes Kurdish separatists backed by US supplied arms to their Iraqi counterparts.
The Libyan precedent of imperial armed invasion on behalf of separatist clients bodes trouble for the market driven emerging powers. It is an ongoing threat to the burgeoning Arab freedom movement. And the death knell to the US economy; three wars can break the budget sooner rather than later. Most of all, the invasion undermines efforts by Libya’s democrats, socialists and nationalists to free the country from dictatorship and imperial backed reactionaries.