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Left debates Libya: `This is Washington's war' -- Richard Seymour, 'Angry Arab' & Vijay Prashad on the rebel leadership

French president Nicholas Sarkozy greets rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril. Leaked US cables describe Jibril as being keen on a close relationship with the US and eager “to create a strategic partnership between private companies and the government”.

[For more left views on Libya, click HERE.]

Springtime for NATO in Libya

By Richard Seymour

April 4, 2011 -- Lenin's Tomb -- We now know what Washington's model is for the Middle East, in its most attractive guise. In answer to Egypt's Tahrir Square uprising, they have smoking craters filled with the charred remains of rebels, and conscript soldiers, and civilians and other blameless people who must have seen the joy in Egypt and Tunisia and wished it for themselves.

In answer to the turbulent, democratic republic with a vibrant and assertive working class, with its tumult of leftist, Nasserist, Islamist and liberal currents, its "revolution from below", they offer a prolonged civil war at best culminating in a settlement with [Gaddafi's son] Saif and his sibling. In answer to the popular committees, they have private agreements with regime defectors -- not forgetting that, in a sense, the NATO powers prosecuting the aerial war are themselves very recent regime defectors.

The Washington model has other variants, of course, which have been on display in Yemen and Bahrain. But the more glamorous liberal adaptation is present for all to see in Libya and it is notable for having more apologists than it has outright defenders.

Can I just risk a modest proposition? NATO, the CIA and the special forces belonging to the world's imperialist states are not forces of progress in this world. Does anyone disagree with that? If not, then it follows as surely as night follows day that the successful cooptation of the Libyan revolution by NATO, the CIA and special forces is a victory for reaction. It's no good hoping that the small, poorly armed, poorly trained militias of the east of Libya, who are now utterly dependent on external support, will somehow shake themselves free of such constraints once -- if -- they take power. Even if they eventually get some of the Libyan money that has been frozen by international banks, as UN Resolution 1973 promises, it will have come all too late to have been decisive.

I can well see how conservatives and liberals would see no loss at all in such a situation, nothing indeed but a net gain. It means after all that even if [Gaddafi] were to be overthrown at this point, it would not have been by a popular revolution. It would not have been because the revolution broadened its base and spread into Tripoli or Sirte. It would not have been under circumstances in which the panoply of social and political forces in Libya were fused into a victorious revolutionary bloc -- e pluribus unum and all that. And it would not have seen [Gaddafi]'s regime replaced by a popular one serving popular needs.

Were [Gaddafi] to fall tomorrow, he would fall to a network of former regime elements and their external backers. The regime that replaced [Gaddafi] may well be more liberal, the sort that young Saif was to be entrusted to deliver at one point, but it would not be a popular or democratic one. The migration deals with the European Union, the oil deals with multinationals and the arms deals to ensure the suppression of more radical political forces (under the rubric of containing "al Qaeda", that ubiquitous, shapeshifting enemy of the free world) would all be central planks of a post-bellum regime.

The liberal argument, which is to the fore, is strikingly apolitical -- and narcissistic. Only rarely do its advocates relate it to the shapeshifting revolutionary process currently underway in the Middle East. Rarer still is anything that could pass for analysis of Libya's internal dynamics. On the contrary, its preferred starting point is the solitary, decontextualised crisis point in which the "West" can redeem itself through military action.

There is in this the echo of colonial discourse: the missionaries, the deserving victims, the empire as protector of the meek and virtuous. It's very important for the defenders of "humanitarian intervention", "Responsibility 2 Protect" and so on (the clutter of inelegant jargon that accompanies such doctrines is a sure sign of their incoherence) that there should be an opportunity to use firepower, to moralise the means of violence. This is one reason, incidentally, why it never even occurred to them to wonder how it is that -- unlike in Iraq, which war they castigate as irresponsible -- there was never even the pretence of diplomacy. I am no pacifist, but I don't like to be told that there are no alternatives to airborne death when the alternatives haven't even been tried.

If the issue was the minimisation of bloodshed, then a logical solution would have been to allow Turkey and others to facilitate negotiations. Yes, I know. A negotiated settlement would be a step back from outright victory for the rebels. But that is an increasingly improbable outcome anyway, and I thought we were trying to save lives here?

And as it happens, a diplomatic solution seems to be exactly what is on the cards now. The transitional council leadership in Benghazi has acknowledged as much. [Gaddafi] is sending ambassadors to talk to interested parties about a ceasefire settlement. If this is how the situation is going to be resolved, then it would have been better that it had been resolved this way several weeks ago. If the aerial bombardment was supposed to stop massacres, it doesn't seem to have done so. From "Save Sarajevo" to "Save Benghazi", however, the liberal imperialists are in their glory when on the warpath, and as facile with rationalisations and false consolations as they are contemptuous of the same when deployed by the right.

So, as I say, it is natural that the usual assortment of cynics, security wonks and liberal hawks should be content with this annexing, even if their arguments in its favour make little sense. No one who supported the revolution, however, can be as content without also being a little naive or descending into bad faith arguments of the type: "we don't trust the bourgeois cops, but a rape victim should still call the police." Say what you like about the police, but one generally doesn't to find them blowing up neighbourhoods. Their role, in a word, is the suppression of conflict. The role of imperialist states in the world system is, to put it mildly, not that. And they are, I will not say "lawless", but not susceptible to any of the constraints that apply to even the most British of police officers. And I am not myself prepared to see the US, or any of its surrogates, as a global policeman just yet.

Worse still are the wised up comments to the effect that "the world is a murky place, blah blah, which should not be seen in black and white terms, yawn yawn, and we can't force people to die for the sake of some purist anti-imperialism, etc etc". No, indeed, but it's hardly better to expect people to die for the sake a woolly platitude. The war's handful of leftist apologists are living off the waning hope that out of this process will come a people's revolution. Why do they think this likely? No reason. Just 'cos. Press them particularly hard, and they'll revert to the parable of the good policeman, stretching the analogy beyond the point of satire in the process.

We can live in hope, of course. The proletariat, introduced into these arguments as a deus ex machina that will guarantee against any sell-out, betrayal, shoddy deal or undemocratic imposition, is the repository of this hope. But the workers of the eastern coastal cities and towns, having shown considerable courage in fighting [Gaddafi]'s forces, were unable to defeat them. And they have not been able to prevent the former regime elements from asserting control of the revolt, or from cutting a deal with NATO.

The number of rebels who are actually armed and in control is numerically small. As of late March, there were only about 1000 trained fighters among the rebels. There are estimated to be about 17,000 volunteers, but they are untrained, poorly armed and themselves a minority of the populations in which they operate. The Libyan working class -- set aside the fact that much of the actual working class resides in areas beyond rebel control -- is not in control of this process. General Abdel Fatah Younis, the former interior minister, is not even in control of this process.

The opposition leaders are now adjuncts to a NATO strategy which may not even have been disclosed to them. Let's at least give credit where it's due. This is NATO's war. And that means, this is Washington's war.

[This article first appeared at Richard Seymour's Lenin's Tomb. Seymour is a member of the British Socialist Workers Party and author of the Liberal Defence of Murder.]


'Angry Arab': It is no more a Libyan uprising

By As'ad AbuKhalil

April 4, 2011 -- I was as excited as anyone to see the Libyan people revolt against the lousy dictator, [Gaddafi]: a tyrant who one should hate with an extra measure of eccentricity because -- like Saddam [Hussein] -- he is particularly obnoxious and repugnant as far as tyrants are concerned. But I can't say now that I support the Libyan uprising: it is no more a Libyan uprising. The uprising has been hijacked by [Gaddafi] henchmen, Qatar foreign policy agenda and the agenda of Western governments. Count me out.

[As'ad AbuKhalil's Angry Arab blog is an influential and essential source of information on struggles in the Middle East.]


Vijay Prashad: America's Libyans

By Vijay Prashad

March 31, 2011 -- Counterpunch -- Libya was not fated for an Arab Spring. As Aijaz Ahmad once put it, “every country gets the fascism it deserves”. In that spirit, every country gets the rebellion it deserves. Libya did not deliver the uplifting spactacles of Tunisia or Egypt. Its rebellion had a history that stretches back a hundred years, and one that was not so easy to shake off. That east-west divide smothered any attempt by the working class in the western cities to rise to their full potential. Zintan was lost to [Gaddafi] briefly, but he took it back easily and then crushed the rebellion.

The upsurge from below enthused the lower orders of [Gaddafi]’s army in the east. They defected to the Benghazi rebels. Popular councils emerged in the cities and towns of the east. The east had sent a disproportionate number of its young to fight in Iraq. They did not go solely for the purposes of jihad, or only because they had admiration for al Qaeda. A US embassy official reported in 2008 (thank you Wikileaks) that the young men who went to Iraq did so in part because they could not effectively protest against [Gaddafi]. The official went to Derna. Upon his return to Tripoli, he filed [a] memorandum for his superiors (08TRIPOLI120).

[It reported that] the Benghazi council chose as its leader the colourless former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil. Jalil’s brain is Mahmoud Jibril, a former head of the National Economic Development Board (NEDB). A US embassy cable from May 11, 2009 (09TRIPOLI386) describes Jibril as keen on a close relationship with the US and eager “to create a strategic partnership between private companies and the government”. Jibril’s NEBD had collaborated with Ernst & Young and the Oxford Group to make the Libyan state more “efficient”. Jibril told the ambassador that “American companies and universities are welcome to join him” in the creation of new sectors outside hydrocarbons and that “we should take him up on his offer”. His PhD in strategic planning from the University of Pittsburg is useful in this context.

With Jalil and Jibril are the February 17 movement’s men. They take their name from an uprising in Benghazi on February 17, 2006, that was crushed by [Gaddafi]. These men (Fathi Boukhris, Farj Charrani, Mustafa Gheriani and All Ounes Mansouri) are all entrepreneurs. Gheriani told Jon Lee Anderson that they are “Western-educated intellectuals” who would lead the new state, not the “confused mobs or religious extremists”.

In December 23, 2010, before the Tunisian uprising, Boukhris, Charrani and Mansouri went to Paris to meet with [Gaddafi]’s old aide-de-camp, Nuri Mesmari, who had defected to the Concorde-Lafayette hotel. Mesmari was singing to the [French secret service] DGSE and Sarkozy about the weaknesses in the Libyan state. His man in Benghazi was Colonel Abdallah Gehani of the air defence corps. But Gehani would not be the chosen military leader. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) already had its man in mind. He would soon be in place.

By March 14, the military wing of the Benghazi rebellion had been turned over to an ex-colonel of the Libyan army, Khalifa Hifter and to the former interior minister, General Abdel Fateh Younis. Heftir made his name in [Gaddafi]’s war against Chad in the 1980s. At some point in that conflict, Hifter turned against [Gaddafi], joined the Libyan National Salvation Front, and operated his resistance out of Chad. When the US-supported government of Chad, led by Hisséne Habré fell in 1990, Heftir fled Chad for the United States. It is interesting that an ex-colonel of the Libyan army was able to so easily gain entry into the United States. Also of interest is the fact that Hifter took up residence in Vienna, Virginia, less than seven miles from Langley, Virginia, the headquarters of the CIA.

In Virginia, Hifter formed the Libyan National Army. In 1996, Hifter’s army attempted an armed rebellion against [Gaddafi] in the eastern part of Libya. It failed. But that did not stop his plans. History called him back 15 years later. In March 2011, Hifter flew into Benghazi to take command of the defecting troops, joining Younis whose troops had been routed from Ras Lanouf on March 12. They faced the advance of [Gaddafi]’s forces toward Benghazi.

It was in this context, with the uprising now firmly usurped by a neoliberal political leadership and a CIA-backed military leadership, that talk of a no-fly zone emerged (Resolution 1973 went through the United Nationa Security Council on March 19, and the bombing began immediately). The US and France provided crucial air support for the rebels.

With the hands on the political and military tiller firmly in the US camp, it is no surprise that the armed response has escalated. UN Resolution 1973 created a no-fly zone to protect civilians. Within hours it was clear that the no-fly zone was used to provide air support for the rebel army. The US and France said that no ground forces would be used. Technology has rendered the idea of “ground forces” redundant. The US brought its AC130 gunships and A10s into operation over the skies of Libya. These are not designed to help patrol the sky, but are capable of hovering in the sky and firing at ground troops and at heavy machinery with its cannons (including a 40 mm Bofors cannon) and machine guns. The AC130 is essentially “boots in the air” and its presence shows that the US arsenal (even under NATO command) is no longer patrolling the skies, but is actively engaged against the [Gaddafi] forces on the ground. In addition, the US inserted a phrase in Resolution 1973 that opened the door to eventual arms provision to the rebels (the phrase is notwithstanding paragraph 9 of 1970, which essentially means that Resolution 1973 will allow member states to “take all necessary measures” including arms delivery, notwithstanding the arms embargo of Resolution 1970).

On March 26, White House spokesperson Jay Carney told the press that the resolution provided the US with “flexibility within that to take that action [supply military equipment] if we thought that were the right way to go”. In other words, the arms embargo is flexible. On March 27, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told NBC’s David Gregory that on the question of arms supply, “No decision has been made about that at this point”. Escalation is on the horizon.

The troops of [Gaddafi] and of the rebels swing back and forth between Ras Lanuf and Ajtabia like a pendulum. US and French air strikes have degraded the forces of the regime, but they have not yet destroyed them. The civil war continues. If the US and France start to supply the rebels, it is likely that in the long haul [Gaddafi]’s troops will dissolve into an insurgency. In which case, Libya is likely to enter a protracted period of deep instability.

The figures in place in Benghazi from the political and military side would hope to ride into Tripoli on their own tanks, but under NATO air cover. They have many to whom they owe much. People like Mahmoud Jibril and Khalifa Hifter will be more accountable to their patrons in Paris and Washington than to the people of Libya, whose blood is being spilled on both sides for an outcome that is unlikely to benefit them.

[This article first appeared at Counterpunch. Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner chair of South Asian History and director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out.]

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