FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Canada’s Complicity in the Libyan Catastrophe

The dystopian situation in Libya is so persistent that when we hear news of yet another slaughter, or the fragility of the new unity government, or ISIS taking over large swaths of the country, we just file it under ‘old news’ and wait for the next story.

We shouldn’t. While accountability of politicians is also an old news story, this one is particularly disturbing in its history and its consequences for the Libyan people, who before the “humanitarian” mission enjoyed the highest standard of living in Africa. That UN mission toppled the regime of Muammar Gadhafi in 2011 leaving a power vacuum that was filled by many competing armed factions and two separate groupings claiming to be the legitimate government.

The Libyan story should provide foreign policy lessons for the West and for Canada, but without some kind of mea culpa and recognition of this catastrophic error, no one has to learn anything.

Which is what makes U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent admission that the Libyan intervention was a “mistake” so interesting. This was Obama’s singular intervention, even though European allies did most of the bombing. According to the Atlantic magazine   Obama told a former Senate colleague: “There is no way we should commit to governing the Middle East and north Africa. That would be a basic, fundamental mistake.” No kidding.

It seems that Obama wants to get out ahead of the legacy machine and admit this major foreign policy mistake early on. But what about Canada? Under the Harper government, Canada was one of the most eager participants in the elimination of the “madman” Muammar Gadhafi.

But the Harper government is gone, and its foreign policy has been vigorously repudiated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau has tied his star to a U.S. president able to take risks as his term comes to an end and Trudeau has boldly told the world “Canada is back.” One way that he could prove that declaration would be to follow in Obama’s footsteps and  acknowledge Canada’s mistaken support for the Libyan intervention.

All the major parties in Parliament supported the UN mission, and not a single Canadian political leader who did so has ever acknowledged that the West’s intervention was a colossal foreign policy failure. As admitted by Obama there was no effective plan to establish an alternative government post-Gadhafi. “The degree of tribal division in Libya was greater than our analysts had expected. And our ability to have any kind of structure there that we could interact with and start training and start providing resources broke down very quickly.”

The situation is actually getting worse by the week as ISIS sweeps into areas that are completely ungoverned. According to a report by Martin Kobler, the UN special representative to Libya, the lack of political structure is risking “division and collapse” of the country… “Daesh [ISIS]  takes advantage of the political and security vacuum and is expanding to the West, East and to the South. While Libya’s financial resources are dwindling, the criminal networks, including human smuggling, are booming.”

ISIS now controls some 250 kilometres of coastline around Sirte, Gadhafi’s hometown, and has established training camps, storage areas, fortification and “rudimentary institutions of governance referred to as ‘Islamic courts’ and ‘Islamic Police.'”

The horrific conditions apply not only to the people of Libya but also to its natural habitat. New Scientist magazine reported in its Feb 20-26 issue that because of the collapse of commerce people are turning to the killing of wild animals for meat.

“On the kill list are desert gazelles, but also migrating birds. Cranes, flamingos, bustards and herons are being shot in large numbers on the coastal wetlands that are no longer guarded.” The famous coastal juniper forests are also “under attack.” Across the border in Mali, a “rare population of desert elephants” was slaughtered using weapons from Libya.

Given the intermittent news coverage of the unfolding disaster in Libya, it simply becomes background noise. With no accountability demanded, and none likely to be offered voluntarily, our collective culpability is gradually diluted as our memories of how the thing started fade.

It started, of course, with the rationale of the lofty principles enshrined in the 2005 United Nations Responsibility to Protect (R2P)  doctrine which states that sovereignty is not a right, but rests on the responsibility of governments to protect their populations.

One of its most vocal and respected proponents at the time of the Libyan intervention was former Liberal foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy. When the Libyan mission — initially a UN approved no-fly zone — spiraled into regime change and the murder of Gadhafi, Axworthy still maintained that R2P was a valuable doctrine.

Writing a year after the mission was launched, Axworthy said:  “R2P should not be judged on the basis of the military response in Libya. Somewhere along the way, R2P has become synonymous with military intervention…The reality is that the original International Commission… made clear that the implementation of R2P is about the protection of civilians, should be considered primarily preventative and considers military action a very last resort.”

Unfortunately, Axworthy’s defence of R2P simply underlines why it is a fatally flawed principle — because it is not academics or humanitarians who decide when it should be used. It is a handy excuse for big power intervention whenever they have some geopolitical objective they can’t achieve by simply bullying smaller nations.

In fact, R2P should never have been applied to the situation in Libya at all. To be sure, there was armed conflict in Libya and a single horrific instance of Libyan troops killing some 300 protesters in Benghazi in mid-February, 2011. But soon after, the troops fled the city and it was declared free by the protesters. A month later, on March 19th, the UN began its military intervention.

But none of what had happened up until UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was passed met the standard for R2P intervention. R2P is triggered by evidence of any one of four “mass atrocity” crimes: war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. None of the actions of Gadhafi’s troops fit any of these categories. And when the Libyan government offered a ceasefire, NATO and Canada declared that could only happen if Gadhafi was gone — in complete violation of Resolution 1973.

Perhaps the failed state that resulted from R2P in Libya will have laid to rest this flawed doctrine. And while Obama did not refer to R2P specifically, his declaration that the Libyan adventure was a mistake highlights just how easily the principle can be abused. While some things might change, imperial hubris does not.

More articles by:

MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years.  He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca

December 19, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russophobia and the Specter of War
Jonathan Cook
American Public’s Backing for One-State Solution Falls on Deaf Ears
Daniel Warner
1968: The Year That Will Not Go Away
Arshad Khan
Developing Country Issues at COP24 … and a Bit of Good News for Solar Power and Carbon Capture
Kenneth Surin
Trump’s African Pivot: Another Swipe at China
Patrick Bond
South Africa Searches for a Financial Parachute, Now That a $170 Billion Foreign Debt Cliff Looms
Tom Clifford
Trade for Hostages? Trump’s New Approach to China
Binoy Kampmark
May Days in Britain
John Feffer
Globalists Really Are Ruining Your Life
John O'Kane
Drops and the Dropped: Diversity and the Midterm Elections
December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail