No U.S. intervention in Libya

March 4, 2011

U.S. officials are cynically using the bloodshed in Libya to try to reestablish U.S. influence in a region that is slipping out of their control, writes Eric Ruder.

WITH FORCES loyal to Libya's Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and antigovernment protesters locked in an increasingly bloody conflict, U.S. and other Western powers are threatening to make the situation worse.

Two U.S. warships crossed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea on March 2 en route to Libya in what Pentagon officials intended as a show of force, while Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked with NATO and European allies about other military options.

On March 3, Obama authorized the use of U.S. military airlifts to transport refugees seeking to return to their home countries from Libya, a move that may be designed to provoke Qaddafi by bringing U.S. military aircraft in close range to the action.

The question of intervention with the authorization of the United Nations or NATO has been raised, though Russia, as a member of the UN Security Council, has said it would veto a resolution sanctioning the use of military force, and the German government has opposed military action.

Libyan protesters insist they don't want military intervention by the West
Libyan protesters insist they don't want military intervention by the West

THE UPRISING that began in eastern Libya in mid-February has won broad popular support, but thus far has been unable to force Qaddafi out, nor dislodge the regime's grip on the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Qaddafi is clinging to power with a combination of foreign mercenaries and units from his own well-trained security forces, armed with Western-supplied weapons that have been used against those who support democracy.

The split in Qaddafi's regime and its armed forces, combined with the territorial division between his stronghold in western Libya and the rebellion's base in the east, has set the stage for a possibly protracted conflict, with casualties that could rise significantly.

Nevertheless, despite the carnage, significant sections of the Libyan uprising have told the U.S. and other Western powers to stay out of Libya. As Gen. Ahmad Gatroni, a rebel military leader in Benghazi, put it, the U.S. should "take care of its own people, we can look after ourselves." In Benghazi's main square, demonstrators have hung a banner that reads in English, "No foreign intervention; Libyan people can manage it alone."

In Benghazi, journalist Jihan Hafiz reported widespread opposition to U.S. intervention. "The entire Libyan population is insisting against U.S. intervention or any involvement of foreign powers within Libya," one Libyan pro-democracy protester told Hafiz. According to Hafiz:

Rebels in Benghazi are also rejecting calls from U.S. Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman to send the liberated territory weapons to fight Qaddafi's forces. They insist they defeated the security forces of Muammar al-Qaddafi in Benghazi without the use of weapons and without the support of a foreign government. Their victory in the bloody battle for Benghazi has engendered a strong sense of unity and nationhood in a country known for tribal divisions.

Other sections of the opposition are calling for the U.S. to act. The options range from U.S. strikes on the regime's mercenary forces to a "no-fly zone" that would constrain Qaddafi's ability to use air power against a popular uprising. For some, these calls are a cynical calculation to build a relationship with imperialism. For others, they merely seem the best way to stop Qaddafi's savage violence.

Thus, one Libyan blogger--whose friend was shot and killed in the demonstrations in Tripoli--wrote an article for the Guardian that rejects intervention by Western ground forces:

[A]ny military intervention on the ground by any foreign force would be met--as Mustafa Abud Al Jeleil, the former justice minister and head of the opposition-formed interim government, said--with fighting much harsher than what the mercenaries themselves have unleashed.

Nor do I favor the possibility of a limited air strike for specific targets. This is a wholly popular revolution, the fuel to which has been the blood of the Libyan people. Libyans fought alone when Western countries were busy ignoring their revolution at the beginning, fearful of their interests in Libya. This is why I'd like the revolution to be ended by those who first started it: the people of Libya.

But this same writer supports a Western-imposed no-fly zone:

I, like most Libyans, believe that imposing a no-fly zone would be a good way to deal the regime a hard blow on many levels; it would cut the route of the mercenary convoys summoned from Africa, it would prevent Gaddafi from smuggling money and other assets, and most importantly, it would stop the regime from bombing weapons arsenals that many eyewitnesses have maintained contain chemical weapons; something that would unleash an unimaginable catastrophe, not to mention that his planes might actually carry such weapons.

But there can be no doubt that a no-fly zone is a form of "military intervention." Even Pentagon officials warn that a no-fly zone would require the use of force, with a substantial risk of casualties. According to the Washington Post:

U.S. military officials have tried to emphasize that such an operation would not be bloodless. On Capitol Hill, Gen. James N. Mattis, the head of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate panel that it would be necessary to preemptively attack Libyan air-defense batteries and installations to ensure that they could not shoot down U.S. or NATO planes. "It would be a military operation," he said. "It wouldn't be just telling people not to fly airplanes."

No wonder the U.S. backed a resolution referring the investigation of war crimes committed by the Qaddafi regime to the International Criminal Court only after Washington secured a provision to exempt Americans from investigation or prosecution for any actions stemming from operations in Libya authorized by the UN Security Council. In other words, the U.S. doesn't want its own pilots to face prosecution for any war crimes that result from intervention.

AS THE Guardian's Seumas Milne points out, it's crucial to remember that the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were also justified as "humanitarian interventions," meant to save oppressed populations from the wrath of tyrannical regimes. As Milne put it:

It's as if the bloodbaths of Iraq and Afghanistan had been a bad dream. The liberal interventionists are back. As insurrection and repression has split Libya in two and the death toll has mounted, the old Bush-and-Blair battle cries have returned to haunt us.

The same Western leaders who happily armed and did business with the Qaddafi regime until a fortnight ago have now slapped sanctions on the discarded autocrat and blithely referred him to the international criminal court the United States won't recognize.

In truth, the real purpose of a U.S. military intervention would not be humanitarian, but the pursuit of U.S. interests in the continued flow of Libyan oil to Western markets. Hillary Clinton said as much at a March 1 meeting of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. According to the Washington Post:

Libya could face a "protracted civil war" without a strong U.S. and international response to the turmoil there, Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "The stakes are high," and a "strong and strategic American response will be essential" not only in Libya but also throughout the Middle East if the United States is to protect its own national security, she said.

The U.S. government can't be trusted as a genuine opponent of Qaddafi's tyranny--after all, Libya has moved closer and closer to Washington, especially since the September 11 attacks in 2001. Libya under Qaddafi was once a pariah state for the U.S., but for the last decade and more, it had become an example of a pariah that returned to the fold.

U.S. intervention would not save the Libyan people from Qaddafi--a dictator that Washington had learned to live with. Instead, it would become the means through which U.S. imperial control and influence would be strengthened in a country with vast oil wealth and--considering its location next to two countries, Egypt and Tunisia, that have experienced revolutions since the start of the year--great geopolitical importance.

OPPOSING U.S. intervention in Libya does not for one moment mean support for Qaddafi or his regime. This needs to be emphasized because some organizations that play a role in the antiwar movement, such as the Party for Liberation and Socialism and the Workers World Party, have made apologies for Qaddafi's authoritarian rule.

These groups ignore Qaddafi's crushing of dissent as well as his celebrated transformation after 9/11 from a demonized enemy into an ally of the U.S. in the "war on terror."

Now, Qaddafi is once again denounced as a tyrant by the U.S. political establishment. But U.S. intervention would not be an expression of support for the popular uprising against the dictator it once made an accommodation with.

If it were to take place, U.S. intervention would revive Qaddafi's authority, allowing him the opportunity to appeal for support as a defender of Libyan sovereignty against U.S. imperialism. And the point of intervention, as Clinton made clear, is not to safeguard Libya's self-determination, but to protect U.S. interests--and that means stabilizing Libya under the control of a new regime friendly to U.S. interests.

No doubt some sections of the old elite that sanctioned Qaddafi's brutality in the past are looking for an arrangement with the U.S. and other Western powers. These figures, even if they claim to speak for the "opposition," should not be confused with the mass uprising against Qaddafi.

U.S. officials would cherish a stable, pro-American Libya that could serve as a new strategic beachhead for U.S. military operations in the region--especially as decades of U.S. diplomacy to construct a network of pro-U.S. regimes in the Middle East unravels.

While the Pentagon may not relish the idea of invading another Muslim country while it struggles to hang on to its occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a strong U.S. presence could serve to dampen the wave of revolt sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. If other resistance leaders in the region think that mounting a challenge to their own dictator might result in a massive U.S. military presence, they might think twice.

These are the calculations that are taking place in the minds of U.S. officials--no one should take their newfound concern for the Libyan people seriously. As the Guardian's Milne points out:

Military action is needed, U.S. and British politicians claim, because Qaddafi is "killing his own people."

Hundreds have certainly died, but that's hard to take seriously as the principal motivation. When more than 300 people were killed by Hosni Mubarak's security forces in a couple of weeks, Washington initially called for "restraint on both sides." In Iraq, 50,000 U.S. occupation troops protect a government which last Friday killed 29 peaceful demonstrators demanding reform. In Bahrain, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, the regime has been shooting and gassing protesters with British-supplied equipment for weeks.

The "responsibility to protect" invoked by those demanding intervention in Libya is applied so selectively that the word hypocrisy doesn't do it justice. And the idea that states which are themselves responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in illegal wars, occupations and interventions in the last decade, along with mass imprisonment without trial, torture and kidnapping, should be authorized by international institutions to prevent killings in other countries is simply preposterous...

The reality is that the Western powers which have backed authoritarian kleptocrats across the Middle East for decades now face a loss of power in the most strategically sensitive region of the world as a result of the Arab uprisings and the prospect of representative governments. They are evidently determined to appropriate the revolutionary process wherever possible, limiting it to cosmetic change that allows continued control of the region...

Those calling for Western military action in Libya seem brazenly untroubled by the fact that throughout the Arab world, foreign intervention, occupation and support for dictatorship is regarded as central to the problems of the region. Inextricably tied up with the demand for democratic freedoms is a profound desire for independence and self-determination...

The Arab revolution will be made by Arabs, or it won't be a revolution at all.

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