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The True Costs of the War on Libya

A Wicked, Heartless Folly

by CHARLES ABUGRE

The invasion was planned and the opportunity to execute it was highly propitious.

They say ‘time heals’ emotional wounds. If that is so why don’t I feel less enraged as the days go by since the outrageous invasion of Libya on ludicrous false pretences four months ago? Yes, Libya is under invasion from air and sea bombardments directed by foreign special forces on Libyan soil. The purpose of the invasion is regime change. The aim of the bombs that are killing people and laying Tripoli to waste is for one purpose only, to help a rebel group they formed and armed to overthrow the Colonel Gaddafi regime. The air bombardments were initiated in the false expectation that once bombs started falling in Tripoli, Libyans in Tripoli would rise up against Gaddafi and in this murky situation the armed group would march in from Benghazi and take power. As time goes by, the strategy gets desperate. It has now become ‘anything to kill or oust Gaddafi and his sons will do’. This is reminiscent of the 1960s when the same actors used not so dissimilar tactics to overthrow governments they didn’t like. The plan failed, which is why four months into the carnage, Gaddafi still pops out of the hole he is hiding in to scream insults at his invaders.

The invasion was planned. In the case of the US involvement, as far back as George Bush Junior’s ‘war on the axis of evil’. In the case of the French, active planning may have been since October 2010. The planning most likely included ensuring that weapons and forces were ready in Benghazi when the moment came. This is why the civil protest in Benghazi, which started in a similar manner as the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings of unarmed civilians, turned into an armed rebellion in two days, and in less than a month, the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)/French invasion had began. This incredible speed of events is far from spontaneous.

That there are British, Dutch, French and Italian special forces, among others, on the ground not just in Benghazi but all over the country is neither debatable nor denied. We know that much, from the reports of the British media and from the clumsy ways in which the Netherlands and Britain sought to introduce their special forces days into the insurgency. Recall the helicopter full of British special forces that landed in the middle of the rebel troops who promptly captured and displayed them before realising that they were ‘friendly forces’. Days later, the Dutch were even clumsier. They ended up being captured by the Gaddafi forces, who displayed them before the world’s media and then released them. You should have the seen the glee in the face of Gaddafi’s son.

But the penetration of special forces into Libya, if we are to believe Franco Bechis, the Italian journalist writing in the 24 March edition of Libero (re-told in www.economicsnewspaper.com), may have been as far back as 16 November 2010 when a train-load of French people landed in Benghazi carrying what were alleged to be businessmen seeking to invest in Libya’s agriculture. A large number of these ‘businessmen’ were in fact soldiers. According to Franco Bechis, quoting the Maghreb Confidential, active planning for regime change by the French began on 21 October 2010 when Nuri Mesmar, Gaddafi’s chief of protocol and his closest chum, arrived in Paris for surgery. However, Mesmar was not met by doctors but by the French secret service and Sarkozy’s closest aides. Mesmar was also responsible for the Ministry of Agriculture. On 16 November, Mesmar agreed to a strategy to drop troops in Libya under the guise of a business delegation. Two days later, a plane-load of people, including soldiers, landed in Benghazi where they met, among others, Libyan military commanders to encourage them to desert. One of them who agreed to desert was Colonel Gehan Abdallah, whose militia subsequently led the rebellion. Where did this information come from? The Italian intelligence service.

The role of Nuri Mesmar – using a close friend to stick the knife in the back of his friend in power – is as old as the story of Brutus and Caesar in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and reminds one of how Captain Blaise Campaoré of Burkina Faso was used by the French to overthrow and execute his closest friend Thomas Sankara.

But it was not only from France that the armed rebellion was planned. The head of the Libyan National Council, Colonel Khalifa, arrived from the USA on 14 March to lead the armed rebellion a month after it began. Colonel Khalifa has been living in the United States since the 1980s, apparently working as an agent for the CIA. This fact was contained in a book published in 2001, titled the ‘African Handling’ by Pierre Pean according to www.economicsnewspaper.com. The 31 March edition of the Wall Street Journal carries a story which says that ‘The CIA officials acknowledge that they have been active in Libya for several weeks, like other Western Intelligence Service’. Khalifa, Mesmar and others will be joined in the leadership of the Provisional Government by some of the most murderous individuals in the Gaddafi regime, including Jalil Mustafa Abud, who until the uprising was the minister for justice and on the list of Amnesty International’s most egregious human rights violators.

LUDICROUS FALSE PRETENCES

I used the phrase ‘ludicrous false pretences’ to describe the excuses publicly sold to a gullible press, decidedly. Why? The core of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 claims to have the aim of ‘protecting civilians’. There are two sets of principles which the need to protect civilians could have been drawn from. One is the principle of holding all combatants responsible in respect of the Geneva Convention. This principle is covered by UN Security Council Resolutions 1265, 1296 and 1820, among others. Armed combatants from both sides who violate the Geneva Convention will be held liable, under these resolutions, and could suffer sanctions and by extension be liable to face the International Criminal Court (ICC) owing to the extent of the violations qualified as crimes against humanity or as genocidal. These resolutions however do not legalise external military intervention.

The second is the principle of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P). This is based on the concept of ‘borderless’ security, which was the title of the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) released in December 2001 and subsequently adopted as an operative principle by the UN. This commission, chaired by Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun, undertook to study the relationship between (a) the rights of sovereign states, upon which the greater part of international relations has been built, and (b) the so-called ‘right of humanitarian intervention’ which has been exercised sporadically – in Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo but not Rwanda – and with varying degrees of success and international controversy. The report addressed ‘the question of when, if ever, it is appropriate for states to take coercive – and in particular military – action, against another state for the purpose of protecting people at risk in that other state’.

The conclusion was that the priority should be the protection of human beings, not state sovereignty. Therefore, if human security – physical safety and dignity – was threatened by the state or its severe inability to address, the international community had the responsibility to act, including by armed intervention. R2P places humanitarian law above that of sovereignty. The R2P was heavily lobbied, for especially Western humanitarian organisations, and its adoption by the UN celebrated. However, others have warned against the danger of this principle for a number of reasons. First, supplanting humanitarian law over sovereignty means supplanting humanitarianism over rights for the latter and is based on citizenship, which in turn rests on sovereignty. Secondly, the R2P principle opens the door for selective interventions and selective justice by those who control the Security Council. It also creates legal and political dependence on the UN Security Council and militarily powerful countries, thereby undermining the very foundations for long-term justice and peace which rests on domestic political processes. Resolution 1973 was crafted on the basis of R2P, ‘legalising’ the invasion. Invasion is what the NATO countries wanted, not simply in order to minimise harm to civilians by Gaddafi’s forces but for regime change.

Was an invasion necessary on humanitarian grounds? This is debatable because the answer lies in the counter-factual, namely, the issue of whether or not Gaddafi’s forces would have bombed Benghazi to bits as claimed. What we now know is that the Gaddafi air force did not target civilian settlements in Benghazi when they flew and according to Amnesty International, the claim of mass rape by Gaddafi’s forces could not be verified on the ground. We also know that the suppression of the 15 February civilian uprising by Gaddafi was not the first. The last major suppression of this sort was in 2006. Like with other North African and Middle Eastern dictators, Gaddafi put down the 2006 uprising violently, shooting a few and arresting others. There were no mass murders and at the time his actions received the tacit support of the USA in particular as a legitimate response to an Al-Qaida influence. But the plain truth is that the situation was no longer a civilian uprising after two days. It was an armed insurgency and every state has the right to confront armed insurgency with arms. We have seen this time and again in the Unites States, whether they are responding to religious fanatics or drug gangs in black neighbourhoods.

Was there a better way to save lives? Yes, if given the chance. We know that President Lula da Silva (former president of Brazil) offered to lead a mediation mission to mediate a ceasefire. This was supported by Latin American countries, the African Union and even the weak-kneed Arab League. Gaddafi had agreed to the idea of a ceasefire, including international forces, to observe it. This was turned down by NATO and their vassals in Benghazi. The African Union mission was humiliated in Benghazi and the Western media hosted discussions that ridiculed the AU initiatives. Peace was given no chance. Why? Because the agenda is regime change and not the protection of civilians.

If military intervention was the better route to protecting civilians, why hasn’t NATO invaded Yemen where a wholly non-violent uprising is being brutally suppressed with live bullets? Robert Gates, who was until recently the US defense secretary is reported to have said, ‘I do not think it’s my role to intervene in the internal affairs of Yemen.’ Could it be because he is ‘our bloody dictator’? After all, he is fighting a war against left-wing separatists ‘we’ don’t like, and Yemen plays host to America’s fifth fleet? How about Bahrain, the tiny kingdom where the royal family owns most of the islands that make up the kingdom, and where with the support of Saudi troops large numbers of unarmed demonstrators have been gunned down? Is there even a talk of hauling the sultan to the ICC? This is the selective use of the R2P that many have feared.

Is the military intervention saving lives? Clearly not! How do aerial bombardments of civilian settlements and atrocities by rebels armed by NATO constitute saving civilians lives? Are the people of Benghazi more civilian than the people in Tripoli and other places? The history of Western military invasions ostensibly meant to save lives has often tended to claim lives. Take Iraq, where a million or so died directly from bombs and indirectly from sectarian violence and a million more have been displaced. Not even Saddam’s several years of murderous rule managed to achieve that feat. Or take Afghanistan or Somalia or even the Balkan interventions?

Are these invaders capable of false pretences to justify armed interventions? Yes. The evidence abounds. The story of lies and deceitfulness that was sold to the same gullible media to justify the invasion of Iraq is well known. George Bush and Tony Blair were in no doubt that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. Once the decision was made to invade Iraq everything was done to provoke a justification for invasion. Before the invasion of Afghanistan on the pretext of going after Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida, the ruling Taliban had offered to hand Bin Laden over to an international tribunal if the Americans provided evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 bombing of the Twin Towers in New York. There are similar stories relating to the bombardment of Yugoslavia.

WHY REGIME CHANGE?

So, if the North African uprisings that spilled over into Libya provided the enabling conditions for regime change planned long before, and if ‘saving lives’ was not the real purpose of the military intervention, why are they so desperate to remove Colonel (Brother) Muammar Gaddafi and his family from power?

There are many theories.

RETRIBUTION

Different governments harbour different grievances against ‘the Brother’. Some say Sarkozy is seeking to cover up an embarrassment, one that could cause him a legal headache if the lethargic French legal system were to ever to come to life. This is the allegation that his election campaign for president of the French republic was substantially funded by the Gaddafi family. ‘Papi Silvio’ (Berlusconi) was embarrassed by ‘the Brother’ when he pitched his tent in Milan at a time that Berlusconi was facing a public outcry over his womanising behaviour. ‘The Brother’ is said to have addressed a room full of angry Italian women, and surrounded by his ‘liberated’ women guards, announced himself a protector of Italian women. The British and the Americans may have more serious grievances in the form of the downing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie. It is probably the same sense of grievance that led many African governments to acquiesce to UN resolution 1973. Many would love to see the back of this weird man who prowled their territories in a manner that made them small in the eyes of their people. But it is simply not wise to embarrass, let alone anger those with bigger military might.

IN SUPPORT OF A LEGITIMATE INDEPENDENCE STRUGGLE

In the New Eastern Outlook journal (www.journal-neo.com), Dmitry Isayev quotes Papi Silvio as saying that the war in Libya is a war of independence of Cyrenaica (eastern Libya), presumably from the colonisation of Western Libya, perhaps in much the same way as the separation of South Sudan from the rest of Sudan. Silvio’s Italy is therefore clear in what it is doing – it is supporting a separatist movement. While it is unlikely that his NATO counterparts will welcome this perspective of the war, Silvio’s view does have resonance. The armed insurrection is launched from Benghazi (the capital of the east), which for several centuries was the seat of the monarchy. While the monarchy lasted Cyrenaica controlled the oil resources, a thriving port and fishing grounds, and therefore the wealth. This monarchy was overthrown by Gaddafi in 1969 with the support of clans from the west. Since then the east has been marginalised politically and economically. But if the purpose of the war is to separate the two Libyas, how does this gel with UN Security Council resolution 1973, which is meant merely to protect civilians?

GEOPOLITICAL INTERESTS

In the 23 June issue of Issue (536) of the leading online publication on African issues, Pambazuka News (www.pambazuka.org), Ismael Hossein-Zadeh suggested that NATO are going after Gaddafi because of his insubordination that threatens strategic interests and the very sense of power itself. One area of unforgiveable insubordination is Gaddafi’s (and his Syrian counterpart’s) refusal – the only two ‘Arab nations’ to do so – to be absorbed into NATO/US/French strategic security arrangements for the control of the Mediterranean Sea Basin and the Middle East. ‘Libya and Syria have not also participated in NATO’s almost ten-year-old Operation Active Endeavor naval patrols and exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and neither is Libya a member of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue military partnership which includes most regional countries: Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania’. Libya’s Gaddafi also opposed the US Africa Command (AFRICOM).

These are serious infractions because of the strategic importance of the Mediterranean region. Staying out means Gaddafi cannot be trusted when it comes to the security of Israel – a country you do not mess around with. Staying out means an important source of oil, gas and minerals deposit cannot be relied upon in strategic planning. Staying out also means leaving a crack for other non-NATO countries, especially China, Brazil, India and Russia, to find serious footing in the region. Staying out constitutes a serious geopolitical risk.

The concern to contain India and China is not a throw-away point. Questioned on his view about what really motivates the invasion of Afghanistan, Henry Kissinger, the famed foreign secretary of the Cold War era, says that ‘trends supported by Japan and China, to create a free trade area in Asia – an opposing block of the most populous nations in the world with great resources and some of the most industrial nations will be inconsistent with American national interests. For this reason, America must maintain a presence in Asia…’ (Simon and Schuster, ‘Does America need a foreign policy?’, quoted in www.economicsnews.com). This is consistent with the views of Zbigniew Brzzinsky, Jimmy Carter’s foreign secretary, the man understood to have discovered and mentored Barack Obama into the presidency. He considers Euro-Asia to be the ‘chessboard on which the battle takes place for global primacy’. The Mediterranean is a core part of Euro-Asia. Speaking on 28 March, Barack Obama says of the Libyan invasion: ‘when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act … America has an important strategic interest in preventing Gaddafi from defeating those who oppose him’.

STRATEGIC ECONOMIC INTERESTS

In my view there are three areas in which strategic economic interests express themselves: economic policies that influence the accumulation, ownership and movement of capital, goods and services; the control over natural resources indirectly or directly; and the power of long-term debt. In the Pambazuka article, Ismael makes the point that the control of oil matters but that NATO/French countries already exercise control through the presence of their companies. The problem is that Gaddafi has refused to privatise the oil wells and so exercises effective control. That is dangerous, in the same way that Hugo Chavez is. Gaddafi keeps an open-door policy with regards to foreign companies. Such a policy risks letting China into Libya in a big way, thereby complicating the strategic security question. As George Bush once said, ‘if you are not with us then are against us.’ Obama has merely retained this view.

Besides, control over natural resources is control over policies. Neoliberalism may be dead in academic circles, but not in real politik. If it were, Goldman Sachs wouldn’t be literally running the US economic policy. Gaddafi has been extremely naughty in this area as well. If you look at the World Bank’s world development indices, you find that Libya has not borrowed from the World Bank and the IMF in years, even after the sanctions were lifted. Libya’s economy is heavily state-owned. It has a life expectancy and quality of life comparable to the richest countries. This is against the grain. Worst still, by actively supporting and putting aside resources to realise the dreams of the three major pan-African institutions – the African Monetary Fund, the African Investment Bank and the African Central Bank – Libya could be said to be undermining the Bretton Woods institutions controlled by the NATO countries and France. Breaking the stranglehold that these institutions have over Africa could also mean weakening the geopolitical influence of NATO countries/France over the continent. Moreover, Libya has become and investment competitor in Africa. The Libya African portfolio has a rolling kitty of US$8 billion dollars channelled into investments ranging from telecommunications, the hospitality industry, some manufacturing and retail of oil and gas. Libya is effectively redeploying some of their sovereign wealth funds (SWF) away from purchasing US government bonds into investments in Africa. That cannot be totally encouraged given the US government dependence on petro-dollars for selling their bonds.

WAR AS A MEANS OF TRANSFERRING BADLY NEEDED CAPITAL OUT OF LIBYA

The military bombardments of Libya have already resulted in the shifting of capital from Libya to the invaders. Directly, they have seized the assets of the Libyan people owned by Libyan public institutions and re-channelled them into expenditures. These expenditures will most likely be military hardware and other logistics support for the war. The US impounded US$30 billion or so, which Ismael suggests is earmarked as a contribution to the building of the pan-African institutions mentioned earlier. Britain impounded undisclosed bank accounts and assets, including UK£700 million worth of Libyan dinars printed by a British currency printing firm, De la Rue, which they are likely to give to the rebels. The procurements in support of the war effort will most likely be from these countries and will therefore serve as a fiscal stimulus in these economies. In advance of the war, the Libyan ‘opposition’ figures would have quietly shifted their ill-gotten wealth abroad, some into the tax havens controlled by the invading countries. We will never know how much.

But perhaps the most significant and long-term means of inducing capital from Libya will be as reparation payments for the war. The cost of every munitions that was fired wildly or on target by the Libyan rebels and by NATO/France; the cost of every missile fired from the air or seas; the cost every spy plane that flew over Libyan airspace; the cost of every soldier mobilised for the war effort; the cost of intelligence, special analysts and contractors will be paid for by the Libyan people, with their oil and gas, decades into the future. And this will not be cheap. Newspapers in Britain speculate that if the war continues to the autumn, Britain may spend upwards of a UK£1 billion. At the end of May, the British armed forces estimated that they had flown 1,500 sorties, attacked 300 targets and fired at least 20 tomahawk missiles, one costing US$1 million. A tornado bomber flying a 3,000-mile round trip from its base to Tripoli and back costs US$300,000 per flight. A C17 transport plane costs over US$60,000 per hour to fly. The British say they have over 1,000 personnel involved in the operation. The cost to the US taxpayer is estimated to top a US$1 billion by autumn. In March, the US had 75 aircrafts involved in the operation and FT reports that on the first day of the operation, the US had spent US$110 million. If the Kosovo war is a guide, by the end of the third month the US had spent US$2.4 billion in the operation. Add the cost of the other NATO and Arab partners and it is conceivable that by end of July the cost of the Libyan invasion will approach if not exceed US$10 billion and counting. David Cameron, the British prime minister, said plainly on TV that whatever the outcome of the war, Libya will pay the cost of its participation. Add the cost of reparations and compensation for mercenaries and plain theft by many of the crooks constituting the provisional government and the Libyan people will find themselves tens of billions of dollars out of pocket.

THE LONG-TERM BENEFICIAL EFFECTS OF WAR TO THE VICTORS

Note that the power of debt is not simply the volume of money one owes and transfers but the effect on power relations. Libya will forever be subordinated to its creditors even if the debt is odious. It will have to open up its policy making to the creditors, open up its banks, import more and privatise assets, including natural resources. As the vanquished, it will be forced to join those organisations it previously stayed away from and conform. The destruction is equally beneficial. The more the better – after the war of destruction is the reconstruction. This is great for the construction firms of the victors, suppliers of building material, architects and engineers. The suffering banks of Europe and America will be energised by massive lending for the reconstruction effort, exacerbating the debt burden of the Libyan people but widening the profit margins of investment banks and the army of rent-seekers that follow them – accountants, lawyers and gamblers. War, especially in an oil-rich country, cannot be bad for economies in the doldrums.

IMPACT ON THE REST OF AFRICA

I characterised the invasion as wicked and heartless, quite deliberately. It is wicked because of the selfishness of the agenda underpinning the invasion, its lack of concern for the impact on the Libyan people. The invasion will undoubtedly turn Libyans from a proud people who know little abject poverty (in spite of Gaddafi’s dictatorship and several years of economic sanctions) into a typical sub-Saharan African type – a few wealthy people swimming in increasing pools of desperately poor people with severely wounded pride. It is not inconceivable that various armed factions will emerge however this madness ends. Centuries old tribal and clan divisions would have been widened not narrowed. Racial bigotry will spread having been unleashed by the media propaganda about black African support to Gaddafi. Libya will never be the same again and seeing what is happening in Iraq, Libya’s change will not be for the good for a long time to come.

But the wicked effects are not limited within the boundaries of Libya. Anything between 500,000 to 1 million workers from across Africa south of the Sahara have been displaced, and adding to the already over-flowing pool of the unemployed. The president of Niger estimated the displaced Nigerien workforce to be in the region of 200,000. Is anybody intending to compensate for these losses? The effect of this displacement is not simply that it aggravates the already scary poverty situation but also that it has the potential to exacerbate the insecurity in these fragile zones, especially the area stretching from Mauritania, across Niger, Mali, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti. These areas are fragile and volatile in several respects – ecologically, economically, socially and in terms of potential for armed conflicts. The potential for violent conflict will be made worse by increased availability of arms of all sorts – the type that are now being dropped all over the place by NATO/France.

The invasion is heartless also because it has deprived Africa of investment resources and undermined the creation of institutions that are critical for the poorest continent to transform its countries’ economies and overcome suffering and the indignity of poverty. It has transformed the African Union from one representing all of Africa to one effectively representing Africa south of the Sahara in the manner that Libya has been characterised by the invaders (as an Arab country), a characterisation that the rebel group seems to carry proudly on its chest.

WAY FORWARD

Too much water has passed under the bridge. The Gaddafi family must leave power. Indeed no one, wherever they may be, should have the legitimacy to rule and have active power over resources of the land without being democratically elected. This applies to Gaddafi and his family just as much as it applies to the rag-tag bunch that calls itself the interim government, especially as we know that they are made of some of the most unsavoury elements in the Gaddafi government.

This means that there is no alternative to negotiation as the way forward. Even the NATO/French invaders have been forced acknowledge this, especially since their hope of speedily toppling Gaddafi has not materialised. The African Union plan for a negotiated settlement remains the most credible – an immediate ceasefire; humanitarian intervention and protection in all parts of Libya; an external observer force; an interim government made up of both sides; a timetable for political parties to form, electioneering to happen and elections to take place; and a legal process to investigate, try and punish the guilty. And if I may add, a no-reparations and no-debt-claims commitment by the invading forces. This should have been the way forward from day one, were the Lula mission and the AU strategy allowed.

The bottom line is war was solely unwarranted. But my greatest sadness and shame was to see the United Nations secretariat beating the war drums and cheering on the battle rather than singing the songs of peace. This is a sad time indeed. How else can one describe what is going on in Libya but a wicked, heartless folly?

Charles Abugre is the regional director for Africa, United Nations Millennium Campaign.