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The War on Libya: Behind Appearances - Part 3

Mon 28th Nov 2011

In the aftermath of the rebel victory, the news media has mostly moved on from Libya. But many questions remain about the background to the civil war and its beginnings, which would not be asked by reporters focusing on the frenzied violence between rebel and loyalist forces at the time. Very little substantive analysis surfaced in the numerous newpaper articles and television reports. Instead, as with Iraq, we were once again pulled into the all-consuming images of war presented to us from a certain perspective. If there was ever a case of how little the public knew about a country targeted for war, Libya was it. The rapid unfolding of events mainly followed the plight of the rebels as we watched them either advance towards key towns like Ras Lanuf and Brega, or were repelled back by Gaddafi’s forces. It was another case of the speed of events overtaking the availability of analysis, where basic information on the country was only minimally provided in terms of its history, geography, cultural, economic and political background. Questions were raised faster than the piecemeal explanations provided to explain them. Meanwhile, as oil production in Libya was drastically reduced due to the fighting around major refinery sites, the price per barrel of oil rose in the world’s markets. The haste towards military intervention in Libya implied the need to end Gaddafi’s regime as quickly as possible. At stake, for all parties involved, was the coveted prize of Libya’s high quality, ‘sweet crude’. There was also the need to topple Gaddafi who was perceived as a rogue element in the region of North Africa; someone who had set into motion an independent economic course for Libya and the African continent that rivaled the hegemonic interests of the West. These were the real reasons behind the US/NATO involvement with Libya, despite the consistent rhetoric of ‘promoting democracy’ and the overthrow of ‘tyrants’, when yesterday’s friends become today’s enemies in ever shorter time frames.

Geostrategies

In a competitive, globalized economy, resources are in great demand, and so the struggle to find and secure sources becomes ever more contentious. When the United States widens its sphere of influence in the drive to secure capitalist-oriented market regions, western European countries such as France and England can jump on the bandwagon, securing their interests by increasingly (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya) involving themselves in military interventions. And, if there is any question as to the long term strategic importance of certain countries to the United States, perpetually on the radar of military planners, it would be the fact that North African countries and those of Central Asia, which would include both Libya and Afghanistan are considered part of the ‘Greater Middle East’, despite the geographic inaccuracy of the label, and part of the wide arc of US Central Command. The first US aerial bombings of Libya were coordinated through the relatively new structure of Africa Command, begun in 2007, indicating a new US military focus on the continent.

All blockages and impediments to ‘free trade’ zones have to be swept away, which finds its equivalent voice in the Neo-con vernacular of Donald Rumfeld , who hours after the 9/11 attack was already alluding to an attack on Iraq: “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” [1] Increasingly, European nations, especially from western Europe, are being pulled into committing themselves to military interventions alongside the Americans for the sake of securing resources.

When US President Dwight Eisenhower warned in the 1950s about the emergence of a ‘military-industrial complex’, the former US army general was providing information as an insider, predicting the rise of military production as the new, primary focus of US industry. But the ramifications of this merger went even further than the colossal money making ventures of a certain sector of society. It now meant that as the US economy lost its traditional industrial base, it was also losing in the overall economic competition to China; resources would now have to be captured by military force, rather than by economic trading.

The demand for oil is constant and widespread, with China importing oil from some eleven African countries, including Libya [2]. With China’s powerhouse economy now challenging the US, it is beyond speculation that the US and western allied nations like Britain and France would want to challenge the presence of China in key oil producing nations like Libya, even when China’s presence in Libya had more to do with general infrastructural development and less with oil production. It still remains to be seen whether China will be bypassed for oil and other development projects, especially when its sheer size and ever expanding economy would still seem to be the most attractive and lucrative of markets for Libyan oil producers.

Gaddafi’s Independent Course

But, in fact, even after the rapprochement with Libya involving cash reparations to the families of the Lockerbie victims and Libya’s renunciation of wmds, all was not rosy with US-Libya relations, with the US on especially shaky ground in terms of negotiating oil contracts with the Libyan government. After some 19 years of accumulated sanctions were lifted in 2004, oil companies were re-investing in Libya with full force. In late 2007, 60 oil producers were bidding for exploration and production rights. Exxon-Mobil had gained 2.5 million offshore acres in the Mediterranean as part of its ‘Libyan block’ or a 50% increase, while Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corporation was seeking a bigger share from the oil produced by companies such as US- based Chevron Texaco and Occidental Petroleum. In 2008, Libya was demanding that US companies (oil or otherwise) pay in Euros in order to avoid the crisis in the US with the Wall Street financial meltdown [3]. Still, business continued, the symbiotic relation between Libya and the oil companies continuing as before.

Gaddafi was also gaining influence in Africa, putting forward a proposal to establish an African currency and banking system delinked from the West. Libya’s central bank was state-owned, with Gaddafi advocating for African countries the creation of a gold-based dinar, which would delink the continent from the power of the western-based banking cartels and supra-agencies like the IMF. Though being charged with buying African countries’ loyalties, Gaddafi delivered in a practical way, in terms of putting up 300 million dollars out of a one-time fee of 400million dollars, or 75% of the cost, to establish an independent satellite communications system for Africa. This freed up Africa from having to pay an annual $500 million dollars annually for European-based satellite services [4].

Rebel Ties to the US

Several key figures in the rebel camp have direct ties to the US and the CIA, with one of the top rebel commanders Colonel Khalifa Haftar previously involved in setting up the Libyan National Army in 1988, with backing from the CIA [5]. Khalifa Haftar had once not lived far from Langley, Virginia, headquarters of the CIA. Haftar’s connections with the CIA predated his exile in Virginia, going back to his involvement on the side of the US-backed Chadian government of Hissene Habra in its war with Libya in the 1990s. We also find that Mahmoud Jibril, the de facto Prime Minister of Libya under the NTC, was an American-trained politics professor out of the University of Washington in the US. Omar el-Hariri, defense minister of the rebels had ties to the US and Ali al-Essawi Ali Tarhouni taught economics also at the University of Washington [6]. Libya had also been under pressure in the 1990s from an insurgency, again, originating in the eastern part of the country, in the mountainous area near Derna, east of Benghazi. It was the same Abdul Hakim Belhaj who recently accused Britain of his rendition to Libya that was the leader of the insurgent group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group or LIFG which had linked itself to Al Qaeda [7]. A strange turn of events would have had to occur for the U.S. to have disassociated itself from its links to the LIFG when it later partnered with Britain in the renditioning of Belhaj. It’s past links to LIFG would have meant that the US was supporting an insurgency campaign against Gaddafi’s regime, which is a common US covert tactic when a country falls out of its favor, as it has done in the case of Iran where a US-linked insurgency in Balochistan has carried out bombings in the southeast area of Iran bordering with Pakistan [8].

The US/NATO Bombing of Libya

The key to the build-up of war against Libya, as with Iraq in 1991 and 2003, was the immediate necessity of military action, without options. With the imminent threat of a ‘massacre’ against the people of Benghazi, as repeated from US officials and the media, UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which established the no-fly zone in Libya ,was passed using the UN Charter Chapter VII clause that ‘action may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security’. But where Chapter VII of the UN Charter points to conditions under which violent conflict is authorized, it is Chapter VI of the charter which points to the avoidance of conflict: “The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” [9] Yet, any attempts by the Libyan government to broker a deal were ignored, as were the proposals for peaceful settlement of the conflict by outside parties like the African Union. There had also been a proposal by the rebels for a ceasefire, though the momentum for war was already too far underway, with the involvement of US/NATO military forces. Thus, any attempts by the African Union, for example on March 25th, then in April and again in the summer of 2011 to broker negotiations with Gaddafi in order to stop the fighting would prove futile [10]. There have been estimates of the total amount of bombing, with Britain’s Independent newspaper coming up with the number of 5,857 ‘air missions’, which would include numerous sorties resulting in an added up conservative figure of 2,992 ‘destroyed targets’ [11]. It would be the journalist John Pilger who would be one of the few reporters to mention civilian infrastructural damage in his reporting of the bombing of a maternity hospital and cardiac center in Tripoli [12].

There have only been a few reports on the types and numbers of bombs dropped on Libya, with only brief mentioning of tomahawk and other guided missiles ,F15 and F16 attack aircraft releasing 2,000poind JDAM bombs, and the internationally outlawed use of CBUs (cluster bombs) 103, 104, 105 and the agms 154A and B. But, the level of destruction of civilian infrastructure and number of civilian casualties from the US/NATO bombing of Tripoli and Sirte, as well as other Libyan towns and cities, may never be fully known.

Conclusion

In the internal conflict leading to civil war, Gaddafi had fired on unarmed protestors. And despite various programs to improve the lives of the Libyan people over a number of years, he had angered a large number of Libyans with repressive policies, with the internment of prisoners involving torture who were opposed to him in practical and ideological terms. But the point must be made that other regimes, under Mubarek, under Saleh of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, --Israel’s regimes in bombing Lebanon and Gaza-- have done much worse in terms of human rights. Those who have committed such abuses would include western nations like the United States and Britain, where calls have been made to bring George Bush and Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld and others, to the International Criminal Court for far larger crimes. Far larger numbers of people in Iraq and Afghanistan would be killed by aerial bombing sorties that dwarf by comparison even the sustained and widespread bombing sorties over Libya. Despite all the high sounding rhetoric of promoting ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ for Libya, the citizens of the US and NATO countries seemed unable to ask even the most basic questions before supporting one side over another in the bombing of a country. War was not war. It was a ‘humanitarian intervention’; a ‘kenetic military operation’ a ‘targeted mission’, and with such technical terms any debate to authorize war against a country was tossed aside. Meanwhile, another oil rich nation was added to the list, the twenty-first century version of the ‘domino affect’, but this time in terms of countries with precious resources that must be brought under the reign of dominant capitalist forces testing weapons systems on people. Never mind the high sounding rhetoric with the feel-good -factor built in for public consumption when the public is unaware of the background to events. The real reasons for western military forces intervening in the Libyan conflict lie with resource capture, the securing of markets, and goals related to geostrategy and hegemonic control over the African continent.

  1. “Plans for Iraq Attack Began on 9/11”; CBS news, Joel Roberts, 10/09/2009 / http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/09/04/september%2011/main520830.shtml
  2. “The Geopolitics of China—African Oil”; China Briefing Magazine and Daily News Service, Shelly Zhao,13/04/2011
  3. “Oil Giants Coddled Qaddafi, Lobbied on his Behalf”; Bloomberg news, Judy Pasternak; Jim Snyder; Nicole
    Gaouette, 14/06/2011
  4. “Libyan War 2011”; Conservapedia
  5. “David Cameron’s gift of war and racism, to them and us”; Johnpilger.com, John Pilger, 06/04/2011
  6. “For Qatar, Tiny Statewith Big Goals, Libyan Intervention May Be a Turning Point”; New York Times, Clifford Krause, 04/04/2011 and “A Golden Opportunity”; The Economist, 4/2-8, pp.21-22
  7. “The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group—from al-Qaida to the Arab Spring”; The Guardian, Ian Black, 05/09/2011
  8. “Iran Guard Commanders are Killed in Bombings”; New York Times, Michael Slackman, 18/10/2009
  9. UN Charter Chapter VI, “Pacific Settlement of Disputes’
  10. “Update:Rebels Reject African Union-Brokered Ceasefire Deal in Libya”; The two way: NPR’s News Blog, Mark Memmott, 11/04/2011 and “Libya’s opposition calls for a ceasefire”; Opinion, Al-Jazeera, Phyllis Bennis, 02/04/2011
  11. “Mission Accomplished: NATO in Libya”, The Independent, 01/11/2011
  12. “David Cameron’s gift of war and racism, to them and us”; johnpilger.com, John Pilger, 06/04/2011


Final Footnotes:
  1. “Update:Rebels Reject African Union-Brokered Ceasefire Deal in Libya”;
  2. The two way: NPR’s News Blog, Mark Memmott, 11/04/2011 and “Libya’s opposition calls for a ceasefire”;
  3. Opinion, Al-Jazeera, Phyllis Bennis, 02/04/2011
    “Mission Accomplished: NATO in Libya”, The Independent, 01/11/2011
    “David Cameron’s gift of war and racism, to them and us”;
  4. johnpilger.com, John Pilger, 06/04/2011



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