Libya: Dictator loses, but who wins?

August 22, 2011
Libyans celebrate
Libyans celebrate unconfirmed reports Gaddafi has been captured, Tripoli.

There will be no tears for the end of the Gaddafi regime, if that is indeed what we are watching.

The Gaddafi regime was a brutal dictatorship and it deserved to be overthrown just as much as that of Ben Ali’s in Tunisia or Mubarak’s in Egypt.

But, unlike the defeat of Ben Ali or Mubarak, the end of the Gaddafi has not been brought about mainly by a popular revolutionary rising.

It has been brought about by a military victory in a civil war in which the rebel side has become largely dependent on western military fire power.

So the question now posed is this: in whose interest will the new rulers of Libya act?

NATO is already saying that it will work with the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council. This, more of a threat than a promise, should be no surprise.

The point of the western intervention in Libya was to gain a foothold in the fast moving Arab revolutions and to create a compliant regime by making it militarily and economically dependent on the west in a way in which, say, the Tunisian unions or the Youth Coalitions of Egypt could never be said to be.

So the major powers will be looking for payback.

They will want an Arab regime which is a home for western military bases. They will want a regime that is supportive of Israel (and the TNC has already made supportive statements in favour of the ‘war on terror’).

And they will want a Libya that is safe for BP, Shell and other western corporations, whether from the oil industry or elsewhere.

The US, Britain and France will be making the most of the refurbishment of the "humanitarian intervention" argument.

This was first used in the Balkan War of the late 1990s but was comprehensively disgraced by its exposure as a fraud in the Iraq and Afghan wars. Now Syria and others can expect this cover for western imperial goals to gain a renewed lease of life.

The Palestinian cause, up to now a beneficiary of the Arab Spring, will face a more confident enemy if the major powers are strengthened ideologically by the fall of Gaddafi.

In the Western countries we should immediately demand that the imperial powers live up to their own propaganda: Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama all said that this operation was simply about saving civilian lives.

The course of military operations proved this false. But, nevertheless, the NATO powers should now get out of Libya.

Their task, by their own definition, is over.

It should be left to the Libyan people to determine their future. William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, has talked of sending troops to "keep the peace" in Libya.

That should never happen: Iraq surely shows us the kind of failure that awaits any such scheme.

These aims of the Western powers may be hard to realise since although the TNC has become the creature of the imperialists it is by no means a stable entity.

Indeed the pressures within it created by western tutelage resulted in a bloody feud in which the military commander of the rebels was killed only a few weeks ago.

And there is some sentiment among rebel supporters in Benghazi that the western powers need to go as soon as Gaddafi has been defeated.

Dima Khatib, one of the best commentators on the Arab Spring, reported from Benghazi a few weeks ago. She recorded this interchange:

"The sign behind her reads: Thanks France. As I was taking a photograph of it, a woman came up to me in Benghazi's version of Tahrir Square and said: 'We are all Sarkozy'.

"I said: 'Oh really? What do you think of Sarkozy suggesting that Gaddafi resigns but stays in Libya?'

"She did not even think for a minute before she said: 'No No... That is none of Sarkozy's business. Gaddafi's fate is our business, us, the Libyan people'.

"Another lady hurried towards me to say: 'We thank the US and France for what they are doing. But they have no say here in things. They should just give us the air cover we need to march to Tripoli.

"'We Libyans will do it ourselves. We shall liberate Libya from the tyrant and we Libyans shall decide his fate'."

Of course, such sentiments considerably underestimate the persistence of the imperial powers. They are like unwelcome dinner guests -- very easy to invite, very hard to get to leave.

But still this mood is a factor that persists from the earliest days of the revolution when "We can do it alone, no western intervention" billboards were seen across Benghazi.

It will make life more uncertain for any future pro-Western regime in Tripoli.

And there is one other unpredictable effect. The Western powers may get the regime they want in Libya, but the fall of Gaddafi will be seen by many in the Arab world as another victory for the revolution.

This is an illusion because the main beneficiaries of the fall of Gaddafi will be the major powers and it will encourage them in further interventions in the Middle East.

But sometimes illusions have secondary positive effects.

And this illusion may encourage those who are fighting in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere.

In the coming weeks, the fate of the Arab revolutions will depend on how the balance of renewed imperial confidence and sustained revolutionary enthusiasm works itself out.

[Reprinted from British socialist website .]

Video: NATO tries to control Libyan revolution. The Real News Network.


"The point of the western intervention in Libya was to gain a foothold in the fast moving Arab revolutions" - yes - "and to create a compliant regime by making it militarily and economically dependent on the west" - yes - "in a way in which, say, the Tunisian unions or the Youth Coalitions of Egypt could never be said to be." - hardly. The UGTT or the Revolutionary Youth of Egypt aren't in power, they aren't even having anything more than their most basic demands met. In both of those countries, the old guard - imperialist stooges - remain in power, although that power is still being eroded by an ongoing revolutionary movement. Yet the author clearly thinks what has happened in those countries is a good thing - even though the forces of imperialism still reign and the governments are appealing for an end to all protests & strikes in order for things to return to normal. Why is Libya different because the uprising became an armed struggle and western forces gave it support? The overthrow of Gadaffi is a victory for the Arab Spring, especially given the way things played out over the last few days with the neighbourhoods in Tripoli joining the uprising. It is no illusion, and the west has misjudged the dynamic of these revolutions; the Libya intervention was intended to limit and dampen the spirit of demonstrators across the region, which worked for a time. But the fighters in the Nafusa mountains especially didn't fit in with NATO's plan for a drawn out stalemate and negotiated settlement. And the renewed strength of revolutionary forces in Egypt & Tunisia has also spurred on uprisings - even as Assad attempts to drown that revolution in blood as Gadaffi did. But now the Syrians will know & take heart from the fact that it didn't work for Gadaffi and it won't work there either, as the author rightly concedes. I find the author's whole line of argument that "sometimes illusions have secondary positive effects" - this is essentially an orientalist position that assumes that we in the west have a better understanding of revolutions and how they play out than the people actually fighting one will. This is no illusion, the Libyan people have made their first step in a revolution against imperialism, although there are still many more before them, I would not be so quick to write off their struggle. Patrick Harrison
Well the Libyans seem to be happy to get rid of rabid selfobsessed lunatic. The left for years have made a claim to how "progressive" he was, apparently western oil companies that invest and develop natural resources are more evil than homegrown arab dictators who have squandered a fortune and repressed a generation with their own oil wealth. What happens to Libya after hes gone is suppostition..... The reality is he is gone.....
I cannot agree that the overthrow of Gaddafi is a victory for the Arab Spring. Surely it is a victory for the imperialist West against the Arab Spring? This seems to be the primary motivation behind the NATO war from day one - to curtail, or stop and reverse the democratic uprisings in the Arab world which have overthrown US backed dictators. Perhaps there are some genuine anti-imperialists among the Libyan opposition, but the accounts that I have seen have indicated that the leadership of the "Transitional National Council" are almost exclusively pro-West, pro-US, pro-neoliberalism, pro-NATO, and now, after reading the above, in favour of the "war on terror" !! The repeated unfurling of US flags by the opposition gives the game away. I believe it was correct to oppose the NATO war on Libya, demand a stop to the bombing, and now to demand that NATO leave Libya immediately. But this can be done without offering any support to the Libyan "opposition". Gaddafi had been a Western ally for most of the last 15 years, and for this he and his regime deserve to be condemned. But to recognise this and cheer on his downfall, or to claim this as part of the Arab spring is stretching the bounds of credibility. The moment NATO bombs fell on Libya, any uprising that perhaps was there at one stage was hijacked. The West saw an opportunity to stomp on the Arab Spring, and didn't waste a moment in taking advantage. The "TNC" new policies in government will be neoliberal doctrine funnelled from Western "advisors" - precisely what the Arab masses have been uprising against. This seems to be a major setback for the Arab Spring - but don't count out the Arab massess just yet. Adam Baker
Why should a new interim govt be hostile to anyone. If they are to forge a free and democratic society they will need to engage with and the involvement of the outside world, and after living in a lock down for so long most people I'm sure will want that as well. Also the world community getting involved would have surely played a major part in the draining of support for the dictator and been an invaluable morale boost to the people fighting it out on the ground against Ghadaffis heavily armed goon squads. The no fly zone and air strikes will have saved the lives of many "rebels" strange that this is a problem for you, better they die than receive aid from the west.
A dictator becomes a “dictator” abhorred by his countrymen when he has overused his authority & power. These are good lessons for such leaders overstepping their power because they have come to equate power as their right. Such have been the countries that the West have been quick to ear mark & target for overthrowing these countries has been an easy effort to enter & dislodge these leaders. It is these very citizens who end up helping the overthrow take place, thus the non-requirement for stretched military equipment or personnel & the use of their own to minimize the casualties to their own countrymen. Collateral damage is what the West would call this. The countries where these leaders become “dictators” are often rich in natural resources which are one reason why they end up misusing the mandate given to them & becoming power hungry & their stooges & families end up devastating the country to which they are supposed to function as custodians. It is the lack of answering this all important question that demands the West not to use these false clichés of “freedom from dictators” as an excuse. No sooner these “dictators” are overthrown the first thing the West ends up doing is to tap the natural resources, take over the economic hubs & privatize all channels that will supply their countries a steady flow of monetary returns & economic gain. All those who played an indirect role in aiding the West by providing support end up just turning their heads away. Therefore, when we all know Iraq was a mistake it is good to now ask whether Libya is going to be another – where the consequences to the future of the people of these countries were never part of the strategy or overall plan! It is not hard to deduce that all of the efforts to overthrow Governments whatever type of governance has taken place in these countries are done so purely on the basis of acquiring the wealth of these nations. The calls for removal of these “despots” or “dictators” are mere slogans helped greatly by the mass media that provides the visuals of sensationalism to justify the overthrowing by painting the perfect picture of saviors against despots. It took no time for Mubarak of Egypt, the one time darling of the West to be portrayed with so much hatred by the media with no reminder to the public that he was an agent of the West. This is what is likely to happen to all other political leaders who think they will remain the darlings of the West & continue corrupt leadership. In any democracy where people come to power on the strength of a vote it is natural that almost half the nation will not vote in favor of the overall winner. This is certainly not basis for any country to say that a leader is opposed & plans set to overthrow him. The countries that are currently earmarked for regime change will know from diplomatic statements where their countries are heading for & this alone should suffice to ensure the country is set in order & issues that are likely to be used as excuses are properly taken care of. Corruption being one excuse is a perfect area to ensure that politicians, their stooges & the corrupt public service immediately function as they should & not as they want to run for the repercussions are far more dangerous in the present context. If any country should be saved by the West it should be Palestinians suffering in Gaza for years as a result of Israeli. What does the US do instead – it vetoes Resolutions brought against Israel in the UN. - Nalliah Thayabharan
I'm sorry, A government that forces policies onto its own people is also a dictatorship regime. Lets not forget as well a cry to stop the rally's. Please, their where more vicious rallies in the 70's and 80's. This government is a dictatorship, just like the american government. Write about that Patrick.

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