THE usual rhetoric of self-righteous indignation has been flowing out of Washington, London, Paris, and Brussels (where the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, is based) in recent days. It was on Iraq and Saddam Hussein in 2003 on the eve of the US invasion of that country. Today it’s on Libya and Muammar Gaddafi.
US President Barack Obama said something to the effect that history is moving against Gaddafi, even as his opponent in the 2008 US elections, Senator John McCain, declared his alleged concern for the lives of “innocent civilians being attacked and massacred from the air.” McCain’s statement was an implicit expression of support for the US-UK proposal for the UN to declare Libya a no-fly zone to stop the Libyan air force from bombing rebel positions.
To enforce observance of a no-fly zone, NATO will have to bomb Libyan air bases and disable Libyan anti-aircraft defenses in behalf of the shadowy rebel groups fighting the Gaddafi regime. Many of these groups have asked for Western intervention to resolve the crisis, which suggests that the Western powers — France, the UK and the US particularly — could already be involved.
In a veiled threat of military intervention, British Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that “the world must be ready for what we (the Western alliance) may have to do” if Gaddafi “goes on brutalizing his own people.” Various other European leaders, generals, and US senators have also gotten on their high horses, expressing their alleged concern for the rights of Libyans, and even arguing for intervention in behalf of “European values” (presumably liberte, egalite, fraternite, and not colonial conquest and racism).
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has coyly declared that if ever the US does intervene in various ways including militarily, it shouldn’t be seen as a US initiative, but in response to a demand from the Libyan people themselves. Translation: we’re thinking of intervening, but we don’t want the world to think it’s Iraq all over again, but a multilateral response sanctioned by the UN.
The former Libyan ambassador to the US has obliged by asking the US to do precisely that: intervene militarily and oust Gaddafi. As if in anticipation of such requests from “the Libyan people,” the US, which has bases in nearby Italy, has been moving warships to the Mediterranean, and preparing for air strikes against Libyan defenses, in what could be a repeat of Iraq 2003 in that it would cause the usual widespread destruction and deaths the US is so expert at exporting to poor countries. What’s worse is that Iraq redux would be based on the assumption that just like the Iraqis, the Libyans can’t solve their own problems, once more validating to themselves the Western countries’ unstated assumption that self-determination and democracy aren’t for everyone.
Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berloscuni hasn’t said anything so far, despite the possibility that, for its proximity to Libya, Italy could be a crucial player in any military action against that country, which in the early years of the 20th century was an Italian colony. The 74-year old Berloscuni had surgery on his jaw done earlier this week, but that may not have been the reason for his silence. A communication and media magnate in addition to being a playboy with an eye for the ladies, Berloscuni owns Quinta Communications, in which a subsidiary of the Gaddafi family investment company owns a 10 percent share.
For the information of those who used to love Gaddafi for supporting such causes as the Irish Republican Army and despite the mish-mash ideology that he claims drives the so-called Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Gaddafi’s neither a socialist nor a democrat (Jamahiriya means “mass-based”).
Gaddafi did nationalize the Libyan oil industry almost immediately after he came to power via a coup against the Idris monarchy in 1969. But he has since gone the way of many of the nationalist leaders of Africa, enthroning himself as near-absolute ruler of Libya, and enriching himself and his family not only through his access to Libya’s oil resources (Libya’s oil reserves, estimated at 42 billion barrels, are the largest in Africa, and ninth in the world), but also through investments in Europe.
By granting the Western countries investment privileges in Libya, opening the country to foreign banks, privatizing state-owned companies, accepting the structural adjustments proposed by the International Monetary Fund — and agreeing to serve as one of Africa’s policemen against illegal immigration to Europe — he managed to have the Western arms and economic embargo against Libya lifted in 2004. Since then, despite the occasional noises he makes against “Western domination” and “the return of the colonial era,” he’s been just one more member of the global alliance of the elites that rule the planet and benefit the most from its resources while keeping hundreds of millions poor.
The violence and brutality of his rule, and the absence of progress during the 41 years he’s been in power, are making the case for the rebels — and at the same time encouraging demands for foreign intervention, which in the current global context can’t be anything but Western. His erstwhile friends in Europe would gladly turn against him — but not before they’ve seen to it that someone pliable, and preferably less daffy, could take his place, the better to assure the West continuing access to Libyan oil.
There is every likelihood that among the motley bands of rebels fighting the Gaddafi regime are Western-encouraged and assisted groups, including some in the military and others hoping to reinstall a monarchy, together with those earnestly committed to mass empowerment and authentic independence. The former constitute the Western fifth column in the current crisis, and would no more lead Libya to progress and democracy than Gaddafi did during the last 41 years. There is more hope for both among the latter groups, but foreign intervention would doom their aspirations for democracy, because of their demand for independence and the right to decide the future of Libya–where, as in Iraq in 2003, Western intervention would remove one tyranny and replace it with another at the cost of many lives.