While the media presents Western intervention in Libya as aiding a just uprising of the Libyan people, the reality is very different.
Watching the Western media, one would think that the Libya crisis was a domestic uprising in which the West felt morally obliged to help and came to aid of ordinary citizens. But a closer look than we are allowed by the “controlled” Western media shows a much different picture.
Rather than the result of a spontaneous show of public participation, the conflict besieging Libya may have been a classic expression of neo-colonialism. The West, especially the United States and its Gulf allies, rather than embracing the peoples’ expression of participation in Egypt and Tunisia contrived events in Libya to be able to control these expressions and ensure that they did not result in these people or any other in the region being able to decide how to govern themselves.
Before the situation in Libya erupted, Western countries were investing heavily both in Libyan oil and in removing Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The two goals were not incompatible for them as they were both driven by the capitalist motivation of greed. They could not let the oil flow by them without taking their share and, they thought, if they can replace the colonel with a Western puppet they can increase their profit as well as their control over the source of this profit.
Now we know that Western intelligence agencies were operating inside Libya long before the disturbances started. They were so well entrenched that as soon as the Libyan public got involved they could provide them diplomatic, strategic and military support. In such circumstances it is also fantastically naïve to think that Western intelligence officers were not fermenting unrest.
Recently, a Swiss military official speaking on condition of anonymity explained how the Swiss had invested millions if not billions in trying to remove the Libyan colonel since their rift with him started in 2008. US military aid to Libya — the training of Libyan soldiers — was widely rumoured to be accompanied with ideological efforts to convert Libyan officers to an American style of life. It may have been no coincidence that the “Libyan revolution” has from the start been led by former members of the same regime they now claim to be opposing.
To fend off such efforts, Libya bought influence with the West. The very same coalition that is bombing the people of Libya today contributed to their coffers in the recent past. Libya helped finance French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s election campaign in 2007. Libya invested heavily in the UK and the US, often inviting US businessmen and entertainers to participate in extravagant events and projects. And Libya invested heavily in the capitalist markets of Europe and the United States.
Libya not only had political reasons to do so. It also had the wealth to do so. The Libyan people were the wealthiest of any of the 54 African states. Unlike the poverty-ridden populations of Tunisia and Egypt, Libyans had very good indicators of human development. Social and economic rights were so widely developed that Libya hosted hundreds of thousands of foreign workers. Yet despite its wealth, Libya remained a more socialist than capitalist state. This was hard for Western capitalists to palate.
So too the opportunities for profit from a war with Libya are hard for Western capitalists to pass up. As Asia Times Online’s Pepe Escobar reported in an article entitled “There’s No Business Like War Business” on 30 March, the main beneficiaries of a war with Libya are the US Pentagon, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Saudi Arabia, the Arab League’s Amr Moussa, and Qatar, not the Libyan people in Tripoli, Benghazi or anywhere in Libya.
When ordinary people rose up around the Middle East, these profiteers saw their opportunity to act. In the first instance, they may have thought that the ground was fertile enough from their significant investments in anti-colonel propaganda that all that was needed was some philosophical support. With a naiveté impertinent to the political sophistication of Libyans, the Sarkozy government sent French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy as their contribution to the rebels’ cause.
When this was not enough and it was clear that firepower had to be used to prevent the Libyan government from putting down the armed rebels — a means had to be devised to use force. A mere Western intervention would uncover for sure the neo-colonialist intentions of the West. Arab support had to be found.
The Arab League was a natural ally. Its secretary-general and a former lieutenant of disposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Amr Moussa, was trying to reinvent himself with aspirations to become the next president of Egypt. In addition, the West had leverage over him from the longstanding relationship that had existed with him during the more than a decade he served as Egypt’s foreign minister and permanent representative to the United Nations. Moreover, he had been compliant with the West when they wanted to use force against Iraq on behalf of Egypt in 1991 and on behalf of the Arab League in 2003.
Moussa was compliant again. In what would have been termed a flawed ballot if it had been the standard for an election in any country, the Arab League convened just half, eleven, of its 22 member states to vote on a Saudi Arabian-Qatari proposal to support a no-fly-zone over Libya. Two states present, Algeria and Syria, objected. In the end only nine of the 22 member states actually supported the “no-fly call”, but that was good enough for the West. It gave them just enough credibility to launch their grab for Libya.
The propaganda machine then turned to the UN. Timing was delicate. As the rebels were advancing on Tripoli, after the government restrained itself and withdrew its troops from town after town, the West hoped that the philosophical support might be enough. But just when things were looking hopeful for Western interests, the Libyan government, after a failed effort to resolve the conflict peacefully, unleashed a brutal attempt to put down the uprising. Within days Libyan government troops were at the gates of Benghazi. Time was of the essence.
The West focused its propaganda machinery on the UN with a vengeance. And it was no mere ordinary propaganda campaign but a full-blown orchestration of history for the books. First, Libyan diplomats were induced and threatened to step down from their positions and promised that if they supported the opposition they would be “taken care of”. This resulted in the Libyan diplomats to the UN not only resigning, but doing so and still maintaining a type of diplomatic status that allowed them to advocate on behalf of the armed rebels who were challenging the government of Libya for control of their country.
This was accomplished by the spurious actions of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who issued special passes to the former Libyan diplomats after their government had withdrawn their credentials. Bypassing the UN General Assembly’s Credentials Committee and well-established protocol, the UN secretary-general for the first time in the world body’s history personally favoured one side in what was by now a civil war. The secretary-general’s bias became even more apparent when on 25 March his spokesman said that he had left the responsibility of encouraging a peaceful resolution to the conflict to others and that the UN was not engaged in it at all. Such an abrogation of the core responsibility of the United Nations was unprecedented and akin to a head of a state saying his or her country’s national security is irrelevant.
The secretary-general apparently in pocket, the Libyan government’s voice silenced, the UN could move to vote on a series of resolutions that would finally result in the authorisation of the West to use force against Libya.
First Resolution 1970 was adopted by the UN Security Council with little fanfare amid calls for humanitarian protection. During the short debate no state queried whether the conflict could be better resolved by sternly calling for all parties to lay down their arms. Instead a one-sided, but also weak resolution was adopted that merely aimed at vilifying a few government officials and members of the family of Colonel Gaddafi. Hardly any mention was made of the armed opposition and certainly no stern call was made for them to lay down their arms; it was even intimated that the armed opposition was allowed to go on attacking.
Just days after the first resolution was adopted without any authorisation for the use of force and before its measures could even be implemented, a second resolution was adopted calling for the use force. Not only was this inconsistent with the UN Charter’s provisions concerning Security Council authorisation of the use of force, but its very adoption was based on very odd politics. For example, despite populations that largely abhorred the use of force by Western countries against African countries and despite the fact that the African Union had just reiterated that no outside force should be used in Libya, Gabon, South Africa and Nigeria, as non-permanent members of the Security Council, voted for the resolution.
What had encouraged these three African states to vote against the common position of their continent is ripe for speculation. While the impoverished Gabon may be written off to incapacity to withstand Western pressure, Nigeria and South Africa are flourishing on the African continent and have significant reputations among African states. Moreover, as might have been expected, they have suffered for ignoring their people and the collective voice of Africa.
In South Africa, opposition parties have questioned the government as to how it could act contrary to the will of its own people, as well as all of Africa, by supporting Resolution 1973. The situation even threatens the legitimacy of South African President Jacob Zuma’s government. What degree of bribes or threats would motivate him to make such a dangerous decision? If US escapades in Iraq are any indication, it might be recalled that the US sent South Africa a letter threatening to view them as a hostile nation if they raised the legitimacy of the use of force against Iraq in the UN General Assembly in 2003. If such means worked then with the more resilient South African President Thabo Mbeki, one might expect that they would still work now with South Africa under Zuma.
Similarly in Nigeria, it is hard to imagine how a government on the verge of an election would risk acting contrary to the overwhelming will of its people who oppose Western intervention on their continent, with that of its African compatriots. Even the most significant campaign contributions would likely not constitute sufficient bribes coming just weeks before the elections. But then, just days ago Nigerian elections were suddenly and without credible explanation delayed.
The only Arab state of the Security Council, Lebanon, has been governed by a “gouvernement du demission” since January. Ironically the reason for the failure of the Lebanese government had to do with its bowing to the West in relation to the tribunal investigating the death of former prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri.
In the few days between the votes on resolutions 1970 and 1973, diplomats from Brazil, China, Germany, India and the Russian Federation constantly mentioned assurances that they had received that resolution 1973 would not allow for extensive use of force. Both before and after the adoption of the resolution these same countries warned of the “great risks and the likelihood” of large- scale loss of life that would result from aerial bombardment. In the end, all efforts to prevent the action were tidily foreclosed by a combination of threats and bribes and misinformation. This effort has continued as a means to protect the small coalition of mainly Western states using force against Libya from criticism.
For example, after the adoption of the resolutions when Libya attempted to send a new envoy to the UN, not only did the US government refuse him entry to the United States in violation of the Headquarters Agreement it had with the UN, but also the UN did not object. Moreover, a source close to the envoy that Libya had sent, Ali Treki, a former foreign minister and former president of the UN General Assembly, said that he had been told that if he assumed the post for his country his family would be targeted by the allied airstrikes.
When the Libyan government then named former Nicaraguan foreign minister and another former president of the UN General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann to represent them at the UN in New York, and discussed representation with another individual in Geneva, Western governments supporting the coalition carrying out the bombings quickly issued threats to these persons. In New York, the US permanent representative to the UN literally stated that d’Escoto Brockmann could not represent Libya and that if he tried to do so he could be deported from the United States. Rice appeared oblivious of the fact that d’Escoto Brockmann was actually born in the United States, and of the fact that under the Headquarters Agreement with the UN the US was obliged to accept duly credentialed representatives to the UN. Once again, however, international law seemed to mean little to the US.
Despite preventing the government of Libya from speaking at the UN through their duly appointed representatives, the host country of the UN headquarters has allowed dismissed Libyan diplomats to continue to use the Libyan Permanent Mission in New York to work for the armed opposition to their government. In this capacity, the former Libyan diplomats in New York are advocating for the bombing of their own country by foreign forces from their country’s diplomatic premises.
Even in this surreal situation, condemnations of the Western bombing of Libya are growing. Joining the repeated calls of UN Security Council members Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia are countries like Uruguay whose president, José Mujica, recent told the International Press Service that “[t]his attack implies a setback in the current international order. The remedy is much worse than the illness. This business of saving lives by bombing is an inexplicable contradiction.”
Even for those Libyans who legitimately seek to claim a right to participate in their own country’s government, and their supporters around the world, the destruction of the wealthiest country in Africa must appear to be a strange contradiction. The crucial question is whether enough people will recognise this deadly oxymoron in time to do something about it.
The writer is a prominent international human rights lawyer.