A COALITION that includes the most despised former colonizers of African countries and led by the United States has attacked Libya under cover of a UN resolution supposedly for humanitarian purposes — i.e., to stop the loyalist troops of strongman Moamar Gaddafi from “attacking their own people.”

The United Kingdom, France and Italy have a long and bloody record in Africa as brutal colonizers. Their claim that they’re involved in the bombing of Libyan air defenses in behalf of protecting civilians is likely to be met with a great deal of skepticism among Arabs and Africans not only because of that record. (Libya itself was a colony of Italy from 1915 till the end of the Second World War, for example. Together with the UK and France, Italy later helped install the Idris monarchy that Gaddafy overthrew in a 1969 coup.) It would be perfectly justified. The attack is after all about greed, figleafed as “humanitarian”.

As for the US itself, the attack it claims it’s not leading is driven by the same impulse that has driven its foreign policy for over a hundred years. But it’s also a reprise of the 1986 bombing of Libya by the Reagan administration, the alleged reason for which was “self defense against future attack,” but which killed only Libyans including Gaddafy’s adopted infant daughter.

Parts of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, including Gaddafy’s residential compound, are being targeted in the current bombardment, which obviously hopes to also kill him. Civilian casualties, quite possibly including some of the Philippines’ own OFWs who have chosen to remain in Libya, are inevitable when centers of population are bombed. Vital facilities — water, electrical power, hospitals — are also vulnerable, no matter how “smart” (in the sense of possessing pinpoint capability to hit targets) the bombs are.

The US, in any case, says it’s not leading the attacks, although it was 110 of its million dollar Tomahawk missiles that did the most damage on Libyan air defenses. It has also managed to have the UN and the Arab League back its actions, and cobbled together a coalition of mostly Western states.

But for all the attempts of the Obama administration to prevent a comparison with Iraq, what the US and its partners are doing reeks of the same greed that drove them to invade and destroy Iraq. The British and the Italians have substantial stakes in Libyan oil, and France, a former colonial power in North Africa that had been kept out of Libya (and which, by balking at supporting the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, has been prevented by the US from getting its hands on Iraq oil) apparently wants a share of the action. So do the US oil companies, which, despite Gaddafy’s grant of numerous concessions in the aftermath of the 2003 attack on Iraq, have had only limited access to Libya’s 45-billion barrel oil reserves.

Gaddafy was in fact blackmailed into granting concessions and undertaking economic “reforms” that, among other reasons, have helped fuel at least some of the protests. After decades of resistance to Western impositions, Gaddafy offered to assist the US in its “war on terror” in the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. The US accepted the offer — but not before forcing Libya to accept full responsibility for the downing of the Pan American commercial jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, and to pay .7 billion in indemnities. For the US to lift its economic and arms sanctions against Libya, it also had to open its markets to Western investments and to “reform” its economy.

The “reforms” included scuttling the system of state subsidies for basic commodities including food and fuel, and privatizing state enterprises such as steel mills, cement plants, food factories, and state farms. The result was a rapid increase in the prices of basic commodities and the loss of thousands of jobs, basically undermining whatever progress had been achieved in the previous decades.

If these impositions sound as if they were part of a plan to bring down Gaddafy, they probably were. Gaddafy has been demonized by the Western powers, and has been the target of assassination attempts, since he came to power for resisting Western impositions and his — the worst sin of all — nationalization of the Libyan oil industry and booting the US out of its pre-1969 military bases in Libya. Gaddafy did hold out for decades, and even supported various nationalist movements all over the Third World, but was apparently shocked and awed enough by the US’ display of unbridled, unaccountable power in 2003 and onwards to open the Libyan economy to Western exploitation.

But as he’s currently finding out, no amount of concessions will satisfy the Western banks and oil companies’ greed. Having given them an arm, they want the whole body, and the current rebellion that includes not only the genuinely disaffected but also the Western fifth column that includes pro-monarchist groups has given them the opportunity to finally get rid of him and to install someone more predictable and pliable in his place.

Unfortunately, should the US, the UK, France, and Italy succeed in doing so, it will send a signal to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt — where the Western powers did not intervene when the tyrants they were supporting were “attacking their own people” — that you can only go so far in aspiring for democracy and authentic development (i.e., one that would benefit the people most).

But the bombing of Libya is also validating anti-Western sentiments in Africa and the Middle East — and thus likely, as it did in Iraq, to further create the armies of terrorists that, for all the Western powers’ “war on terror” rhetoric, are as much their creations as that of the fundamentalist ideologies to which these groups claim adherence.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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