Monday, 7 March 2011

When War Pigs Fly.

The revolution in Libya has "stalled" as the revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries are battling it out. The point of no return has been passed in Libya, it's live free or die, Gaddafi is clinging onto Tripoli and some areas which are dominated by his tribe, but the revolution snatched over 90% of Libya from his manicured fingers in recent weeks. The vehemence of the Colonel's death squads procured from Chad, Niger and Serbia have failed to restore Gaddafi's power. The "passionate" support for Gaddafi in Tripoli is really the result of a recent bribe and a concentration of wealth in the capital. Though the Libyan elite has been split down the middle by Gaddafi's actions, which has been reflected by the defection of numerous officials and soldiers, out of megalomania the Colonel thinks he can hold on. But Uncle Sam has other ideas, the Obama administration have taken the first steps to funnel cash and weapons to the revolutionaries in liberated Benghazi.

The middle-men are the House of Saud of course, who hate Gaddafi for ideological as well as personal reasons. The secular model offered by Arab nationalism has been the traditional threat to the Saudi Royals, who rely on a fundamentalist establishment to prop up their corrupt monarchy. This is without the constant insults Gaddafi has hurled at King Abdullah and the attempt to assassinate the King last year. The surface reasons for an intervention in Libya are that Gaddafi has resorted to brute force in the face of a democratic uprising. But at another level the West is worried about the flow of oil and the impact of the upheval on oil prices. The concern that we might see another oil shock amongst the British elite was reflected in Cameron's hubristic talk of a no-fly zone and funds for rebels. For which the Obama administration slapped David Cameron on the hand, opting for a more subtle approach. Notice that the British government only condemned Gaddafi after the US and began talking of intervention soon after the American neocons turned up in revolutionary garb to call for a US-led strike on Libya.

The mistake made by the pro-American administration in Whitehall was that they attempted to dutifully follow pre-empted decisions made in Washington. The Prime Minister then had to back away from calls that Washington believes in, but will not pursue so openly which is why the US has deployed four warships for "humanitarian" purposes and "military objectives". At the same time, £1 billion of the Gaddafi fortune has been frozen in Britain. An occupation at LSE is calling for the return of every penny of Gaddafi's investment in that institution and has succeeded in prompting a resignation... Sadly, the British government continues to follow dutifully on behind Washington, in foreign as well as domestic affairs. From the Iraq war to paying for nuclear weapons, which are a part of the American nuclear command system, let alone shipping off numerous wanted"terrorists" around the world sometimes for a trial over a burst condom and sometimes simply a spot of waterboarding.

The coalition government formed in "Free Libya" has made agreements to respect old arrangements with oil giants. The uprising and counter-revolutionary violence has caused oil prices to rise. Britain has a great deal of assets and invested interests in Libya, as we have in Egypt. If the military had struck against the demonstrations in Tahrir Square there would have been a similar schism as seen in Libya and Egypt would have been torn apart, the British and the Americans may have even invaded in such a scenario. It would seem that the Colonel has outlived his usefulness to Western powers as a "reformed" dictator, who might one day transform Libya into the Norway of North Africa as Anthony Giddens hoped. At this point it is practical for the Americans to supplant the old Arab nationalist order with a new regime that would have the enthusiasm of the people behind it - for now at least. The little embarrassment over selling arms to Libya felt by the British and the Americans seems to have evaporated. The traditional means of redemption are being sought, ultra-violence.

There are good reasons to oppose neoconservatives on the issue of military intervention, as there is a long and ignoble list of atrocities. The Reagan administration turned a blind eye to CIA-sponsored trafficking in drugs and guns in order to arm the Contras, a group of right-wing terrorists in Nicaragua, though this actually armed the Iranians and created a crack epidemic in California the spectre of "Communism" had to be defeated apparently. The Contras ended up killing thousands. Similarly in Afghanistan the US poured money into arming the Mujahideen, who would later carry out mass-rapes and slaughter 50,000 people in the 1990s. The preference of the Democratic Party for sanctions kept the Iraqi people under the heel of Saddam throughout the 1990s, while a no-fly zone was set up Saddam was still given the opening to crush an uprising through air-strikes. So we are right to be worried about where the sanctions against Libya and a no-fly zone may lead.

The wave of sanctions imposed under Clinton led to the deaths of over half a million people through starvation. The less "subtle" method of the Bush administration, favoured by neoconservatives,  ended up killing 1 million more people and left 4 million displaced. This leaves out the countless millions who have been dispossessed by the economic "shock therapy" Iraq was put through, which privatised and deregulated all public services over night. Efforts were then made to ensure that multinational corporations would not have to worry about paying any taxes in Iraq. All rammed through by a coterie of unelected bureaucrats and officials, mostly American, who also redrew the Iraqi Constitution. The occupation of Iraq stood in firm opposition to democratic elections for 2 years before finally giving in. Notably the artful oik (our current Chancellor) and Michael Gove both fawned over Blair, Gove declared "I love Tony Blair" in The Times just prior to the war.

Intervention in such cases as Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Nicaragua (among a lot of other places) was immoral. But the Libyan revolutionaries are not the Mujahideen nor are they the Contras. It would seem that to support the revolution would be to oppose Gaddafi's counter-revolution. There are parallels between Libya and Iraq. The old nationalist order versus an uprising, sanctions are pursued. In the case of Iraq it was a disaster and we have yet to see what will come of the sanctions against Libya. Importantly, there is a distinction between the kind of intervention led by hawks, in Washington and Whitehall, and the kind of intervention which might actually help the revolution. A no-fly zone could keep Gaddafi's forces on the land, apart from helicopters, and give the rebels a good chance of victory. Without a no-fly zone Gaddafi still has the capability to launch air-strikes against the rebels.

Although there may be a case to be made for a specific kind of intervention, an ideal no-fly zone, as there was in the Balkans in the 90s or in Iraq when Saddam gassed the Kurds. It must be conceded that the rebels do not want foreign interference and that there is a convergence of self-interest behind the calls for intervention. To support the attempt by the SAS to meet with rebels or the deployment of warships by the US on these grounds would be idiotic. We should have no illusions about the intentions behind American and British policy-makers looking to topple Gaddafi. The fall of Gaddafi is only preferable to them because he has outlived his usefulness and a freed up political system will be less of an embarrassment. But it could only be a softer, and more insidiously pro-American, version of Gaddafi and harder to drive out. But that does not justify Gaddafi's rule, the Colonel has to go, it should be for the Libyan people that he go and not Western economic interests.

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