On March 19, 2011 the United States led NATO countries in a blitz of aircraft and missile strikes against the government of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s batty dictator who was visited in 2004 and 2007 by British prime minister Tony Blair, in 2007 by French president Sarkozy, in 2008 by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and in 2009 by Italian prime minister Berlusconi, all of whom cordially assured him that relations between their countries and his were comfortable.
Gaddafi was a despot and persecuted his enemies quite as savagely as the dictator Hosni Mubarak in neighbouring Egypt, but life for most Libyans was comfortable and even the BBC had to admit that Gaddafi’s “particular form of socialism does provide free education, healthcare and subsidized housing and transport,” although “wages are extremely low and the wealth of the state and profits from foreign investments have only benefited a narrow elite” (which doesn’t happen anywhere else, of course). The CIA World Factbook noted that Gaddafi’s Libya had a literacy rate of 94.2% (better than Malaysia, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, for example), and the World Health Organization recorded a life expectancy of 72.3 years, among the highest in the developing world.
But back to the western figures who flocked to Libya before NATO’s war. A leaked 2009 US diplomatic cable recorded that “Senators McCain and Graham conveyed the US interest in continuing the progress of the bilateral relationship” while Senator Lieberman declared Libya “an important ally in the war on terrorism.” Condoleezza Rice said the US-Libya “relationship has been moving in a good direction for a number of years now and I think tonight does mark a new phase,” and Britain’s Blair considered his meeting “positive and constructive” because his country’s relationship with Libya had “been completely transformed in these last few years. We now have very strong co-operation on counter-terrorism and defense.”
The BBC reported that “As Mr Blair met Mr Gaddafi it was announced that Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell had signed a deal worth up to £550 million for gas exploration rights off the Libyan coast.” The US oil companies ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil Corporation and the Hess Company were also deeply involved in Libya’s oil production, because it has the world’s ninth largest oil reserves.
Things were looking good for Libya.
But on January 21, 2011 Reuters reported that “Muammar Gaddafi said his country and other oil exporters were looking into nationalizing foreign firms due to low oil prices.” He suggested that “oil should be owned by the State at this time, so we could better control prices by the increase or decrease in production.”
Then in February, immediately after Gaddafi’s hint of nationalization of Libya’s oil resources, there was an uprising by rebels who wanted to overthrow him and on March 17 the UN Security Council established a ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country.” The insurgents were supported by the US, Britain and twelve of their 26 NATO allies (notably not Germany or Turkey), three Arab nations (not including Saudi Arabia), and Sweden which has abandoned honorable neutrality and become a NATO country in all but name. Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia excluded themselves from the Resolution, advocating peaceful resolution of Libya’s internal conflict and warning against “unintended consequences of armed intervention.”
Two days after the “no-fly” resolution the US-led NATO onslaught began and continued for seven months, until the end of October. On April 30 a US missile killed one of Gaddafi’s sons and three of his grandchildren in what NATO called “a precision strike” against a “military command and control building.” When asked about a massive attack on Gaddafi’s residential compound the Pentagon’s spokesman announced that “We are not targeting his residence. We have no indication of any civilian casualties.”
At the height of the attacks on Libya US President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and French President Nicolas Sarkozy jointly declared that “as we continue military operations today to protect civilians in Libya, we are determined to look to the future. We are convinced that better times lie ahead for the people of Libya . . . Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good. At that point, the United Nations and its members should help the Libyan people as they rebuild where Gaddafi has destroyed — to repair homes and hospitals, to restore basic utilities, and to assist Libyans as they develop the institutions to underpin a prosperous and open society.” Gaddafi’s opinion was that “You have proved to the world that you are not civilized, that you are terrorists — animals attacking a nation that did nothing against you.”
On October 20 Gaddafi did indeed “go for good,” being brutally murdered by one of the rebel groups. Obama greeted his death with enthusiasm, saying that “Today we can definitively say that the Gadhafi regime has come to an end. The last major regime strongholds have fallen. The new government is consolidating control over the country. And one of the world’s longest-serving dictators is no more.”
NATO carried out 9,658 air attacks on Libya and the BBC reported that “throughout the seven-month campaign Nato admitted there had been one weapon ‘malfunction.’ On 19 June, several civilians were reported to have been killed when a missile hit buildings in Tripoli. A Nato spokesman later said that ‘a potential weapon system failure occurred and this caused the weapon not to hit the intended target’.” (There were also 105 US drone strikes about which nothing is known.)
It is astonishing, even miraculous, that out of 9,658 airstrikes only one killed any civilians. But Human Rights Watch has a different take on the matter (see HRW), and records that there were many civilians killed — although its report is irrelevant because not one single person of any US-NATO country has been or ever will be independently investigated for killing any civilian, anywhere in the world, by missile, bomb or rocket.
We were told that the aim of the US-NATO war on Libya was to achieve democracy by bombing and the UK’s prime minister Cameron declared that “I’m an optimist about Libya; I’ve been an optimist all the way through and I’m optimistic about the National Transitional Council and what they are able to achieve. I think when you look at Tripoli today, yes, of course, there are huge challenges — getting water to that city, making sure there is law and order — but actually so far, the cynics and the armchair generals have been proved wrong.”
The “cynics” — better described as realists — and armchair generals were right, of course, in predicting that the country’s collapse was inevitable; just as they had been right about forecasting chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But two highly-placed intellectuals, Ivo Daalder, the US Permanent Representative on the NATO Council from 2009 to 2013, and Admiral James G (‘Zorba’) Stavridis, the US Supreme Allied Commander Europe (the military commander of NATO) in the same period, had their own views and wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs in 2012 that
NATO’s operation in Libya has rightly been hailed as a model intervention. The alliance responded rapidly to a deteriorating situation that threatened hundreds of thousands of civilians rebelling against an oppressive regime. It succeeded in protecting those civilians and, ultimately, in providing the time and space necessary for local forces to overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi.
According to these objective analysts Libya was liberated and became a free country thanks to NATO. And they were supported by columnists like Nicholas Kristof who wrote that “Libya is a reminder that sometimes it is possible to use military tools to advance humanitarian causes.” That statement would be hilarious were it not so obscenely bizarre, because Libya has collapsed into anarchic ruin. Britain’s declaration to the UN in 2012 that “today, Tripoli and Benghazi are cities transformed. Where there was fear, now there is hope and an optimism and belief that is truly inspiring,” has been shown to be preposterous. As CNN reports, “Assassinations, kidnappings, blockades of oil refineries, rival militias battling on the streets, Islamist extremists setting up camps, and above all chronically weak government have all made Libya a dangerous place and one whose instability is already spilling across borders and into the Mediterranean. There is effectively no rule of law in Libya.” How “truly inspiring,” to be sure.
According to Amnesty International, “since July 2014 at least 287,000 people have been internally displaced as a result of indiscriminate attacks and a fear of being targeted by militias, and a further 100,000 have been forced to flee the country in fear for their lives.” Western nations have withdrawn their diplomatic missions and Britain warns its citizens “against all travel to Libya due to the ongoing fighting and greater instability throughout the country.”
NATO has done nothing whatever to “repair homes and hospitals, to restore basic utilities, and to assist Libyans as they develop the institutions to underpin a prosperous and open society” which Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy declared so necessary while their bombs and rockets and Tomahawk missiles were destroying homes, hospitals and basic utilities. And not one of these people — the excited world leaders, the condescending commentators or the expert intellectuals who foolishly claimed that “NATO’s operation in Libya has rightly been hailed as a model intervention” — has indicated the slightest regret for their enthusiastic approval of the onslaught that led to devastation and disaster.
During their war on Libya, Obama and Cameron declared that “We are convinced that better times lie ahead for the people of Libya.” Tell that to the millions of Libyans whose lives have been destroyed by NATO’s “model intervention.” The scale of human suffering is not as terrible as that inflicted on Iraq by the US-UK war, but it is still appalling. On November 30, for example, Reuters reported that “about 400 people have been killed in six weeks of heavy fighting between Libyan pro-government forces and Islamist groups in Libya’s second-largest city Benghazi.” So much for the “better times” that were to be enjoyed after NATO’s seven month blitz of missile and bombing strikes.
And what next for NATO? Where will it chose to mount its next “model intervention” after its destruction of Libya and its humiliating defeat in Afghanistan?
NATO is desperate for a cause to justify its survival and is enthusiastically moving forces further east in Europe, involving thousands of US troops in “exercises” in Ukraine and US and other deployments to Poland and the Baltic States. It has created a multi-national “Baltic Air Policing Mission” and is carrying out the fatuously-named “Operation Atlantic Resolve” to menace Russia.
But NATO, and especially the US, should bear in mind the wise words of Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia, who warned against the “unintended consequences of armed intervention.” As Mr Putin remarked on December 4, “Hitler . . . wanted to destroy Russia and got to the Urals. However, everyone remembers how that ended.” Exactly.
Brian Cloughley lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.
This originally appeared on Asia Times Online.