Richard Seymour: Libya -- All they are saying is give war a chance

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Celebrations in Tripoli following Gaddafi's retreat.

By Richard Seymour

August 31, 2011 -- ABC's The Drum -- Libya, the source of so many American nightmares, is fast becoming an American dream. 

Reagan was tortured by Tripoli, and its big boss man, sassing the US. He imposed sanctions, and bombed the country, but had no peace. Bush the Younger was reconciled with the prodigal Colonel Gaddafi, but somehow this alliance seemed, well, un-American

Obama, though, will have the privilege of being an ally of an ostensibly free Libya that he helped birth into existence. At minimal outlay (a mere $1 billion, which is peanuts in Pentagon terms), and with relatively few lives lost from bombing, a US-led operation has deposed a Middle East regime and empowered a transitional regime that is committed to human rights and free elections. 

After the carnage of Iraq, such a simple, swift and (apparently) morally uncomplicated victory seemed impossible. 

Lest we swoon too quickly, however, it is worth remembering that there are other ways to look at this.

We don't, that is, have to see things from the perspective of US state planners. Long before Western politicians and intellectuals extricated themselves from their embrace of the Gaddafi regime, and particularly his adorable sons whom they greatly admired, Libyans were embarking on the process of regime change independently of Washington.

There had been protest developing over matters such as housing, as well as a developing current of human rights dissent. It was not well-developed or institutionalised, as Gaddafi did not even tolerate the most rudimentary forms of civil society opposition that were able to develop under Mubarak's regime. 

Only once, in the early 1990s, did Gaddafi consider experimenting with liberalisation - but the instability erupting in neighbouring Algeria instantly warned him off it. And at any rate, repression became a more instantly saleable commodity in the context of the 'war on terror', as Gaddafi punted himself to international clients as an effective opponent of 'Al Qaeda' (the label of convenience for jihadi movements opposed by Washington). Because of this, Gaddafi usually had little difficulty demoralising opposition with a combination of threats and repression. 

Yet, by February this year, there had been successful revolutions in the hitherto stable states of Egypt and Tunisia. As a result, the rebellion that began on February 17 didn't simply melt away at the first sign of brutality. It spread with a rapidity that evidently rattled the dictatorship. 

The regime, evidently calculating that its greatest advantage lay in military supremacy, forced a war on the opposition. Even as it did so, using air power, machine guns and tanks to extirpate the rebellion, splits from within the regime and the armed forces enabled the revolt to spread and capture more of Libyan territory. For the first two weeks, it looked as if Gaddafi was a doomed man.

To give political expression to this revolt, people's committees arose across Libya. But the movement lacked the institutional structures, the centralised organisation, that was needed to defeat a well-organised army. In this situation, the vacuum was necessarily filled by people who were already well-situated and well-resourced – businessmen, military leaders, professionals, and defecting politicians. Thus, the National Transitional Council was formed. 

The council was in theory supposed to be a national, representative body. Yet from early on it lacked authority beyond some strongholds such as Benghazi. Delegates that were expected to arrive never did. And there were the beginnings of fratricidal in-fighting. Somewhat more ominously, rumours were being spread by the opposition that Gaddafi was using 'African mercenaries' (Libya is an African country – in this context, 'African' means black). The claims, as Amnesty International's Donatella Rivera pointed out, were unfounded. Yet, the more Gaddafi advanced against the opposition, reclaiming lost territory and smashing rebel units, the more these rumours gained ground. Lynchings began to occur. 

In the face of a resurgence on the part of the regime, some elements in the opposition leadership also began to look to an alliance with external powers. Figures such as Ibrahim Dabbashi and General Abdul Fatah Younis, both defectors from the regime, were early supporters of some form of intervention. Initially, such voices were isolated. Other leading figures in the rebellion such as Abdul Hafiz Ghoga outright opposed intervention. Posters appeared on walls in Benghazi pleading for no intervention. 

Yet, as the defeats racked up, the logic of seeking external protection became more appealing. Some rebel elements believed that a defeat would result in massacres. The head of the Transitional Council and former minister of justice Mustafa Abdul Jalil asserted that if Gaddafi took Benghazi, "half a million" would die. This was implausible. The scale of recorded deaths at that point was far from a genocidal massacre. The city of Misrata, which had seen the bitterest fighting, had suffered 257 deaths in the first two months of war. However, the invocation of genocide fitted with a strategy to activate UN support for a no-fly zone to protect the opposition movement. 

Weeks before a UN resolution endorsing NATO action was passed, intelligence and special forces units belonging to external powers such as Britain were already liaising with rebel units in Libya. And the leadership of the rebel army changed, as General Younis was replaced by a former Gaddafi ally named Khalifa Hifter, who had lived in Virginia for the previous 20 years. 

Soon, as NATO bombing began, it was external powers who were dictating the pace of the opposition's assault. They were also dictating how soon and under what conditions the transitional council could gain recognition as the legitimate government of Libya, begin trading oil, and procure weapons. Yet, this still solved a number of problems for the Transitional Council, both protecting them from their spurned ruler and strengthening their hand within the opposition. From being a fractious opposition group lacking national authority and facing defeat, they became an internationally recognised government with material advantages and international force backing them up. Today they are victorious.

However, lurking in this apparent triumph is a defeat of sorts – not for the opposition leadership, but for the original revolutionary upsurge. From being a movement of millions, with untold possibilities, it became a war fought by only a few tens of thousands of soldiers under the command of a relatively conservative elite, many of whom had profited under Gaddafi. Indeed, divisions among that elite resulted in the assassination of General Younis only weeks before the rebels triumphed. Such rivalry once in power could be deadly. 

From being a movement that boldly declared its independence, it became wholly dependent on external powers. Most tragically, elements within it became obsessed with 'Africans', who were frequently arrested, harassed, or killed. In the days following the capture of Tripoli, several news organisations have found evidence of rebels rounding up black men and killing them. "This is a bad time to be a black man in Libya," reported Channel 4's Alex Thomson. This jars with the language of human rights with which the opposition validates its claim to rule. It is also a disgrace to the February 17 revolt.

From the American perspective, a problem has been solved. They have adapted resourcefully to the 'Arab Spring' and placed themselves, however hypocritically, on the side of reform. They have exercised military power in a manner taken to be virtuous, thus making future interventions more plausible.  But Libya's problems seem to be at a beginning, not an end.

[Richard Seymour is a British socialist. He blogs at Lenin's Tomb.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sat, 09/03/2011 - 19:59


August 25, 2011 -- The Libyan people need to challenge the leadership of the Interim Transitional National Council, and its close ties with Western imperialist powers, to create a better future, argues Joseph Daher.

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Gaddafi’s regime is collapsing. The capital Tripoli has fallen to Libyan opposition forces backed by NATO, reportedly including MI6 officers on the ground. The end of Gaddafi’s power is justifiably celebrated by the Libyan people.

The Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC), established in February by a rebel coalition forged in Benghazi, has vowed recently to hand over power to an elected body within eight months of the downfall of Gaddafi. ITNC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said the transitional body is necessary “to establish stability” in the country, but that Libyans will choose a national congress in due course. He also added that a referendum on a new constitution will be held 20 months after Gaddafi is overthrown.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has announced a special Libya summit with the heads of the European Union, Arab League and African Union this week in New York, while Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu - in a press conference in Benghazi with Mustafa Abdul Jalil - declared that NATO will continue its military campaign in Libya until full "security" is established.

The following question is currently posed: what future for Libya, and for whom? To answer this question we should first look at the current composition of the ITNC and the people close to it, then look briefly at the relationship of western powers to the ITNC.

ITNC: only an interim?

The ITNC has been recognised by many countries as the legitimate governing authority. The Arab League released a statement officially recognising the ITNC, as have many western countries.

The ITNC derives its legitimacy from the decisions of local councils set up by the revolutionary people of Libya on 17 February. The ITNC’s professed aim is to steer Libya during the interim period that will follow the destruction of Gaddafi’s oppressive regime.

The ITNC has a council which consists of 31 members representing the various cities of Libya and of an executive board of 15 members. The executive board was dismissed on 8 August 2011 following the assassination of the rebel military commander, Major General Abdul Fatah Younis. The board's chairman Mahmoud Jibril is expected to name members of the new board in due course.

The previous ITNC executive board nevertheless gives us a good picture of the Libyan opposition inside the council divided mainly in two separate groups. The first one is linked to Gaddafi’s regime and has defected only recently from it to join the opposition. It has strong links with Western countries. They were the first to call for a foreign military intervention.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil resigned from his position as Gaddafi's Justice Minister on 26 February in response to the regime's violent crackdown on peaceful protests. He is known for having been supportive of some reform initiatives advanced by Sayf al Islam al Qadhafi.

Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman of the INTC's executive board, headed the National Council and the National Economic Development Board in Gaddafi's regime. Jibril is a neoliberal economist who presided over the Gaddafi regime’s neoliberal reforms from 2007 until the uprising. He now serves as a foreign affairs representative for the Council. He has worked to secure recognition of the ITNC in meetings with European and U.S. officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Ali Al Issawi is a foreign affairs representative for the ITNC. He served as Minister of Economy, Trade, and Investment from 2007 to 2009.

This first group brings a number of supporters with international backing to the executive body council, such as ministers Tarhouni, Boughaighis, Shareef, El Osta, Shamman and El Alagi.

The second group is composed of long time opponents to the Gaddafi regime and has strong links on the ground among the population. They don’t have the same international contacts as the first group. Many of them were human rights activists.

Abdel Hafez Ghoga, former head of the Benghazi Lawyers Syndicate, is the symbol of this second trend; he is the Vice-Chairman and spokesman for the ITNC. He is described in the Libyan press as a “human rights lawyer and community organiser.” He was initially working to convene a national transitional council at the same time as Mustafa Abdel Jalil and others were working to form the ITNC.

Fathi Terbil is the youth representative to the ITNC. He is a legal advocate from Benghazi who represented families of victims of the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre, in which Libyan security forces are alleged to have killed over 1,000 prisoners in putting down an uprising. His arrest and release on 15 February sparked protests and confrontations that in turn fuelled the broader uprising.

Dr. Salwa Fawzi al Deghali is the Council representative for women. She is a lawyer and a native of Benghazi.

This second group was not initially in favour of foreign intervention. Abdel Hafez Ghoga said in February that the newly formed council was not contacting foreign governments and did not want them to intervene. He was responding to overtures from Hillary Clinton, who said Washington was "reaching out" to opposition groups in the east and was prepared to offer "any kind of assistance" to Libyans seeking to overthrow the regime.

The first group led by Jibril and Abdel Jalil, characterised by its international links, has become dominant in the ITNC. We can see this in, for example, the ITNC announcing in May its readiness to work with the IMF, declaring adherence to the ‘principles of good governance, accountability and transparency’ promoted by the IMF.

These policies were implemented by the same people when they were aligned with Gaddafi. Ex-head of the IMF Stauss Khan was, a few weeks before the uprising, congratulating the Gaddafi regime for its successful implementation of neo liberal policies, while the Libyan regime was collaborating these past few years with the US and other western countries in "counter-terrorism". Abdel Jalil also said that the ITNC will respect treaties signed in the past.

The recent reshuffling of the executive board might represent an attempt by the second group and people on the ground within the rebel movement, including homegrown leaders who helped start the uprising, to assert their power.

Many grassroots supporters will want the ITNC to remember its role is transitional and avoid any tactics that prolong its unchecked authority. But it is self-selected, already facing significant and sometimes lethal division within its ranks, and influenced by its dependence on Western powers.

Western interests and NATO

The Libyan leadership and NATO have both declared that NATO will continue its operations, declaring that the military mission has not changed despite the fall of Gaddafi’s regime. It remains to "protect the civilian population", and to enforce the no-fly zone and the arms embargo.

In a move led by France and Britain, the United Nations on Wednesday announced that it is working on a draft resolution that would enable Libyan assets to be unfrozen and sanctions to be unlocked. The money would be given to the ITNC.

A 70-page plan detailing Western designs for the occupation of post-Gaddafi Libya, apparently signed off by the political leadership of the ITNC, has been leaked. The plan includes keeping large portions of the security apparatus intact, with a number of the leaders of the brutal regime’s crackdown left in position on condition of loyalty to the new, pro-West regime.

Even more controversial will be the “Tripoli task force”, a 15,000-man force operated by the United Arab Emirates which may occupy the capital and conduct mass arrests of Gaddafi’s top supporters. The ITNC confirmed the authenticity of the report, and while the rebel ambassador to the UAE expressed “regret” that the truth had come out, he said it was “important that the general public knows there is an advance plan”.

An ITNC representative said he had spoken with Hillary Clinton and 10 other foreign ministers to discuss political, economic and military support for Libya during a transition period.

The future of Libya will be played out in the following months. Now there is another struggle for Libyans to fight: to regain control of the revolutionary process which is now in the hands of ex-members of Gaddafi’s regime who defected only a few months ago, and who are ruling with the assistance of their old Western imperialist allies.

The Libyans who started the popular uprising must be at the centre of the revolutionary process to protect the interests of the Libyan people. They must make clear to the leadership of the ITNC that NATO has no role in the future of Libya. Our Libyan brothers and sisters will have to renew their revolution to achieve a new democratic and anti-imperialist Libya. This is just the beginning for Libyans.