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The left debates Libya: The Libyan revolution, imperialism and the left

 

Libyan rebels.

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

By Renfrey Clarke

May 3, 2011 -- The “default” response of the left to imperialist interventions of the kind now under way against the Gaddafi regime in Libya has always been militantly hostile, and rightly so. How often has imperialism, as it throws its armed weight around, acted to advance the cause of workers and the oppressed? Members of the left who apply their raw class experience in such cases will not often find themselves in error.

That does not, however, absolve us from the toil of research and analysis. It’s still possible that amid the complexities and contradictions of world politics capitalist powers in rare cases will act in ways which – however briefly, obliquely and inconsistently – coincide with the interests of the global masses.

To fail to identify such an episode is, to put it mildly, not a good look for the left. That’s because our reflex of opposing imperialism’s forays can, in such instances, propel us into positions that are not just embarrassing in retrospect, but which can do lasting damage to our cause.

In my view, just such a coincidence between the machinations of imperialism and specific interests of the world’s oppressed exists in Libya today. If this is the case, can we on the left stick with our traditions and demand that the imperialists stop what they’re doing forthwith? If imperialism were somehow to heed our pleas and cease bombing Gaddafi’s forces, then the Libyan insurgency would more or less inevitably be smashed, and its participants and sympathisers would be killed in large numbers.

On the face of it, the very hint of such a paradox ought to see us stopped in our tracks. What are we doing, backing Gaddafi and his hangmen? But as we know, complex political questions are not to be met with snap judgements. Before we decide that the global left has no choice for the present but to tolerate the bombing, there are analytical issues that must be worked through.

A living revolution?

By any reasonable estimate, the Libyan revolt would have been crushed except for the fact that imperialism on March 19 came to its rescue. Doesn’t the very fact that the revolt could not sustain itself against Gaddafi’s forces except through military intervention by the US, France and Britain – long-time oppressors of the developing world – mean it was already dead by definition? Doesn’t accepting help from such sources rule out any conceivable progressive outcome?

At the very least, revolutionaries need to remember that accepting imperialist help always poses risks and carries definite political costs. Global capitalism, we should reflect, has its own agendas which are not those of the world’s workers and oppressed. Imperialist support always comes with strings attached; to receive this support and keep it coming, political programs must typically be cut back, and blocs with potential allies foregone.

Further, accepting aid from imperialism always legitimises the imperialists to some degree. Political credit that big capitalist powers build up by aiding progressive causes such as that of the Libyan rebels is available to be used for confusing mass opinion throughout the world. It can be used to weaken the popular response to acts of aggression that have no progressive content whatsoever.   

The question of whether to call for or accept imperialist aid is thus subtle and many sided. A living revolution, even if compromised by imperialist help, is obviously better than an immaculate corpse. But this “help” can be so overwhelming that it effectively overruns the revolution and alters its essential character. In place of a popular politico-military struggle waged with imperialist assistance, we are liable to find a war of imperial aggrandisement in which the popular element is only incidental. Even if the forms of rule that result from victory represent an advance – say, a bourgeois-democratic regime that provides a certain space for popular organising, in place of a repressive dictatorship – the political cost to the wider anti-imperialist movement may be so massive that it renders trivial any local gains that might be made. 

In most of the contributions to this debate so far, some or all of the above-noted objections are put forward and used to try to demonstrate that however painful the immediate results might be, the wider interests of the world’s workers and oppressed rule out any variety of support, or even toleration, for imperialism’s intervention in Libya. This is clearly not a mad conclusion, and it doesn’t diminish my regard for the comrades who draw it. Still, I think it’s wrong, or at best without adequate basis in the facts that have emerged to date.

So what are these facts that determine whether imperialism’s bombs have indeed kept the Libyan revolution alive, and whether the potential for an overall progressive balance sheet survives? This discussion will be more pertinent if we first define the stakes in more detail: if the intervention had not gone ahead, would the consequences for the Libyan masses have been as horrific as commonly predicted? 

Hysteria?

To justify its “humanitarian” action, imperialism put about a scenario which some on the left have described as “hysteria about genocide”. Genocide is indeed too strong a term, but there is a great deal more behind the warnings than mere hysteria.

As reported by Reuters on March 17, Gaddafi in a radio broadcast threatened the people of the rebel city of Benghazi in these terms:

We will come… house by house, room by room… We will have no mercy and no pity.

When you prime your troops in this fashion, you aren’t planning to have them stick to international military law in their treatment of non-combatants.

The Gaddafi regime, of course, has a long history of slaughtering its opponents. Human Rights Watch has reported that 1270 prisoners were killed following a 1996 riot in Abu Salim prison. Amnesty International on March 29 stated:

Thousands of unresolved cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions have occurred during Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s rule.

 In a number of well-documented cases, the regime has staged public hangings of dissidents, later rebroadcasting the executions on television. Some accounts have had Gaddafi supervising proceedings in person.

In a recent six-week investigation in eastern Libya, Amnesty International is reported to have “found strong evidence that Colonel al-Gaddafi’s forces have deliberately killed unarmed protesters, directly attacked civilian residents fleeing the fighting, committed enforced disappearances, and tortured detainees”.     

Since then, we’ve learnt of the use by the regime of Grad missiles against residential districts of Misrata, as well as of cluster munitions. We have to conclude that if Gaddafi’s forces were to overrun Benghazi the death toll would be atrocious. Gaddafi is not a gentler soul than was Hafez Assad, and when Assad put down a revolt in the Syrian city of Hama in February 1982, the number who died has been estimated at 20,000.

To move on, do the facts support the view that the Libyan revolution is now dead, or as one participant in the debate has it, “terminally weak”?

As I’ve indicated, Benghazi was in dire peril on March 19 when the bombing began. But the reverses the revolution had suffered by this point need to be placed in a wider context.

The key element here is the fact that the revolution in February and early March showed itself to be overwhelmingly popular in all but a few regions of the country. Wikipedia records that by February 25, 10 days after the first demonstrations, the only Libyan cities still under government control were the capital Tripoli and two relatively small centres: Sirte, the traditional home of Gaddafi’s own tribe, and the remote oil town of Sabha.

Nothing compels the view that this broad underlying detestation of the regime has since ebbed. Imperialist attacks can at times steer national feeling into support for odious political leaders, but before we decide that Gaddafi has benefited from this effect in any marked way, we need serious evidence. Foreign journalists in Tripoli report that pro-regime demonstrations have not been especially large, and have had a visibly contrived nature. Meanwhile, the people of Misrata have fought the regime with desperate courage, while calling for the bombing to be expanded. Libyans in the liberated zones obviously know that the air attacks compromise their national sovereignty, but see ousting Gaddafi as the priority. Intriguingly, a distinction seems to be drawn in mass thinking between bombing Gaddafi’s forces, which is highly popular, and the use of foreign ground combat troops, which has mostly been opposed.

In terms of popular conviction and attachment, we have to conclude, the Libyan revolution still commands strong allegiance even in most of the regions now under Gaddafi’s control. True, there have been no massive splits in the regime’s armed forces; even during the tsunami of anti-regime sentiment in February and March, fewer than 10 per cent of the troops broke ranks. But there is no special reason to think the army rank and file are more enamoured of Gaddafi than Libyans in general. The regime rules by terror, and discipline in the armed forces is ferocious.

The failure of the revolution to prevail militarily also reflects the country’s geography. Most of Libya is relatively flat, open desert, some of the worst terrain imaginable for guerrilla warfare. An exception is the Berber district of the Nafusa mountains, south-west of Tripoli; this was one of the first regions to rise up, and a significant though under-reported insurgency continues there.

In open desert, the key weapons are aircraft, armoured vehicles and mobile artillery. Possession of these initially gave the regime a strong military advantage despite its political weakness. But a foreign air campaign against these weapons is capable of largely cancelling this advantage, allowing political factors to weigh more heavily. When the rebels called on foreign powers to bomb Gaddafi’s forces, this seems to have been their calculation.

Guerrilla warfare, of course, can also take on an urban form. An Associated Press report on April 22 related: “Rarely a night passes without heavy gunfire at neighbourhood checkpoints from roving bands of protesters, said a Libyan journalist in Tripoli.”

A Tripoli physician turned activist is quoted as saying:

The attacks are so frequent and widespread that it suggests the groups are numerous and well equipped.

Overall, the state of the conflict certainly does not bear out the argument that the condition of the revolution is “terminal”. A common characterisation is that the struggle is in “stalemate”, but this does not take into account a series of longer-term factors which have caused US Army War College Middle East specialist Andrew Terrill to remark:

Time is much more on the rebels’ side. The rebels are getting stronger and Gaddafi is getting weaker (Al Jazeera, April 18).

The Libyan regime has large reserves of gold and foreign currency. But while this can be used to hire mercenaries – the rebels report hearing radio exchanges in French and Russian – it is of little use for obtaining heavy weapons in the face of an effective sea blockade. The chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told journalists on April 22 that air strikes had cost Gaddafi “somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent of his main ground forces” and the losses are continuing. The rate of attrition will be increased by breakdowns; most of the regime’s tanks date from before 1970, and maintenance has reputedly been inferior. Even the more modern tanks, a small number of Soviet-made T-72s, are vulnerable to today’s shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets.

The quality of the regime’s troops is also suspect. According to French defence minister Gerard Longuet, quoted in a Bloomberg report on April 18, Gaddafi’s soldiers number about 10,000. The dictator, however, mistrusted his military and kept most of the soldiers poorly trained and equipped; his crack troops, effectively an expanded palace guard, are put by Wikipedia at only about 2000. A British Telegraph report from April 19 relates that regime soldiers captured in Misrata included ill-trained conscripts as young as 15. Morale among the soldiers, forced to advance by the certainty of being shot by their officers if they turn and run, is reportedly low.

While the effectiveness of Gaddafi’s forces is on a downward trajectory, that of the rebels’ “Libyan People’s Army” is improving. An Al Jazeera article on April 19 reported that the rebel forces in the east “now resemble a trained militia, if not an army”. In Misrata the rebels have prevailed over Gaddafi’s troops in house-to-house fighting, liberating the main urban area and clearing it of snipers. Weapons are starting to flow to the rebels from outside Libya, though the quantities are still badly inadequate. According to the Guardian on April 14, officials in Doha confirmed that Qatar had been shipping French-made Milan anti-tank missiles to Benghazi. On April 15 CNN reported that one of its teams in eastern Libya had “(seen) the rebels with anti-tank missiles, which they didn’t have before”.

A key long-term strategic advantage for the rebels is the fact that notionally at least they have most of the country’s oil, and the prospect eventually of selling it. More than 70 per cent of Libya’s oil reserves are in the east, on the traditional territory of tribes now aligned with Benghazi. Some oil has already been shipped from rebel-held areas via a port near Tobruk, and Reuters on April 19 reported that at a meeting scheduled for Rome in May, representatives of Western and Middle Eastern states would seek ways to enable oil from Libyan rebel areas to be sold on world markets. Hit-and-run attacks by Gaddafi supporters have stopped the flow for the present, but rebel sources reportedly believe it can be restored.

Diplomatic advances are steadily enhancing the claim of the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) to be entitled to make use of Libyan state assets held abroad. France, Italy, Qatar, Kuwait, the Maldives and Gambia currently have full diplomatic relations with Benghazi. At the “contact group” meeting of NATO and Middle Eastern countries in Qatar on April 13, participants took a position just short of full recognition, stating that the TNC was “in contrast with the current regime … a legitimate interlocutor, representing the aspirations of the Libyan people”. The meeting saw the launch of a temporary finance mechanism which, according to NATO country officials, will give the rebels access to Gaddafi regime funds now frozen in European banks. Legal obstacles appear to preclude any swift transfers, and in the meantime, Reuters reported on April 29, the TNC has only 40 per cent of the funds it needs to operate through to the end of May. But the money in Gaddafi’s foreign accounts gives the TNC a basis on which to seek bridging loans. Recognised increasingly as a legitimate government, and backed by international credits, the TNC is likely to be able to make the arms purchases and hire the military trainers it needs if the revolt is to build on the strong political edge it holds over the Tripoli regime.

Meanwhile, a potentially fatal medium-term weakness of the Gaddafi regime is its uncertain ability to supply food to the areas it controls. Various sources put the proportion of Libyan foodstuffs that have been imported in recent years at between 60 and 80 per cent. On April 28 the World Food Program warned that Libya was at risk of a full-blown food security crisis within 45-60 days. Food imports by the regime are not banned under the UN sanctions, but in generally tight world food markets sellers can pick their customers. The precarious state of the Gaddafi government will inhibit the signing of new contracts.   

The Libyan rebel cause, we have to conclude, is not by any means in “terminal” condition. But with its dependence on imperialist support, is it still a revolution? Has the bombing altered realities in Libya to the point where the popular struggle is simply an excrescence on an imperialist war?

A conflict between Libyans

The imperialist intervention has changed the general strategic equation in Libya by eroding Gaddafi’s heavy-weapons advantage. What it has not done is to transform the dominant picture of a conflict fought out between Libyans. The bombs that fell on Gaddafi’s armoured columns saved Benghazi, but it was not imperialism that drove Gaddafi’s troops out of Misrata; that was achieved through an extraordinary mobilisation of citizens into an improvised military force that battled the regime house-to-house over several months. The bombing in and around Misrata was an important factor, but nowhere near decisive, as Gaddafi’s forces soon learned to conceal their rocket batteries inside half-destroyed buildings.

In the Nafusa mountains there has been little bombing; here, the regime faces an unwinnable parallel with the Afghan war, as it tries to suppress lightly armed but determined fighters operating on rugged terrain they know intimately. In the east, the air assault on the regime’s mobile forces has weighed more heavily. But this is also the theatre in which the largely spontaneous self-organisation of the masses to resist Gaddafi has reached its broadest scope. This is where civilian members of local defence groups patrol their neighbourhoods, and where volunteers in improvised workshops repair armoured vehicles and refashion helicopter rocket pods into shoulder-fired missile launchers.

The imperialist intervention remains crucial for tipping the military balance away from Gaddafi and saving the rebels from short-term defeat. But in the absence of full-scale invasion – which, as will be explained, would be hard for the NATO powers to engineer – the intervention shows no sign of being decisive for overthrowing the dictatorship. Regime change in Libya has now shaped up as a task fundamentally for the Libyan masses, to be fought out almost certainly over many gruelling months.

In the country’s east, the lesson that is emerging from the processes of building new state bodies is that institutions with close ties to the masses are essential for an effective resistance to the dictatorship. The people who set up the TNC in late February, as described by an insightful February 27 Flight of the Silawa post, were from the old elites: “…a minister, senior officers, tribal leaders… They had some authority under the old regime … without being completely tainted by it…”

Speaking of the Gaddafi defectors in the new administration, Der Spiegel on March 30 was less kind: “Most of these men, in their ironed shirts and ties, were ministers, ambassadors, military officers or businessmen... They all had good lives under the Gaddafi regime.”

Ranged increasingly against these types, especially at the local level, are the kind of people whose activism is described in a February 28 Democracy Now posting: “One group calling itself the Coalition of the February 17 Revolution – which is made up of doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, workers, students – just established a [Benghazi] city council to manage the day-to-day activities of the city.”

These people (significant numbers of them are women) tend to have much stronger community links than the old potentates. Unlike the latter, they are gaining a reputation for being able to get decisions implemented.

Meanwhile, the new Libyan People’s Army will be exactly that – not a professional army, but one drawn heavily from among youth (the median age in Libya is just 22), students and the poor. Gaddafi, for all his oil wealth and populist rhetoric, still left a third of Libyans beneath the official poverty line.

In the course of a drawn-out struggle, people active in the institutions closest to the masses will acquire confidence, political grasp and growing authority. We can expect that as time goes on, the TNC will find itself squeezed not just by imperialism from above, but also by the organised population from below.

The future bourgeois-democratic state in Libya will not be independent of imperialism in any thoroughgoing sense. Relying on oil sales for some 95 per cent of its export earnings, and on foreign oil firms for its industry technology, it will face the full distorting pressures of the global capitalist market. But we shouldn’t conclude from this that the bourgeois-democratic institutions that are eventually set up, or the formal liberties that are gained, will be shams without meaningful content. Once the Gaddafi regime has been defeated, the broad nature of the liberation struggle will mean that the country’s half-formed new elites and their foreign allies will find it hard to deny the democratic elections and freedom of organisation and speech that have been promised. Nor will the foreign oil corporations inevitably win the free play with Libya’s oil resources they unquestionably hope for.

Imperialism and its constraints

Might it still be surmised, though, that this picture is far too optimistic? Once set in motion, isn’t the “train that can’t be stopped” of foreign intervention destined to roar right over the Libyan character of the revolution? Won’t the bombing campaign be followed inevitably by “boots on the ground”, rationalised perhaps as humanitarian action to save the population of Misrata? Won’t leftists in other countries who fail to rigorously oppose the use of force by imperialism end up as mere appendages of imperialist aggression? Won’t the masses elsewhere in the Arab world be demoralised, turning the “Arab Spring” back to winter?

None of these outcomes is impossible by definition. But the thinking here, like the train, is essentially mechanical.

As I write, thousands of Syrians are camped in the main square of the city of Homs, facing off the security forces that have fired live ammunition at similar gatherings in previous days. So far, the bombing in Libya hasn’t robbed the broader Arab revolt of its virulence. None of us should doubt that there are imperialists who would love to plant thousands of US marines on the shores of Tripoli, just as in the hymn. But it would be speculative to argue that key imperialist sectors have been gripped by invasion fever. For the global left, a correct political course here is not to be charted by invoking the “essential” nature of a stock model of imperialism. There is no alternative to detailed study of the specific players, of the conjunctures they inhabit, of their strengths, weaknesses and peculiar motivations, and of the alliances and antagonisms in which they find themselves.

The most general characterisation that can be made of 21st century imperialism, particularly since 2008, is that it is a system in crisis. The effects of the misnamed “global financial crisis” have not spent themselves, and act as powerful constraints on the actions of capitalist governments. That might seem elementary, but it is astonishing how rarely the general sickness of imperialism, and its diminished options, have figured in the debate among leftists on what the NATO powers might do in relation to Libya.

Most crucially, the constraints operate in the area of government financing. This has been argued emphatically by former US Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley, cited by an Arena report on April 8 as stating:

We spent a trillion dollars on regime change in Iraq. We literally cannot afford to do that in Libya through military means alone.

None of the major capitalist powers wants to pay the cost of a massive or prolonged intervention in Libya. Obama is having to battle to stave off big cuts to key domestic programs. Cameron is equally unwilling, as he courts electoral oblivion by unleashing a holocaust against social spending in Britain.

Also crucial is the fact that the military machines of key imperialist players are overstretched carrying on their present aggression. The Pentagon lacks resources to defeat the resistance in Iraq and particularly, Afghanistan; officials from Robert Gates down reportedly responded with coolness to the idea of any intervention in Libya, and remain hostile to suggestions of a major, boots-on-the-ground role in that country. The British armed forces chiefs face big cuts in their budget allocations, and have even more cause to resist “mission creep”.

A further reason for imperialist military strategists to oppose a large-scale ground intervention in Libya is the fact that in strategic terms the country is simply not very important. Even the loss of its oil shipments is being absorbed by world markets. The attention of military thinkers will be focused on the developing struggle in Syria – a country with four times Libya’s population, located in the centre of the Islamic world and on the borders of Israel. The US in particular will resist committing troops to an invasion of Libya in a period when Israel, its key ally in the region, faces the “instability” represented by a large, militant Syrian liberation movement. 

Another deterrent to boots-on-the-ground intervention is more strictly political: support for the idea appears small among voters in any of the imperialist countries that might be called upon to contribute. The IMRA site on April 22 cited a Rasmussen Reports poll of likely US voters which recorded that only 13 per cent viewed the current level of US backing for the Libyan insurrection as “not enough”. Forty-one per cent viewed the current US commitment as “about right”, and 32 per cent as “too much”, while 14 per cent were not sure. 

In sum, the intervention in its current air-warfare form shows no sign of being “a train that can’t be stopped”. Rather, it is a train that was set going only with difficulty, that lacks much momentum, and which at times has seemed in danger of being lost in the shunting yards. The US administration, viewing Libya as peripheral to US security interests and essentially a problem for Europeans, withdrew its aircraft from front-line bombing after less than a fortnight; the arrival on the scene of US drone aircraft is only a minor reversal of this pullback. The picture that emerges of the European NATO powers is not of unity and resolve, but of a grid of cross-purposes. Germany and Turkey want nothing to do with the intervention. Of the 28 NATO countries only 16 are reportedly playing any military role, and of these no more than eight – France, Britain, Italy, the US, Belgium, Canada, Norway and Denmark – are taking part directly in the bombing campaign.

As well as the airborne intervention, other elements of imperialism’s orientation to the Libyan revolution also lack agreement and strategic coherence. The French, British and Americans evidently expected the Gaddafi regime to fold quickly; when it failed to do so, the demand that the leading imperialist powers help equip and train a rebel army presented them with an unwelcome dilemma. Partly in deference to the UN arms embargo on Libya, but above all from self-serving political calculations, the effort to build a rebel force capable of advancing against Gaddafi has been starved of big-power support. Prominent US Senator John McCain has called on the Obama administration to arm the rebels, but administration and Pentagon sources speak of the danger of allowing advanced weapons to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists – code for imperialism’s extreme wariness about supporting any struggle it does not directly control. Overt material assistance has been limited to non-lethal goods such as body armour. The training effort has been confined to providing a few dozen specialists in military organisation and logistics.

To circumvent legal and diplomatic problems, the imperialist powers have the option of assigning the job of weapons donor to minor allies. So far, only Qatar has admitted, tacitly, to sending arms shipments. Libyan rebel spokespeople refer in veiled terms to receiving other weapons from “friendly countries”. The quantities, though, are clearly small, and there is no special reason to think the shipments owe much, or anything, to imperialist instigation. 

On the ground if not in the air, the task of defeating Gaddafi has been thrust firmly into the hands of the insurgents, forced whether they like it or not to rely on their own commitment and ingenuity. From the scantiness of big power material assistance, many rebels have drawn the lesson that imperialism is ambivalent about supporting the popular cause in Libya, and democratic freedoms in general. In rebel-held Benghazi, there has been at least one demonstration against NATO.

There may be some corners of the globe where the intervention has fed illusions about the supposedly benign and progressive motives of the big capitalist powers. But this seems less and less the case among the Libyan fighters, and their allies in other Arab countries do not appear to be deluded either. Poll results released by the Pew Global Attitudes Project on April 25, more than two months into the Libya operation, showed just 20 per cent of Egyptians holding a favourable opinion of the US, with 79 per cent taking the opposite view. This finding was reportedly more hostile to the US than under Bush in 2006.

Decisions and dangers

The overall picture that emerges of the imperialist intervention in Libya is thus of confusion, division, fiscal and military incapacity, and to a notable degree, reluctance. The possibility of imperialist “boots on the ground” reaching the point where doubt is cast on the essentially Libyan character of the struggle against Gaddafi has to be assessed as remote. This assessment must now be fed into the calculations of the global left.

If the prospect of imperialism substantially escalating its intervention in Libya is minimal, then for the left to tolerate the bombing campaign is not critically dangerous for us. Of course, for opponents of capitalism there is always an element of gambling in giving even conditional support to acts of war by imperialist countries. But hopefully, we did not join the left in order to feel safe, or to dodge unpleasant decisions. If we refuse to make this wager, our only other clear option – of demanding an immediate end to the no-fly zone and the bombing – would lead if enacted to the smashing of the Libyan revolution more or less as night follows day. The demoralising impact of this defeat on the struggles in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere would probably not be decisive, but it would not be inconsiderable either.

Meanwhile, demanding an immediate halt to the intervention puts us in quite real peril in the Australian political context. It’s only been through luck that some Guy Rundle of the social democracy hasn’t taken serious points off the left, smearing us all over the bourgeois media as pawns of the Gaddafi dictatorship. But perhaps I speak too soon.

Carrying through a major change of line is always a delicate political task, and there is a need to think in detail about how the shift to a position of tolerating the intervention might proceed. It needs to be explained that any support we give to actions of imperialism is highly conditional, and subject to being withdrawn as the situation alters. Introduction of substantial numbers of imperialist ground combat troops would see us change our position instantly. We should also make clear that any support is limited in time; at the point when Gaddafi’s key advantages – in terms of aircraft, armour and mobile artillery – cease to be crucial, our tolerance of the NATO intervention will turn into opposition. To bring this date forward, we should place heavy stress on the demand that the imperialist powers expedite the arming and training of the Libyan rebels. In particular, ways should be found to supply the rebel forces with ample quantities of modern anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, so that the bombing and the no-fly zone become redundant. 

Our campaigning around the Libyan revolution takes place largely in a peace-movement context, so there is a need for formulations that will have traction in these circles. What do we raise, when the immediate logic of the demand “End the intervention!” is support for Gaddafi and his cut-throats? Most productive, in my view, would be a focus on the astutely framed ceasefire demand put forward by the TNC. This calls for Gaddafi and his family to leave Libya, for the regime’s armed forces to withdraw from the cities and for armed hostilities, including the NATO intervention, to then cease.

These are the minimum conditions for an end to the killing. True, they would leave Gaddafi’s army and security apparatus intact. But as the rebels obviously calculate, an end to the fighting on these terms would cause the political mobilisation of the masses to re-ignite, and where this would lead is not in doubt.

If we were to campaign on this basis, we would clearly be neither apologists for NATO aggression, nor bed mates of Gaddafi. We would be realistic-minded advocates of an enduring peace, and our political position would be unassailable.

[Renfrey Clarke is an Australian writer and long-time left activist, currently living in Adelaide. Throughout the 1990s he was Green Left Weekly correspondent in Moscow.]

Comments

Excellent commentary

I must commend Renfrey Clarke for this detailed, throughful, balanced and objective analysis of the situation in Libya.

Marce Cameron

response to Renfrey Clarke

Renfrey says: "If imperialism were somehow to heed our pleas and cease bombing Gaddafi’s forces, then the Libyan insurgency would more or less inevitably be smashed, and its participants and sympathisers would be killed in large numbers."

Opposition forces are being violently repressed in many countries, including Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, etc. Would Renfrey advocate imperialist military intervention in all of these countries?

It is not at all uncommon for people suffering from oppression to appeal to the imperialist powers to rescue them. Examples include East Timor, Bosnia, Kosova, the Kurds in Iraq, and the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

I am not necessarily against such intervention in all cases. The DSP supported Australian troops going into East Timor in 1999. But we never developed a clear set of criteria for deciding when to support and when to oppose military intervention.

In the case of Libya I am not convinced we should support the bombing. The imperialists are bombing Libya because they want to remove Gaddafi and put more reliable clients in power.

Renfrey says: "In the country’s east, the lesson that is emerging from the processes of building new state bodies is that institutions with close ties to the masses are essential for an effective resistance to the dictatorship. The people who set up the TNC in late February, as described by an insightful February 27 Flight of the Silawa post, were from the old elites: “…a minister, senior officers, tribal leaders… They had some authority under the old regime … without being completely tainted by it…”
"Speaking of the Gaddafi defectors in the new administration, Der Spiegel on March 30 was less kind: “Most of these men, in their ironed shirts and ties, were ministers, ambassadors, military officers or businessmen... They all had good lives under the Gaddafi regime.”
"Ranged increasingly against these types, especially at the local level, are the kind of people whose activism is described in a February 28 Democracy Now posting: “One group calling itself the Coalition of the February 17 Revolution – which is made up of doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, workers, students – just established a [Benghazi] city council to manage the day-to-day activities of the city.”

What is the evidence that these people are "ranged increasingly against" the TNC? I would like to think so, but I have seen no reports of any such conflict.

Renfrey says: "Meanwhile, the new Libyan People’s Army will be exactly that – not a professional army, but one drawn heavily from among youth (the median age in Libya is just 22), students and the poor."

Most armies are recruited form the young and the poor. The question is who leads them. As far as I can tell, the rebel army is led by the TNC. Furthermore they are heavily dependent on the imperialists for air support, arms supplies, training, funding etc.

Renfrey says: "Once the Gaddafi regime has been defeated, the broad nature of the liberation struggle will mean that the country’s half-formed new elites and their foreign allies will find it hard to deny the democratic elections and freedom of organisation and speech that have been promised. Nor will the foreign oil corporations inevitably win the free play with Libya’s oil resources they unquestionably hope for."

A post-Gaddafi Libya would be dependent on oil revenue, just like Gaddafi. The imperialists control the world oil market. If the new government fails to implement neoliberal policies, the imperialists can cut off the oil revenue.

Renfrey says: "A further reason for imperialist military strategists to oppose a large-scale ground intervention in Libya is the fact that in strategic terms the country is simply not very important."

In a world running short of oil, every country with significant oil reserves is important.

Renfrey says: "The possibility of imperialist “boots on the ground” reaching the point where doubt is cast on the essentially Libyan character of the struggle against Gaddafi has to be assessed as remote."

Imperialism normally relies primarily on local forces to control third world countries. Large scale invasions by imperialist ground troops are the exception rather than the rule. The question is whether the leadership of these local forces is pro-imperialist. It seems to me that the TNC is pro-imperialist.

Renfrey says: "Introduction of substantial numbers of imperialist ground combat troops would see us change our position instantly."

Why? If you believe, as Renfrey does, that imperialist military intervention is necessary, why is aerial bombardment better than ground troops? I don't recall Renfrey opposing the use of Australian ground troops in East Timor.

Renfrey says: "What do we raise, when the immediate logic of the demand “End the intervention!” is support for Gaddafi and his cut-throats? Most productive, in my view, would be a focus on the astutely framed ceasefire demand put forward by the TNC. This calls for Gaddafi and his family to leave Libya, for the regime’s armed forces to withdraw from the cities and for armed hostilities, including the NATO intervention, to then cease."

This is NOT a "ceasefire demand". It is a demand for Gaddafi to accept defeat. But since the rebels can't defeat Gaddafi by themselves, they must rely on the imperialists to help them do it.

The rebels have rejected proposals for a ceasefire from the African Union and the ALBA countries. In my view this is unfortunate. If a ceasefire actually came into effect, this would create better conditions for political struggle.

The rebels' opposition to a ceasefire and insistence on a military solution - which can only be obtained with massive imperialist support - counts against them in my opinion. I think we should support the call for a ceasefire. (There might need to be some sort of international ceasefire monitoring group to discourage violations).

It's simple really....

.... when a civilian population is being shelled by their government and appeals for international assistance you support actions that assist them.

We must not forget that the Gaddafi dictatorship has wilfully targetted civilian areas with mortar attacks including the use of cluster bombs, especially in Misrata, where Gaddafi forces are responsible for at least five thousand of civilian casualties in
that city alone - more than twenty times the total civilian casualties resulting from the entire UN intervention.

We must not be so patronising to assume that the Libyan population are not unaware that those who are engaging in the intervention do not have their own ulterior motives.

Yes, the intervention could occur elsewhere. However an appeal from the people of Libya for protection that does not denigrate other claims.

Could the intervention be stopped through negotiation? Most certainly. The UN Security Council resolution simply calls for an end of attacks on civilians, and the Gaddafi regime told the UN that it was ceasing military operations and would comply. However within a day their artillery continued shelling Misrata and Ajdabiya.

Dependency and Revolution in Libya: a Reply to Chris Slee

Dependency and Revolution in Libya: a Reply to Chris Slee

Renfrey Clarke

Chris in his thoughtful and probing style has identified a number of assertions in my article that could use expanding and refining. He also makes the very apposite point that the left lacks adequate criteria for deciding whether imperialist military interventions in developing countries should be opposed or given critical support.
In my article, I tried to outline what some of the criteria for taking such a decision might be. It seems to me that the left may be obliged to tolerate imperialist military intervention when a genuine progressive struggle of mass scope is present; when the struggle has a good chance of surviving and triumphing if, but only if, assistance is given; when the consequences of defeat would be drastic for progressive forces in the country concerned (and perhaps more widely); and when the likelihood is remote that the intervention will reach the degree where it transforms the essential nature of the conflict, turning it from a popular mass struggle into an imperialist war in relation to which the popular elements are just a side-show.
Those are tough criteria, and few cases will qualify. East Timor, I think, was one. But in Bahrain early this year, the mass resistance was effectively defeated from the moment when the Saudi regime, following a deal with the Americans, moved in to crush it. In Syria the government’s repression has been ferocious and the resistance heroic, but the struggle is essentially local, confined in the main to a few cities. In Yemen the prospects are good that the opposition, as it constructs its alliances, will force Saleh from office without outside help.
Libya, though, is something else. The uprising against Gaddafi was immensely popular, initially sweeping away the regime’s power everywhere except in the capital and a handful of lesser centres. Even at the point in March when the rebels faced military annihilation, they still controlled two of the country’s three largest cities, plus numerous other towns in three distinct regions. The crushing of the revolt could have been expected to open the way for ruthless reprisals, as well as dealing a serious blow to the broader struggles of the Arab Spring. And as I explained in my article, the NATO countries, even the most belligerent of them, were and remain neither anxious nor particularly able to move beyond restricted air attacks, preferring to see Libyan insurgents take the casualties on the ground.
In these circumstances, I maintain, giving critical support to the NATO bombing campaign became a doleful necessity for the left. Critical support, I stress, needs to be interpreted in the way the left has traditionally understood it – as 1 per cent support and 99 per cent criticism.

A Progressive Force?

Chris repeatedly addresses the question of whether the Libyan opposition, or more precisely its leadership, is indeed a progressive force. Here we need to think carefully about the context. In a country where the popular masses have had almost no possibility of actively defending their interests, any political space that opens up amounts to progress. Compared to Gaddafi, even a highly imperfect bourgeois-democratic regime represents expanded opportunities for organisation and struggle.
Numerous people within the new interim administration headed by the Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi held senior government or professional posts under the dictatorship. Do these self-appointed leaders believe the fulsome declarations they issue, committing them to elections and democratic freedoms? Like Russian liberals in 1991, most of them probably do, at least on the intellectual level. But from the point of view of the Libyan masses, the chief virtue of the TNC is the fact that it is a weak regime vulnerable to popular pressure. The masses expect and demand change, and the TNC has little room to renege on its promises. We should remember that the TNC now shares power at the local level with numerous popular organisations that have formed spontaneously, and that are genuinely close to the masses. In Benghazi the old police force, purged and with new uniforms, is back on the streets. But much of the policing is carried out by volunteer neighbourhood patrol committees.
A further check on the power of the TNC is the fact that it has little authority in Misrata, and essentially none in the third liberated zone, the Berber district of the Nafusa mountains. In Misrata, a city of 300,000 people, reports indicate that power is wielded by popular military and political councils.
Meanwhile, liberties of expression have been seized in the Libyan east whether the new authorities like it or not. In Benghazi and other centres, highly critical newspapers flourish.
What is the political dynamic here? Are former Gaddafi-regime insiders, the “men in ironed shirts and ties”, on the way to reconsolidating their power into a new bourgeois-bureaucratic regime that restricts the democratic gains of the masses to minor and essentially formal liberties? Revolution is never a one-way street, and a prolonged stalemate with Gaddafi’s forces could still exhaust the masses in the liberated zones and allow a successful power-grab by the old bureaucratic operators. But my reading of the press reports and blogs is that the momentum is in the opposite direction; the processes of assertive popular organising remain in the ascendent.
A number of reports have impressed me particularly. A May 24 blog by British diplomat David Clay describes an NGO fair in Benghazi, and relates: “The young women who were helping to set up the event told me that they had registered around 200 new NGOs since the uprising” (http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/clay/entry/civil_society_flourishes). Other articles describe would-be activists thronging the premises of new organisations wanting to be given a role. Many of these people are young and unemployed, but others are workers, students and professionals.
Is it reasonable to conclude that the people in the thick of this ferment are increasingly taking their distance from “men in ironed shirts and ties” whose plans for the new Libya, whatever their protestations, are likely to amount to neo-liberalism with Gaddafi characteristics? I don’t see how one can avoid this conclusion. There’s no particular evidence yet of a political break between the TNC and popular activists, but signs are accumulating of a complex standoff with the potential to evolve into conscious opposition.
For activists in the liberated zones to move in a radical direction, there needs to be a sense that the struggle against Gaddafi is advancing. The period since late May has seen evidence of increased popular struggle in Tripoli. Armed clashes in the Libyan capital, with rebels staging hit-and-run attacks on police stations and regime checkpoints, have never ceased for long since the revolt in February. Now there are reports of drawn-out firefights, and of funerals of slain rebels turning into sizeable demonstrations. Fighting is also reported from towns between Misrata and Tripoli. There is a sense that the ability of the old regime to resist the population is not endless, and we can expect that in the liberated zones, this mood will spur the popular layers to increased confidence and engagement.

Liberation Army

As members of the old elites try to reconstruct their power in Benghazi, a key obstacle for them is their ambiguous relationship with the newly-renamed National Liberation Army. Chris is sceptical that the rebel army, despite being drawn mainly from among the young and poor, is in any sense a locus of popular power. He objects:

“Most armies are recruited from among the young and poor. The question is who leads them. As far as I can tell, the rebel army is led by the TNC.”

This is only partly correct. Most armies have a strict, hierarchical command structure, and are tightly integrated into a coherent state apparatus. In Benghazi during March and April, there were publicly-aired disputes within the TNC about who was actually in charge of constructing the army. Meanwhile, the army was constructing itself, as untrained militants headed for the front in Toyota utes. By mid-May the worst chaos had been sorted out, with a retired Libyan army officer named as defence minister, a rudimentary chain of command established, and recruiting and training programs operating. “Command” and “discipline”, though, appear to remain relative terms.
The most effective military force on the rebel side, meanwhile, is the battle-hardened fighters in Misrata. Over these, the TNC has no meaningful control.
Inevitably, young militants fighting to overthrow Gaddafi will remain suspicious of people who made careers for themselves under the despot. The TNC members, tolerated rather than enthusiastically supported by the population in the liberated zones, would be foolish to assume they could rely on the army to back them in a showdown with popular organisations and political currents.
How are the politics of the rebel military likely to evolve? Almost certainly, months of hard fighting lie ahead. We can anticipate that the Gaddafi regime will fall to a combination of urban guerrilla warfare in the suburbs of Tripoli; of desertions from the regime’s armed forces; and of more conventional offensives launched from Misrata and Ajdabia, with support from NATO’s aircraft. As these streams converge, new fighters will flood into the insurgent ranks, and the popular, irregular component of the rebel forces is likely to become still more prominent than it is now. The loyalty of large numbers of fighters will be to the population, not to the apparatus of the state. Insurgent commanders from the popular layers, proven in battle, will enjoy a prestige which the political figures who have emerged from Gaddafi’s ministries will be unable to match.

Dependency, and Oil

Before getting carried away with these prospects, we need to recall that whatever happens in Libya will occur in the context of a semi-developed country with an oil-industry economic monoculture. Chris rightly notes that these factors give the imperialists a great deal of leverage over the Benghazi administration and armed forces, and that post-Gaddafi Libyan governments will remain dependent. He also points out that Libya’s oil reserves give the country a strategic importance for the imperialists that it would not otherwise possess, and that the global oil industry has an interest in imposing a government on Libya that would allow freer access to the country’s oil than was permitted under Gaddafi.
To begin at the economic base, Libya has about three per cent of world oil reserves, and under Gaddafi in recent years accounted for somewhat less than 2 per cent of global production. Of the country’s oil, close to 80 per cent is in the NATO-backed east. About 50 per cent of output was formerly controlled by the state-owned firm Linoco, with Italian, German and French firms making up most of the remainder.
Gaddafi was noted for the highly disadvantageous production-sharing agreements he imposed on foreign oil explorers, obliging them to stake their own capital, bear the risks, and then surrender to the state most of the oil they discovered. That said, investment in Libya’s oilfields could be extremely profitable for the foreign corporations. Production costs of the oil – high-priced sweet light crude – were almost freakishly low, sometimes no more than $1 per barrel.
How does this affect current imperialist strategies? While imperialism needs Libya’s oil and has a stake in controlling it, that is not to say that the NATO countries are inclined to commit significant numbers of ground troops to comprehensively “imperialising” the war against Gaddafi. If Libyan fighters can do most of the dying, imperialism can wait a few extra months for the oil; it is largely Western oil companies that profit from the increased prices in the meantime. And much as the foreign oil firms would like to take over Linoco’s assets, Libya’s oil does not place the country anywhere near the front rank of imperialism’s concerns in the region. The imperialist armies will almost certainly be kept in reserve for intimidating political actors in Egypt and Syria, for defending Israel, and for deterring any threat to the vast oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Troops on the Ground

Chris further queries whether there is any real distinction to be drawn between the use of imperialist air power and troops on the ground. Obviously there is no difference in principle. Nor do the criteria which I suggest the left apply to imperialist interventions distinguish between different military forms that an intervention might take.
One of the criteria I propose, however, is whether the intervention is likely to take on such force and scope that it supplants the essentially national character of the struggle. The issue of foreign troops has particular political elements that feed strongly into mass perceptions of the conflict. Acting on popular consciousness, these perceptions can alter the situation enough to serve as a material factor in their own right.
Imperialist aircraft fly in and fly out, but foreign troops occupy the national territory, at least in part. Introducing substantial numbers of them is a big logistical exercise. The troops need bases, and their presence involves frictions with the local population. Well-equipped and supported, and highly trained, the foreign troops as they go into combat tend to sideline the lightly-armed local fighters. In common perceptions, the legitimacy of the conflict as a popular national struggle can be degraded, and the readiness of the population to mobilise in struggle can decline. The relative weight of the imperialist component thus tends to increase.
Unaccompanied by a significant ground deployment, it seems to me, the NATO bombing campaign in Libya is still short of the point where the nature of the war as a conflict between Libyans has been subverted. The London Sun on May 7 quoted a top UK government source as saying that the bombing in Libya had destroyed 70 per cent of Gaddafi’s land armoury, including 1300 out of 1914 battle tanks and 1750 of 2421 field guns. But almost a month later, the general view is still that Gaddafi’s forces retain a big edge in terms of equipment.
The bombing is the reason why the Libyan revolution was not smashed in March, but it is not the reason why the rebels held their ground in April and made advances during May. To explain this, we have to turn to national political factors, above all the superior motivation of the rebel fighters and the popular backing they enjoy. Imperialist bombs saved the revolution from defeat, but only a broadly-based popular struggle is bringing it victory. In my view, this compels the conclusion that what we are seeing is essentially a war between Libyans, in which the imperialist intervention is an important but nevertheless subordinate element.
Deployment of substantial numbers of foreign ground troops would very likely reverse this situation. Gaddafi would fall months earlier, but not to a people’s revolution. The political landscape would be sharply different, with the popular currents much weaker. There would be nothing especially progressive that the global left could defend.

What the Imperialists Seek

Let’s return for the moment to questions of oil and dependency. I suspect, though Chris might demur, that he sees a high degree of dependence on imperialism as incompatible with meaningful popular advances, even within the restricted context of bourgeois-democratic revolution. At least, this is how I read his passage:

“A post-Gaddafi Libya would be dependent on oil revenue, just like Gaddafi. The imperialists control the world oil market. If the new government fails to implement neoliberal policies, the imperialists can cut off the oil revenue.”

This implies a degree of single-mindedness in imperialist policy that I think is absent. Offered a lake of sweet light crude, would oil-hungry countries really refuse to deal with a bourgeois government because it made concessions to popular interests? In any case, a post-Gaddafi Libya will have the option of selling oil to China, which also offers an alternative source of capital and of oil industry technology.
A good deal has been written about what imperialism, as it gives rhetorical backing to the Arab Spring, is now supposed to want for the Arab world. Among liberal commentators there is a broadly-held view that leaders such as Obama and Cameron regard the conventional imperialist accommodation to old-style Arab despots as obsolete. Indeed, the argument continues, the old dictatorships are positively dangerous, since their failure to provide for the aspirations of young people fuels “terrorism”; a move is therefore required to more open, democratic forms of rule.
Is this shift in imperialist strategy real? Bahrain provides a warning of its limitations, and after the experience of Iraq, US military thinkers are wary of attempts at enforced regime change. It is hard to even imagine the Obama administration pressuring the Saudi regime. But in countries such as Syria, or Algeria, or Libya, the idea of angling the sun of bourgeois democracy to shine on Arab populations has attractions. At the very least, this suggests that Libya’s dependency on imperialism does not exclude formal democratic outcomes, and the opening of a certain room for popular struggle. Of course, any serious movement beyond bourgeois-democratic revolution toward the socialist variety will be ruthlessly opposed. But this is not a near-term prospect anywhere in the Arab world, including Libya.
So what will a post-Gaddafi Libya look like? My guess is that the old Gaddafi-era bureaucratic elites, as they attempt to consolidate themselves into a new ruling layer, will not be able to resist strong popular pressure for the holding of elections, and that these elections will deal the former regime insiders a huge rebuff. Libyan politics will then be played out along an axis defined by the efforts of the bureaucracy to turn itself into a capital-owning class, in a society where most major assets have been state-owned. Backed by imperialism, the old elites will demand sweeping privatisations. Large sections of the masses, confident and assertive after their victory over Gaddafi, will mobilise in opposition. Interesting times clearly lie ahead.
Finally, how do I regard the question of a cease-fire? Here, I’m reminded of the trial and execution of the Ceausescus in Romania. When you confront a security apparatus that is cornered, but still lethally dangerous, the best course is to move swiftly to decapitate it. The TNC doesn’t demand that Gaddafi be shot, but it does demand that he and his family leave Libya.
To call for anything less is to suggest that Gaddafi can be bargained with. Experience shows differently. The regime has repeatedly announced ceasefires, and immediately violated them. As the rebel leaders have learned, nothing Gaddafi says can be trusted. To accept one of his cease-fire offers would be to encourage his opponents in the capital to come into the open, while renouncing any possibility of defending them.
The only negotiations that can be held with Gaddafi, it’s clear, are on the immediate details of his departure.

Look at who is against helping the Libyan people

Observe that most of the right-wing Republicans in the US are opposed to intervention in Libya. The opposition of that group adds weight to the belief that in this particular case US military intervention is prompted by the support of liberty rather than in support of big oil and big business.

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS ON THE USE OF MILITARY POWER BY THE UNI

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS ON THE USE OF MILITARY POWER BY THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

What is evident to me is that the politics of the world increasingly has to be viewed in terms of the raw use of military power. The US, at this juncture of human history, is the nation state with the greatest amount of military power in the world and there is serious cause for concern about how that power is used and projected into the world.
I will explain what I mean.
When the Wall Street mafia raped private funds and brought the world to global economic crisis, the response by Bush was to inject trillions back to the same gangsters, thieves and “banksters” who caused the crisis. Then, when Obama was elected, he did not reverse the process but continued and gave many trillions more back to the same “banksters”. At the same time for decades before, the United States defence budget has increased constantly year after year. At a time when clearly, many citizens of the US are in need in the midst of a serious economic slump, when there is no ‘cold war’ and the wars in which the US are engaged are not in the least wars of defence in response to any nation having attacked the US, it stretches the bounds of credulity to justify the on-going wars and bombardments of other weaker nations by US military forces and attacks by their troops supported by the NATO nations. In this sense, the traditional political ideas of divisions between Democrat and Republican, right and left, become meaningless.
Again, post 9/11, the Bush administration used this event as the casus belli for bombing an already impoverished and war destroyed nation ( i.e. post the Soviet invasion and defeat). How does one catch Bin Laden by bombing carpet bombing Afghanistan is a logical question to ask. How does one target combatants who are not uniformed and do not comprise a standing army in their own country is the next question. How does one legitimize having trained the Taliban, Bin Laden and armed the Muslim combatants at a time when the US/CIA ( read: “Charlie Wilson’s war”) wanted to defeat the Soviets, then post war speak of trying to defeat the so-called Al-Qaeda fighters ( i.e. the very ones who had been trained by the CIA and the US is sacrificing young service persons lives for ) - and so justify this foreign incursion with an iota of credibility? How can it be justified to sacrifice young American lives to run an oil pipeline across Afghanistan and shed US blood on foreign soil in a war that supports a man whose brother along with the CIA has seen heroin production reach its zenith simultaneously while American troops have occupied Afghanistan? How can one legitimately speak of “freedom” when since 2003 the US government knowingly lied to the American people and the world about WMDs and clearly is faced with an unyielding resistance( because the Iraqis do not want illegal US occupation) and continue to sacrifice to a number of one million dead Iraqis and over 4,700 American lives ( officially acknowledged by the US) in a depleted uranium infested nation, due to this unyielding American aggression? How can there be any conceivable decency of US foreign policy when for eight years the US supported in turn Iraq under Saddam and Iran in a war that cost significant numbers of human life, during the longest conventional war of the twentieth century?:-

(http://www.iranchamber.com/history/articles/arming_iraq.php)

Today the illegality persists with the irony of the first US President of direct African descent setting out along with his European/NATO partners to destroy Libya, Africa’s most prosperous country measured on social indicies and the per capita income yardstick? This last question is supported, strange as it may seem, from the figures and information available on the CIA factbook ( assuming that post bombing the CIA has not deleted or altered the facts that were posted prior to the NATO bombardment).

It is these kinds of questions that I find troubling, for that the answers that are to be given take any sentient, perceptive, decent and honest human being to a point of some doubt about why America is projecting its power into the world not so much as the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, but as the “land of thieves and home of slaves”. Pardon my apparent rudeness in so observing, but personally I yet have respect for the document termed the American Constitution for reasons of its innovative construct and genuine attempts to balance the forces and use of power within the nation. For peace-loving American individuals I bear no ill will. Unfortunately, the American government has diverged significantly from the founding fathers nobly expressed aspirations. Sadly, as Eisenhower warned of:-
“the military industrial complex”
http://www.rumormillnews.com/cgi-bin/forum.cgi?read=206082
17th January, 1961
his concerns have proven overwhelmingly justified.
Conclusion
I end on that note, because if it were merely me who alerted world denizens to beware of the use of the words “security” , “liberty” and “freedom” in the abstract, when justification is sought for US foreign policy, then no one would give any serious thought to merely my observations as made above about US/NATO hegemonic conduct. In actuality, it was a prescient Republican president who made the observations that increasingly in our world today are proving him brutally, bloodily and frighteningly – correct in his expressed insightful concerns.
You may not be in agreement with me – but do share these thoughts with your friends, for that we have the power of the internet, our own minds, our basic concepts of human decency, justice and fairness to question these wars and to resist in whatever ways we can the advancing extended militarism of our times.
Interestingly, George Kennan, the US architect of the cold war made these four observations:-
“World communism is like [a] malignant parasite which feeds on diseased tissue” (1946).
And
“It may be true, and I suspect it is, that the mass of people everywhere are normally peace-loving and would accept many restraints and sacrifices in preference to the monstrous calamities of war.”

(N.B.The humane ones amongst us ought not to embrace bellicosity as if it were the normal and natural state of conduct in human affairs. There is indeed a pathology of power, and it is manifest around us.)
And
“We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”
And
“Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”

What was deemed to be potentially an unacceptable shock to the American economy, in this post Soviet collapse world of ours, viewing the various manifestations of American military power here and now, is an actual shock of horrendous proportions for the non-European and non-American peoples of the world ( some half million Asian lives and about 60,000 dead US service persons from the Vietnam war, to a million dead in the Iraq war and counting upwards). And if we, the people, are not hampered in our thoughts by the belief that the US and NATO really are projecting democratization, human rights and the quest for rising living standards into the world by way of its/their increasing militarism and aggression, the better we are able to appreciate what Kennan had in mind when he wrote the words quoted above. If communism is/was as Kennan stated, and his was an option of capitalism, which now has unchallenged dominance in the world, what must we, the many humans inhabiting our world, make of the conduct of the unbridled option which remains as it gains expression through the projection of military force into the world?

Think again – peace!
Courtenay Barnett – 4th June, 2011 ( www.globaljusticeonline)

further response to Renfrey Clarke

Renfrey says: "It seems to me that the left may be obliged to tolerate imperialist military intervention when a genuine progressive struggle of mass scope is present; when the struggle has a good chance of surviving and triumphing if, but only if, assistance is given; when the consequences of defeat would be drastic for progressive forces in the country concerned (and perhaps more widely); and when the likelihood is remote that the intervention will reach the degree where it transforms the essential nature of the conflict, turning it from a popular mass struggle into an imperialist war in relation to which the popular elements are just a side-show."

I think this transformation of the "essential nature of the conflict" has already happened to a considerable extent. For example, the repeated bombing of Gaddafi's compound seems designed to kill him, or to cause his associates to remove him as a way of ending such attacks. If this happens, NATO's bombing will have brought about a coup, with the rebels playing only a secondary role.

Renfrey says: "Numerous people within the new interim administration headed by the Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi held senior government or professional posts under the dictatorship. Do these self-appointed leaders believe the fulsome declarations they issue, committing them to elections and democratic freedoms? Like Russian liberals in 1991, most of them probably do, at least on the intellectual level. But from the point of view of the Libyan masses, the chief virtue of the TNC is the fact that it is a weak regime vulnerable to popular pressure."

This "weak regime" is also "vulnerable" to imperialist pressure. If installed in power by NATO, they are likely to be very subservient to imperialism.

Renfrey says: "Gaddafi was noted for the highly disadvantageous production-sharing agreements he imposed on foreign oil explorers, obliging them to stake their own capital, bear the risks, and then surrender to the state most of the oil they discovered."

That's one reason why the imperialist powers want to get rid of him. Despite all his compromises with imperialism, he still has some vestiges of his original bourgeois nationalism. They want a more subservient government.

Renfrey says: "Offered a lake of sweet light crude, would oil-hungry countries really refuse to deal with a bourgeois government because it made concessions to popular interests?"

No, but they will try to get the oil on more favourable terms from the new government. The imperialists will expect something in return for their miltary support. Given the need to repair damaged infrastructure, the new government will be in a weak position to bargain.

Renfrey says: "In any case, a post-Gaddafi Libya will have the option of selling oil to China, which also offers an alternative source of capital and of oil industry technology."

China has other sources of oil supply, and may not wish to help a government put in place by NATO bombing. (One of China's sources is Iran, whose government the imperialists would also like to overthrow)

Renfrey says: "So what will a post-Gaddafi Libya look like? My guess is that the old Gaddafi-era bureaucratic elites, as they attempt to consolidate themselves into a new ruling layer, will not be able to resist strong popular pressure for the holding of elections, and that these elections will deal the former regime insiders a huge rebuff. Libyan politics will then be played out along an axis defined by the efforts of the bureaucracy to turn itself into a capital-owning class, in a society where most major assets have been state-owned. Backed by imperialism, the old elites will demand sweeping privatisations."

I don't think it would be just the "old elites" that push for privatisaion. I would expect that there are significant sections of the middle class that believe in the "free market". This might well include a lot of people in the rebel movement. (I don't have any actual information on this, but the imperialists would not be intervening militarily to support people whose loyalty to capitalism they doubted).

Renfrey says: "The regime has repeatedly announced ceasefires, and immediately violated them. As the rebel leaders have learned, nothing Gaddafi says can be trusted. To accept one of his cease-fire offers would be to encourage his opponents in the capital to come into the open, while renouncing any possibility of defending them."

Both sides have shown themselves to be dishonest and untrustworthy. For example, the UN Security Council resolution only mandates military action to "protect civilians", but one of NATO's first acts was to bomb Gaddafi's troops as they moved AWAY from Benghazi.

An international monitoring force would probably be necessary to discourage both sides from violating any ceasefire. (It would be unlikely to totally prevent violations) I would hope that one the results of a ceasefire would be to give activists in the capital the confidence to "come into the open" and campaign politically. This would of course be risky, just as it is elsewhere in the Middle East.

The differences between East Timor and Libya

Chris:

"The DSP supported Australian troops going into East Timor in 1999. But we never developed a clear set of criteria for deciding when to support and when to oppose military intervention."

Well I think it's has to be a quite specific set of circumstances hat can overcome a general distrust of any use of imperialist troops. I summarised why I think East Timor fits this bills and Libya doesn't a while ago on the Marxmail list thus:

Well it wasn't just the DSP and Joaquin Bustelo, it was all the revolutionary organisations globally that had any history of campaigning for East Timorese self-determination, particularly the PRD in Indonesia, the PSR in Portugal, the PST in East Timor as well as the DSP. The cases are in any case considerably different: East Timor was a distinct and very self-conscious nation under foreign occupation; it had an authoritative and representative leadership that clearly had a consensus for intervention after the death squads were set loose; the leftist and socialist sections of this leadership particularly faced liquidation, which would have been a demoralising blow for our side in the region and globally, and East Timor clearly faced faced *tighter* imperialist control, as an exploited colony of imperialist client-state Indonesia, than an state made independent by imperialist troops in the context of mass and mobilised public sympathy for the East Timorese, led by the far left and leftist trade unions. You can see the latter point empirically by the dollars from oil and gas revenue that East Timor gets now, compared with under Indonesian control, despite the obviously continuation of imperialist rip-off.

Further, despite a number of polite requests by me over the years no-one has supplied a shred of evidence that here was any boost in support for imperialism generally, humanitarian intervention particularly or the Howard government specifically due to this intervention. Less than two years later there was considerable opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan and three years later a mass movement against the war in Iraq. The outcome was, rather, heightened distrust in the international machinations of the Australian state, and a small but vocal campaign for a fair go for East Timor, which restrained the government and energy corporations in their attempts to continue the oil and gas rip-off at the same rate, and many instances of concrete solidarity such as educators organising for scholarships for East Timorese youth at Australian universities and colleges.

So it was quite different from the current intervention in Libya, which will strengthen the hand of imperialism, does not have clear support for any local progressive forces and should be opposed. The better analogy for East Timor is the UN peace-keeping force that facilitated independence for Namibia in the late 80s - not the best outcome but a lot better than direct control by the apartheid regime.

On the contrary: Imperialist nature of war now clearer

Renfrey Clarke has written a very detailed and thoughtful piece of discussion, and despite my disagreement with it, I welcome the fact that people are willing to put forward unpopular positions (among the left) and have them thrashed out, especially when it is done in such a careful and thorough way.

Throughout the Balkan wars, particularly in Bosnia but also to some extent in Kosovo/a, I followed the course of events closely, and there were many times when one may have considered whether any fleeting, tactical coincidence may have existed between the aims of imperialist intervention and the right of self-defense of the militarily defenseless Bosnian and Kosovar peoples against Europe's fourth major military power, Greater Serbia. Thus I am not oblivious to Renfrey's point that:

"It’s still possible that amid the complexities and contradictions of world politics capitalist powers in rare cases will act in ways which – however briefly, obliquely and inconsistently – coincide with the interests of the global masses."

One such case was, I believe, the UN intervention in East Timor in 1999.

I certainly argued against those on the left who believed that imperialism's verbal rhetoric about Serbian war crimes and human rights abuse for 8 years (while never doing anything about it), or even its actual intervention in 1999, was cause for the left to celebrate the Chetnik genocidaires as part of our "anti-imperialist" side. I'd rather hang myself than hold such a view while calling myself a socialist.

Yet as it turned out, there was never any moment when I thought supporting a call for imperialist intervention was justified. In the case of Bosnia, there was always a NATO occupation of Bosnia from the outset, and these occupation forces worked day and night to promote Serbian victory, via a criminal arms embargo of defenceless, besieged Bosnia and the continual attempted imposition of the Serbo-Croatian apartheid plan for the ethnic partition of Bosnia, despite the completely intermingled nature of its multi-ethnic population. They eventually succeeded in imposing this destruction of Bosnia in 1995 with the US-imposed Dayton partition plan. In the case of Kosovo/a, NATO launched a brutal air war against Serbian people, while deliberately and consistently giving no air cover to the million or so Kosovar Albanians who were forced from their homes and their country by the massively armed Serbian ground forces *after* NATO intervention began (NATO only hit 13 Serbian tanks in the whole 11-week war, most in the last 10 days). Indeed, there is good reason to believe the Albanians were close to defeating the Serbian occupation army on their own terms before NATO intervention.

Regardless of all this, the point is: how likely therefore is it that such support can be justified in the case of Libya? In a situation where, regardless of the dictatorial nature of Gadhafi’s regime, his actual crimes pale into insignificance compared to what Milosevic and his henchmen “achieved” in the 1990s; in fact, the only large massacre that is ever brought up is the infamous prison massacre of 1000 or so people in 1996. And in a situation where, unlike in Kosovo where 99.9% of the Albanian population (who were 90% of the Kosovar population) wanted the occupiers out and thus supported the fight for national self-determination, there is little evidence that the whole of the Libyan population supports the rebellion. The demand by the Libyan rebel leadership that Gadhafi be forcefully removed by NATO, despite the likelihood that Gadhafi retains support in Tripoli, the largest city, so that they can rule all of Libya, is very different to the demand by the Kosovar leadership – while just as pro-imperialist, and catastrophic, to be sure – that NATO help them drive the Serbian occupation army *out of Kosovo only*. NATO’s attempt to do that in Libya would in fact be equivalent to the KLA demanding that NATO invade Serbia, evict Milosevic, and allow them to rule over Serbia.

Of course, despite all this, as Renfrey rightly stresses, every case is concrete, and the specifics in Libya in March 2011 may well be different. But first we need to distinguish two things.

The first is whether or not it was possible to support a brief, initial intervention to save Benghazi from an alleged immanent fall to Gadhafi's troops in March, at the very outset of the imperialist intervention. This, admittedly, is a difficult issue, a "Srebrenica" type event (as an aside, certainly I believe imperialist forces in Bosnia then, or anyone, should have acted to prevent Srebrenica falling to the Bosnian Serb Army, with the resultant massacre of 8300 Muslim captives - and other such besieged Warsaw Ghetto-type Muslim "enclaves" - but this is not an advocacy of imperialist intervention because imperialist forces had already been occupying Srebrenica, and the whole of Bosnia, for three years, and not only did they do nothing to protect it, their role *actually facilitated* the Bosnian Serb Chetnik victory, including by disarming the Bosnian forces inside Srebrenica).

The second is whether the international left can be supporters of an ongoing imperialist bombing campaign that has gone on for three months now, and shows no end in sight - indeed, the only condition for it ending, according to imperialist leaders now, is for Gadhafi to be militarily thrown out by the rebels under an umbrella of NATO bombs. It is the fact that Renfrey seems to be supporting not just the first, but also the second, set of actions that I find extremely surprising, and I believe would require a lot more convincing than even Renfrey's detailed attempt.

At the outset, imperialist bombing itself is a war crime – this can no longer be confused with a temporary, fleeting coincidence, a brief intervention to prevent a city falling etc. How many civilians have been killed by NATO? Does anyone know? If anything, the paucity of interest in the imperialist media regarding this question raises suspicions that it may be a lot higher than is being let on. Can a brutal imperialist war, continuing for months, aimed at forcing out a regime and replacing it with one they prefer, really be still supportable; can it really still be having a primarily positive effect, of aiding a people’s revolution, rather than undermining it and crushing it in a different way?

Furthermore, Renfrey’s view relies on a number of assumptions that I don’t find entirely convincing. The first and most important is the claim that the vast mass of the population throughout Libya, including in Tripoli, are absolutely hostile to Gadhafi, and where the revolt hasn’t come out in the open (such as in Tripoli), this is merely due to repression; therefore, continuing rebel victories (and thus continuing NATO bombing) will eventually break this repression and allow the masses in these places to come out and join the revolt and finally topple the regime.

This is a very big assumption to be basing so much on. There were initially some demonstrations in Tripoli which were crushed, but they were not enough for any firm opinion on whether the mass of people in Tripoli were pro or anti Gadhafi. They may or may not be; they may well be divided. The fact that nothing has happened there (or in a number of other clearly pro-Gadhafi places) in 3 months suggests to me either that the opposition within Tripoli itself (and elsewhere) was never overwhelming, or that whatever did exist has been swamped by a traditional pro-Gadhafi, Arab nationalist reaction to imperialist bombing, or likely a bit of both.

Both are highly likely. The likelihood that the Gadhafi regime still holds some traditional support in some centres cannot be ruled out in my view, because for all we can condemn Gadhafi for, his dictatorial rule, and his backtracking on his own anti-imperialism in both economic and foreign policy terms in the last decade, it cannot be denied that for some decades the bourgeois revolution in Libya was a more radical thing than elsewhere in the region. That does *not* give a bourgeois regime carte blanche to slaughter people, and still less does it justify leftists using these facts to go apologist for the crimes of a bourgeois regime. However, it *does* strongly suggest the *possibility* that there may be remaining embers of mass support due to this legacy which has not been as comprehensively wiped out as some are claiming. And the quiescence of the masses in Tripoli *may* indicate this in that city, and elsewhere. Indeed, the fact that Benghazi was always discriminated against even in the most “socialist” period of Gadhafi’s rule is a good reason the shine wore off a lot more quickly there than elsewhere, due to Gadhafi’s policy of patronizing certain regions and “tribes” more than others.

The second scenario is also very likely. The onset of NATO bombing of Serbia clearly boosted (temporarily) support for the Milosevic regime, which had been on its knees before the bombing began. This was due to a mixture of nationalistic reaction to being bombed, the crushing of dissent due to the war atmosphere, and the wartime censorship preventing Serbian people learning what their “own” army was doing to the Kosovar Albanians (eg, genocide etc). The circumstances in Libya are different, but I would argue the differences make such a nationalistic swing back to the leader even more likely. This is because Arab nationalism has very good reason to be anti-imperialist a priori, at least for the last 60 years or so; to be bombed by the counties that have previously bombed, occupied, invaded your country, and other Arab countries, and that are responsible for the occupation of Palestine, makes such a reaction very likely. By contrast, Serbian nationalism was primarily anti-Muslim and had a *pro-imperialist* Crusader content. It belatedly came into tactical conflict with imperialism only in as much as imperialism did not need or want an Israel in the Balkans, as Milosevic was offering up Serbia to be, and also in as much as you naturally turn “against” imperialists when they are bombing you.

If these two factors are taken into account, and if there really is a difference between different parts of Libya in terms of support for the rebellion versus support for Gadhafi, then Renfrey’s case falls down, and any left support for an ongoing long-term imperialist bombing campaign whose aim is regime change is a very serious mistake, to put it mildly. Of course, Renfrey’s assumptions *might* be correct and the scenario I am putting forward might be wrong, but in my opinion there is no way of knowing for sure, and I’m not sure how long Renfrey proposes the left should support an imperialist air war based on a hope that something might happen.

Renfrey’s second assumption is that the rebel army can still be viewed as the armed representative of the revolution centred in Benghazi. The assumption is certainly understandable given that this was obviously its origins. Renfrey to his credit also provides considerable information about this army, which is not widely understood. Some of the pro-Gadhafi left dress it up as a “rag-tag” army of thugs with guns (in super-racist fashion), run by the CIA and Al Qaida etc. This discourse discredits only those leftists, not the rebel army.

However, the origins of an armed force, how it was initially put together, the fact that it is inevitably a coalition, its basic composition, and *what it can turn into* are not necessarily one and the same. I do not mean from that that the imperialist intervention turned the rebel army into simply an imperialist-orchestrated ground force from one day to the next. However, just what it does represent now, just what it is fighting for now, deserves closer scrutiny.

We do not trust bourgeois leaders just because of what they say when they say they want to bring in multi-party democracy and human rights etc. All that may sound better than the bourgeois dictatorship we now have with Gadhafi, but the only reason we can support a bourgeois-led revolt against a bourgeois dictatorship is because of the mass (proletarian, peasant, semi-proletarian urban masses) composition of the revolt itself pushing an oppositional group of bourgeois forward. At the head of a successful revolution, a new bourgeois regime must, due to its class nature, attempt to push the masses back; if fully successful, there is little preventing it from establishing another dictatorship. This is what the new Egyptian rulers are trying to do; but given the strength of the still mobilized Egyptian mass uprising, it has not had an easy time of it. We support the revolution in as much as the masses can stay mobilized and thus maintain mass pressure for democratic and other reform on the new, weakened, set of bourgeois rulers.

What does all that mean, however, once a popular revolt gets transformed into a regular armed conflict, across the northern strip of Libya, regime and rebels taking and losing and re-taking towns from each other, distant from the centres of mass revolt such as Benghazi? And even more so when the military success of the rebel side depends to a large degree on how many imperialist bombs are dropped on the government army?

I would say it does not *automatically* mean anything, but may mean a big deal. When the rebel army takes over a new city/town, is there a popular rebellion in that city itself which comes out to join forces with it, for which the rebel military victory was simply a necessary helping hand to break the back of the regime’s repression to enable the masses to come out and take control, like in Benghazi and other cities originally in rebel control? If so, then the bourgeois-led military taking over is subject to those same mass pressures; it is an act of revolution.

But what about when there is no particular revolt, and the result is simply that a town passes from regime to rebel military control, and this success is only due to imperialist bombing of regime troops? Is that an act of revolution?

And even worse: what about when a city/town is unquestionably sympathetic to the regime, and the rebel army conquers it militarily against the wishes of the population there, and indeed makes the same blood-curdling threats against Gadhafi supporters there as Gadhafi made against rebel supporters in Benghazi just before the imperialist states used this language as justification for the need for intervention?

In the latter case, the idea that we still have a conflict between an undemocratic regime and a bourgeois-democratic revolution ceases to have any meaning. It is in contradiction to democracy to conquer a people who do not want you there, no matter what kind of “democratic” label you stick on yourself. That does not change the democratic content of the revolution in its own centres, such as Benghazi, and their right to defense against Gadhafi’s troops; however, it does indicate the impossibility of simply identifying military victories of the rebel army with that democratic revolution “back home” as it were. Indeed, in such a case, the fact that such a conquest may occur only due to imperialist bombing of one side is virtually besides the point; the conquest is undemocratic as such, the imperialist role only makes it worse.

Has this happened?

In the March 29 ‘Time’, Abigail Hauslohner describes the scene in Bin Jawad (‘No Friends in Sight: Libya's Rebels Routed Once More’, Mar. 29, 2011, http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2062162,00.html) after the rebels had taken over for a third time and then were forced to flee a third time:

“The reasons may run deeper than Gaddafi's heavy weapons. "Bin Jawad didn't want to support us from the beginning," says Fayez Mohamed Zwei, a fighter from Ajdabiyah. Indeed, Bin Jawad may be the first town in the rebels' westward push where many of the townspeople are not on their side. Treason is a word the fighters use liberally in describing the town. And conspicuously, there are no local fighters among them.”

“The treason, they say, dates back to their first traumatic experience at Bin Jawad on March 6, which lasted for about 24 hours … the town never came out to join them — instead fleeing to the hills, or raising white flags as a trick to lure them into gunfire. When the government struck back — aided, rebels say, by the townspeople — the ensuing bombardment resulted in a disastrous retreat over nearly 400 miles (640 km) that took the regime's forces right to the doorstep of the rebels' stronghold, Benghazi” (ie, this was just before the NATO intervention which allegedly saved them in Benghazi from this onslaught).

Rather than accept they were not wanted there after this experience, they had come back for more two times in the month this article was written.
First, “emboldened by allied air strikes” they pushed into Bin Jawad, just as these air strikes had helped them take other towns. But then, “by Tuesday afternoon, it was the rebels' turn to flee again — in a tangled, panicked traffic jam of gun trucks and civilian cars — as Gaddafi's forces pounded them once again with a barrage of missile fire and sniper shots.” This time, NATO apparently let them down: “TIME saw no sign of fighter-jet support as incoming shells from Gaddafi's loyalists rained down on the rebels. “Sarkozy betrayed us," shouted one man.” Then “the rebels pushed back with their own barrage of missiles and machine-gun fire, and fought their way into Bin Jawad once again — only to come under a heavy bombardment from the road ahead, and simultaneous sniper fire from the hills to the south and the town to the north” and “by evening, smoke rose from the town, as new homes and buildings became collateral damage in the ever shifting front line and a rapid exchange of missiles and artillery shells from both sides. By late Tuesday night, Gaddafi's forces had pushed the rebels back all the way to the town of Brega, retaking Bin Jawad and Ras Lanuf in between.”

I included all this text of siege and countersiege – of a town hostile to the rebels – in order to suggest that such battles to conquer and reconquer have no relation to any “revolution,” at least from the point of view of the battered people who live there, who the article correctly describes as “collateral damage.” In fact, even if the townspeople were not hostile but simply neutral, such treatment would hardly endear them to the rebels, let alone have anything to do with “revolution.”

Of course it may be suggested that, if we were to concede for argument’s sake that the rebel army was still in some sense representative of the popular will of most Libyans, perhaps they simply need to take over or neutralise that town because it happens to be, unfortunately, in the way, in order to advance their “revolution” further west. However, even if we were to concede that, the actions and statements of the rebel leaders do not exactly exude confidence that they are actually trying to carry through a revolution; quite the opposite:

“After pushing back into Bin Jawad on Tuesday afternoon, the rebels quickly set about searching the streets and homes of the town for hidden troops, mercenaries and traitors. "Alley to alley, house to house," shouted one man at the fighters as trucks veered down Bin Jawad's unpaved, bumpy side streets. He used Gaddafi's own words — an infamous threat from an earlier speech that is often repeated in the rebel-held east. … But as the rebels tread into unwelcome territory, they seem to mean it in much the way Gaddafi did — in a kind of unrelenting and paranoid door-to-door campaign to rout their enemies. "Search the houses," another man shouted, as fighters ran down Bin Jawad's alleys and took up position behind walls. Gunfire and the explosions of rocket-propelled grenades reverberated from within the town. At least one house was set on fire after rebels located a suspected Gaddafi loyalist there.”

The fact that, according to this account, the rebels first moved in with support of “allied” air strikes, but then NATO betrayed them as Gadhafi’s forces threw them out, simply underlines the degree to which NATO is in control: see, now we support you, now we don’t.” Of course, that may be used to suggest that the rebels are not total puppets, or that NATO is not giving them total support. But I think such arguments would be a nonsense simplification in any case, even if such arguments get repeated by many of the Manichean leftists around. My point is actually a little different. If we are more “pro-rebel” than pro-NATO, we may be tempted to join with the rebels who yelled “NATO betrayed us.” However, in this case, surely we should be glad that NATO stopped bombing so that the people of Bin Jawad could be rid of the rule of an army that they opposed and who promised to treat them like Gadhafi treats opponents? I am, anyway. Which doesn’t say much for the rebel army being an army of the revolution.

This may seem like an extended point about one town, but the issue really is Tripoli, with towns like Bin Jawad a dress rehearsal. NATO has already ruthlessly bombed Tripoli, and I suggest the numbers of civilian deaths is probably much higher than is being let on, quite apart from NATO’s targeted killing of Gadhafi’s grandchildren, and now apparently great grandchildren. With NATO openly declaring – for many weeks now – that the aim of the war is regime change, will it step up the bombing of Tripoli to enable the rebels to march in? And what would Renfrey’s attitude be towards this? Does Renfrey, or anyone, believe that such bombing will precipitate popular revolt against the regime in Tripoli? Given that there has been no evidence of this to date, the only two possible ways Gadhafi could fall under NATO bombing would be either an attempted military conquest by the rebels with NATO air cover, most likely meeting a furious local challenge, or Gadhafi and his entourage taking off in a deal and/or palace coup to save his city from further imperialist destruction. Both “solutions” would be utterly reactionary, to state the obvious, and arguably would be just as big a blow, if not bigger, to the Arab Spring as Gadhafi’s conquest of Benghazi would have been.

It is difficult to know just what either NATO or the rebels plan to do with Tripoli if the people there don’t decide to revolt and Gadhafi does not accept their invitation to leave office. According to Richard Norton-Taylor and Chris Stephen (‘Libyan bombing alone will not budge Gaddafi UK officials warn’, 14 June 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/14/libyan-bombing-will-not-budg...):

“Almost three months into the campaign of air strikes, Britain and its Nato allies no longer believe bombing alone will end the conflict in Libya, well-placed government officials have told the Guardian. Instead, they are pinning their hopes on the defection of Muammar Gaddafi's closest aides, or the Libyan leader's agreement to flee the country. "No one is envisaging a military victory," said one senior official.”

Note that “not envisaging a military victory” does not mean ceasing the military campaign of bombing the hell out of Libyan people to try to force Gadhafi’s aides, or Gadhafi, to jump ship. But it seems to indicate that many imperialist strategists have no interest in seeing the kind of reverse instability that would result from an outright rebel military victory against Gadhafi in Tripoli if this wasn’t welcomed by the people there (note here I am not talking about the kind of anti-capitalist “instability” that would result if a rebel advance was met with a mass uprising joining them, but rather the kind resulting from a crushing military victory of one side against the regime *and people* of the other). Thus supporting and then not supporting the rebels with air power is all part of using them for a while but then letting them know who makes the decisions for them.

It is not clear from the article whether this is what all or most imperialist leaders think, but this thinking for them is logical. What however do the rebels want? I don’t really know, and I don’t think a view can be formed based on this one article. For the record, however, this article appears to suggest the rebels are only being talked into this by NATO, and that their own preference would have been NATO cover for their advance into Tripoli. Referring to the absence of coordinated NATO cover when Gadhafi’s forces recently struck back at rebel-held Mistrata, the article continues:

“The absence of Apaches dismayed rebel units, not all of whom are sure of Nato's motives in failing to offer co-ordinated air support. None will say so publicly, but some commanders say the alliance (ie, NATO) may want Tripoli to rise up against the dictator, rather than be "liberated" by rebels from elsewhere - an event that could trigger political infighting in the postwar period.”

I may well be reading too much into this. What I can say, however, is that *if* this is the case, then I can have no sympathy for the moans by some rebel leaders about “betrayal” by NATO *when and if* this refers to a refusal to fully back rebels’ invasions of Gadhafi-held cities, especially Tripoli, with air power; quite the opposite in fact.

Several months ago, Hugo Chavez made an initiative for a ceasefire before NATO intervened, with the aim of preventing such intervention. I assessed this as a decent and genuine move, but unlikely to be of much use. This was because, like most of us, we assessed then that Gadhafi’s ferocious repression had lost him any remaining support and thus the uprising was likely to throw him out very soon, on its own, without support from NATO bombs. A ceasefire might just hold them back. Part of the problem was also Chavez’s unfortunate use of foot in mouth, such as his past celebrations of Gadhafi as a great leader etc, which was unlikely to win him many hearts and minds in Libya at the time.

As it turned out, the rebels’ rejection of this did not help them, because to the extent that the conflict was already becoming largely a military conflict across a stretch of north Libyan territory, Gadhafi’s well-armed forces had the upper hand (the turn from peaceful uprising to military campaign was not the fault of the rebellion, as some apologists for Gadhafi claim, but of Gadhafi’s brutal repression of the peaceful protests, but the result is there nevertheless). Thus they were pushed all the way back to the gates of Benghazi before NATO intervened. The mistake in our assessment at the time was in identifying the success of the popular uprisings elsewhere in Libya (and *perhaps* Tripoli itself at the time) with the success of the military campaign on the ground. In reality, while related, they were not the same thing; a full ceasefire, giving the out-gunned rebel armed forces a breathing space, may just as likely have been a good thing for new uprisings. The alternative, in any case, has spoken for itself.

Regardless of this, it is clear that now the continuing rejection by the rebel leadership of new calls for a mediated ceasefire – most recently from the African Union – is a disastrous decision and simply reflects their undying belief in NATO airpower as their saviour, essentially a demand that NATO impose regime change on their country by force and not “betray” the Benghazi leaders who believe they have the right to rule all Libya come what may. As NATO steps up its months-long open-ended brutal bombing all over Libya, especially now of Tripoli, this attitude of the rebel leadership is increasingly making them simply as much a part of the problem as is anyone else.

That does *not* mean that the popular forces in Benghazi and elsewhere do not have a right to defend themselves against reconquest by Gadhafi – they do – and trying to collapse the whole war into a purely two-way contest, or claims that developments “prove” the rebellion was a conspiracy from the start etc, are all spurious. But much of the war now, and certainly the NATO and rebel condition for ending it – regime change forced by NATO bombs – is way different to whatever dilemmas may have been faced in Benghazi in March.

is the left supporting NATO and reactionary racists of benghazi?

For it sure looks like it... bellwether Clarke : 'What are we doing, backing Gaddafi and his hangmen? '

so are leftists like Clarke actually backing the Benghazi insurgents and NATO?

well newsflash: Gadaffi has the backing of the bulk of the Libyan population...and you want to know why:

Libyan insurgents begin to reverse decades of progress in African cooperation
http://davidrothscum.blogspot.com/2011/03/libyan-insurgents-begin-to-rev...

Gadafi is a pan africanist, whereas the Benghazi insurgents are antiblack racists:
http://blackagendareport.com/content/libya-getting-it-right-revolutionar...

http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/race-and-arab-nationalism-libya

http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/coalition-crusaders-join-al-qae...

Meet the 'rebels':
http://tarpley.net/2011/03/24/the-cia%e2%80%99s-libya-rebels-the-same-te...
http://www.countercurrents.org/mountain220311.htm
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article27776.htm

Cynthia McKinney on Libya:
http://english.pravda.ru/history/27-03-2011/117349-Ghaddafi_hero_for_Afr...

shes been to Libya, and has recently returned to report on the situation there.Her report is not at all the same as Clarkes shrill defence of NATO and the insurgents!
http://sfbayview.com/2011/cynthia-mckinney%E2%80%99s-truth-dispatches-fr...
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=25258

Its no surprise to see the pseudo Left supporting NATO....given their readiness to believe the MSM.

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