Springtime for NATO in Libya

April 9, 2011

We now know what Washington’s model is for the Middle East, in its most attractive guise.

In answer to Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising, they have smoking craters filled with the charred remains of rebels, conscript soldiers, civilians and other blameless people who must have seen the joy in Egypt and Tunisia and wished it for themselves.

In answer to the turbulent, democratic republic, with its tumult of leftist, Nasserist, Islamist and liberal currents, they offer a prolonged civil war at best, culminating in a settlement with Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif and his sibling.

In answer to the popular committees, they have private agreements with regime defectors — not forgetting that the NATO powers prosecuting the aerial war are themselves very recent “regime defectors”.

The Washington model has other variants, of course. These have been on display in bloody repression by pro-US regimes in Yemen and Bahrain.

But the more glamorous liberal adaptation is present for all to see in Libya and it is notable for having more apologists than it has outright defenders.

NATO, the CIA and the special forces belonging to the world’s imperialist states are not forces of progress in this world.

It follows from this that the cooptation of the Libyan revolution by NATO, the CIA and special forces is a victory for reaction.

It’s no good hoping that the small, poorly armed, poorly trained militias of the east of Libya, who are now utterly dependent on external support, will somehow shake themselves free of such constraints once — if — they take power.

Even if they eventually get some of the Libyan money that has been frozen by international banks, as United Nations Resolution 1973 promises, it will have come all too late to have been decisive.

This means that even if Gaddafi were to be overthrown at this point, it would not have been by a popular revolution. It would not have been because the revolution broadened its base and spread into Tripoli or Sirte.

It would not have been under circumstances in which the panoply of social and political forces in Libya was fused into a victorious revolutionary bloc.

And it would not have seen Gaddafi’s regime replaced by a popular one serving popular needs.

Were Gaddafi to fall tomorrow, he would fall to a network of former regime elements and their external backers. The regime that replaced Gaddafi may well be more liberal, the sort that young Saif was to be entrusted to deliver at one point, but it would not be a popular or democratic one.

The migration deals with the European Union, the oil deals with multinationals and the arms deals to ensure the suppression of more radical political forces would all be central planks of a post-bellum regime.

The liberal argument, which is to the fore, is strikingly apolitical — and narcissistic. Only rarely do its advocates relate it to the shapeshifting revolutionary process currently underway in the Middle East.

Rarer still is anything that could pass for analysis of Libya’s internal dynamics.

On the contrary, its preferred starting point is the solitary, decontextualised crisis point in which the “West” can redeem itself through military action.

There is in this the echo of colonial discourse: the missionaries, the deserving victims, the empire as protector of the meek and virtuous.

It’s very important for the defenders of “humanitarian intervention” that there should be an opportunity to use firepower, to moralise the means of violence.

This is one reason why it never even occurred to liberal supporters of the intervention to wonder how it is that — unlike in Iraq, which war they generally castigate as irresponsible — there was never even the pretence of diplomacy.

If the issue was the minimisation of bloodshed, then a logical solution would have been to allow Turkey and others to facilitate negotiations.

Yes, a negotiated settlement would be a step back from outright victory for the rebels. But that is an increasingly improbable outcome anyway.

And as it happens, a diplomatic solution seems to be exactly what is on the cards now. The rebel transitional council leadership in Benghazi has acknowledged as much.

Gaddafi is sending ambassadors to talk to interested parties about a ceasefire settlement.

If the aerial bombardment was supposed to stop massacres, it doesn’t seem to have done so. From “Save Sarajevo” to “Save Benghazi”, however, the liberal imperialists are in their glory when on the warpath, and as facile with rationalisations and false consolations as they are contemptuous of the same when deployed by the right.

It is natural that the usual assortment of cynics, security wonks and liberal hawks should be content with this annexing, even if their arguments in its favour make little sense.

No one who supported the revolution, however, can be as content without also being a little naive or descending into bad faith arguments of the type: “we don’t trust the bourgeois cops, but a rape victim should still call the police.”

Say what you like about the police, but one generally doesn’t find them blowing up neighbourhoods.

Their role, in a word, is the suppression of conflict. The role of imperialist states in the world system is, to put it mildly, not that.

They are not susceptible to any of the constraints that apply to most police officers. And I am not prepared to see the US, or any of its surrogates, as a global policeman just yet.

Worse still are the wised up comments to the effect that “the world is a murky place, which should not be seen in black and white terms and we can’t force people to die for the sake of some purist anti-imperialism”.

No, but it’s hardly better to expect people to die for the sake a woolly platitude.

The war’s handful of leftist apologists are living off the waning hope that out of this process will come a people’s revolution.

Why do they think this likely? No reason.

We can live in hope, of course. The working class, introduced into these arguments as a force that will guarantee against any sell-out, betrayal, shoddy deal or undemocratic imposition, is the repository of this hope.

But the workers of the eastern coastal cities and towns, having shown considerable courage in fighting Gaddafi’s forces, were unable to defeat them. And they have not been able to prevent the former regime elements from asserting control of the revolt, or from cutting a deal with NATO.

The number of rebels who are actually armed and in control is numerically small. As of late March, there were only about 1000 trained fighters among the rebels.

There are estimated to be about 17,000 volunteers, but they are untrained, poorly armed and themselves a minority of the populations in which they operate. The Libyan working class — set aside the fact that much of the actual working class resides in areas beyond rebel control — is not in control of this process.

General Abdel Fatah Younis, the former interior minister, is not even in control of this process.

The opposition leaders are now adjuncts to a NATO strategy, which may not even have been disclosed to them.

Let’s at least give credit where it’s due. This is NATO’s war. And that means, this is Washington's war.

[This article is abridged from Richard Seymour’s Lenin’s Tomb blog, www.leninology.blogspot.com. Seymour is a member of the British Socialist Workers Party and author of the Liberal Defence of Murder, a critique of “humanitarian wars”.]


Richard Seymour has done an admirable job debunking justifications of “humantarian” wars and its defenders but his analysis of the internal dynamics of Libya leads him astray, so much so that bold assertions are taken as facts, when nothing is provided to back it up. For instance, in one sentence he says the co optation of the Libyan revolution by NATO etc is a victory for reaction and then in the next says it is no good hoping that the militias will shake themselves free of such constraints if they take power. The big mistake here is to separate the militias from the popular revolution as if they are distinct entities, the militia is the armed wing of the revolution. Co-option is also quite different from dealing with constraints. Co option would mean the US etc has complete control of the revolution but what evidence does Seymour provide? The evidence is that former regime elements are in control of the revolt and they have cut a deal with NATO? But where is the evidence of this deal? We have none, it's guesswork. More so, the actual evidence is that NATO is not interested in placing the transitional council into power. They are interested in a stalemate. Which is why NATO allowed African Union representatives in to try and negotiate a settlement Why would that be, if the Libyan revolution was totally co opted by NATO? Why would NATO ground the air force that the rebels have in their possession, if they were “their” guys? NATO do not want the transitional council in power by themselves despite some of its leadership being opportunist, because of its popular support within Libya i.e its not reliable enough for them, because their support base are the masses moved into revolutionary political action and they would be expected to fulfill at least partially the popular aspirations of the Libyan masses. Seymour is right when he says “The migration deals with the European Union, the oil deals with multinationals and the arms deals to ensure the suppression of more radical political forces would all be central planks of a post-bellum regime. “ but this is also true of Egypt and Tunisia, in that existing deals with imperialist countries were guaranteed. That there the revolution would need to be deepened should be taken as a given. Seymour then goes on to say, that to prevent the massacre in Benghazi “a logical solution would have been to allow Turkey and others to facilitate negotiations.” Turkey is far from a neutral player, as pointed out by Alaa al-Ameri “What has Turkey to gain from helping the Gaddafis cling to some degree of power? Well, for starters, there's the estimated $15bn worth of ongoing, no-bid contracts awarded to Turkish firms through their close relationships with the Gaddafi regime. As recently as late 2010, the Libyan prime minister al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmudi, described Turkish firms as the "backbone" of Libya's $100bn domestic investment programme. To put this in perspective, a generous estimate of all UK contracts with Libya, including all exports as well as oil and gas exploration deals since 2005, would total to somewhere in the region of $3bn. As the Libyan "day of rage" kicked off on 17 February, the Istanbul Stock Exchange's main ISE-100 index began a fall of 11%, which was only halted on 2 March.” More so, the population in Benghazi had no reason to believe that Gaddafi would be at all sincere about negotiations. Remember that twice the Gaddafi government announced a ceasefire, while it continued to murder civilians in Misrata and other areas. Seymour also castigates those who believe will come out of this a peoples revolution and says there is no reason that this will be likely. I would suggest a peoples revolution has already occurred in Benghazi, where the population is now arming itself, police are disarmed and there has been an explosion of free expression, independent journalism and political organising since it was liberated. The question is whether that can spread and whether NATO bombing is a block to that and I would say it is, which is why I think the bombing should end and the rebels should be properly armed. Because revolutionary sentiment does exist in Tripoli,its just that the initial uprising there was brutally crushed, much more so than Benghazi, so it has had to go underground. Probably, though, the silliest bit is his talk of the working class. Of course, the working class or more so the multi class movement that makes up the opposition movement cannot guarantee against any sell-out. But I think it is wrong to dismiss its power, because it couldn't beat Gaddafi's forces militarily. Because (a) this is only partially true. They did do it in Benghazi and other cities, not just in the East and (b) the total imbalance of military weaponry. Gaddafi's military armed to the teeth by the west, simply was too much, which has happened in many different struggles. That is why it is so crucial to demand that the rebels are armed, precisely to deal with that imbalance. But Seymour also thinks the weakness of the working class in the movement is shown up by the fact that there are only “1000 trained fighters among the rebels.” and about “17,000 volunteers”, who are a minority of the population, as if you could possibly conceive that armed militias fighting a war could be the majority of the population! Yes, they are a minority in terms of a population but they are not a minority in terms of who they represent and what they are fighting for. Tim Dobson

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