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The Myth of Libyan Liberation


In his essay, “Top Ten Myths about the Libyan War,” Juan Cole argues that U.S. interests in the conflict consisted of stopping “massacres of people,” a “lawful world order,” “the NATO alliance,” and oddly, “the fate of Egypt.” It is worth taking a moment to look at each of these arguments, as well as his dismissal of the idea that the U.S./NATO intervention had anything to do with oil as “daft.”

Massacres are bad things, but the U.S. has never demonstrated a concern for them unless its interests were at stake. It made up the “massacre” of Kosovo Albanians in order to launch the Yugoslav War, and ended up acquiring one of the largest U.S. bases in the world, Camp Bond Steel. It has resolutely ignored the massacre of Palestinians and Shiites in Bahrain because it is not in Washington’s interests to concern itself with those things. Israel is an ally, and Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Cole accepts the fact that Qaddafi would have “massacred” his people, but his evidence for that is thin, and he chooses to completely ignore the deaths and casualties resulting from the NATO bombing.

The U.S. is interested in a “lawful world order.” That would certainly come as a surprise to the Palestinians, the Shiites in the Gulf, and peasants in Colombia who suffer the deprivations of death squads aided by the U.S.  (see the Washington Post story of 8/20/11) etc. The U.S, supports international law when it is in its interests to do so, undermines it when it is not, and ignores it when it is inconvenient. I wish Cole were correct but he is not. The record speaks for itself.

Okay, spot on for the NATO alliance, which is exactly the problem.  Africa has increasingly become a chess piece in a global competition for resources and cheap labor. It is no accident that the U.S. recently formed an African Command (Africom)—the Libyan War was the organization’s coming out party—and is training troops in countries that border the Sahara. It is already intervening in Somalia, and a recent story in the New York Times about an “al-Qaeda threat” in Northern Nigeria should send a collective chill down all our spines. NATO has already “war gamed” the possibility of intervention in the Gulf of Guinea to insure oil supplies in the advent of “civil disturbances” that might affect the flow of energy resources.

NATO represents western economic and political interests, which rarely coincide with the interests of either the alliance’s own people, or those of the countries it occupies. The Libyan intervention sets a very dangerous precedent for the entire continent, which is why the African Union opposed it. Who will be next?

Ummm, Egypt? Certainly the U.S. has “a deep interest in the fate of Egypt,” which ought to scare hell out of the Egyptians. But overthrowing Qaddafi was important because he had “high Egyptian officials on his payroll”? Is Cole seriously suggesting that Libya’s 6.4 million people have anything to do with determining the fate of 83 million Egyptians?

Opposition to the Libyan War is not based on supporting Qaddafi, although Cole’s portrait of the man is one-sided. For instance, Libya played an important role in financing the African Bank, thus allowing African nations to avoid the tender mercies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Libya also financed a continent-wide telecommunications system that saved African countries hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing them to bypass western-controlled networks.  He also raised living standards. This does not make him a good guy, but it does say that Libya’s role in Africa cannot be reduced to simply “sinister.”

Lastly, the charge that this was about Libya’s oil is “daft”? Libya is the largest producer of oil in Africa, and the 12th largest in the world. Its resources are very important for NATO’s European allies, and over the past several years there has been competition over these supplies. The Chinese have made major investments. During the war China, Russia, and Brazil supported the African Union’s call for a ceasefire and talks, and pointed out that UN Resolution 1973 did not call for regime change. One of the first statements out of the Transitional National Council following Qaddafi’s collapse was that China, Russia and Brazil were going to be sidelined in favor of French, Spanish, and Italian companies. Quid pro quo?

The war was not just over oil, but how can anyone dismiss the importance of energy supplies at a time of worldwide competition over their control?  The U.S. is currently fighting several wars in a region that contains more than 65 percent of the world’s oil supplies. Does he think this is a coincidence? Sure, the companies that invested in Libya will take some initial losses, but does Cole think those Libyans beholden to NATO for their new positions will drive a hard bargain with the likes of Total SA and Repso when it comes to making deals? If I were those companies I would see the war as a very lucrative investment in futures. In any case, when the U.S., China, and Russia are locked in a bitter worldwide battle over energy resources, to dismiss the role of oil in the Libyan War is, well, daft.

Special Forces are taking over the U.S. military. Africom is increasingly active on the continent. NATO has just finished its first intervention in Africa. With Qaddafi gone, every country that borders the Mediterranean is now associated with NATO, essentially turning this sea into an alliance lake.

This is not a good thing.

Conn Hallinan can be read at 

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