Good my lord, she came from Libya.
— The Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare.
The war on Libya must surely rank as one of the stupidest martial enterprises since Napoleon took it into his head to invade Russia in 1812.
Let’s start with the fierce hand-to-hand combat between members of the coalition (Britain, France and the US), arguing about the basic aims of the killing operation. How does “take all necessary measures” square with the ban on any “foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” Could the coalition simply kill Qaddafi and recognize a provisional government in Benghazi? Who exactly are the revolutionaries and national liberators in eastern Libya?
In the United States, the intervention was instigated by liberal interventionists: notably three women, starting with Samantha Power, who runs the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights in Obama’s National Security Council. She’s an Irish American, 41 years old, who made her name back in the Bush years with her book A Problem from Hell, a study of the U.S. foreign-policy response to genocide, and the failure of the Clinton administration to react forcefully to the Rwandan massacres. She had to resign from her advisory position on the Obama campaign in April of 2008, after calling Hillary Clinton a “monster” in an interview with the Scotsman, but was restored to good grace after Obama’s election, and the monster in her sights became Qaddafi.
America’s UN ambassador is Susan Rice, the first African American woman to be named to that post. She’s long been an ardent interventionist. In 1996, as part of the Clinton administration, she supported the multinational force that invaded Zaire from Rwanda in 1996 and overthrew dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, saying privately that “Anything’s better than Mobutu.” But on February 23 she came under fierce attack in the Huffington Post at the hands of Richard Grenell, who’d served on the US delegation to the UN in the Bush years. Grenell dwelt harshly on instances where in his judgement Rice and her ultimate boss Obama were drooping the ball, and displaying lack of leadership amid the tumults engulfing the middle east and specifically in failing to support the uprising against Qaddafi.
Both Rice and Clinton took Grenell’s salvo to heart. Prodded by the fiery Power they abruptly stiffened their postures and Clinton lobbed her furious salvoes at Qaddafi, “the crazy colonel”. For Clinton it was a precise re-run of her efforts to portray Obama as a peace wimp back in 2008, liable to snooze all too peacefully when the red phone rang at 3am.
For his part, Obama wasn’t keen on intervention, seeing it as a costly swamp, yet another war and one opposed by Defense Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the liberal interventions and the neo-cons were in full cry and Obama, perennially fearful of being outflanked, succumbed, hastening to one of the least convincing statements of war aims in the nation’s history. He earned a threat of impeachment from leftist congressman Dennis Kucinich for arrogating war-making powers constitutionally reserved for the US Congress, though it has to be said that protest from the left proved pretty feeble. As always, many on the left yearn for an intervention they can finally support and many of them murmured ecstatically, “This is the one.” Of course, the sensible position simply states that nothing good ever came out of a Western intervention by the major powers, whether humanitarian in proclaimed purpose or not.
So much for the instigators of the mad intervention in the US. In France the intellectual author was the salon dandy and “new philosopher” Bernard-Henri Lévy, familiarly known to his admirers and detractors as BHL. As described by Larry Portis in CounterPunch magazine, BHL arrived in Benghazi on March 3, 2011.
“Two days later BHL was interviewed on various television networks. He appeared before the camera in his habitual uniform – immaculate white shirt with upturned collar, black suit coat, and disheveled hair.
“His message was urgent but reassuring. “No,” he said, Qaddafi is not capable of launching an offensive against the opposition. He does not have the means to do so. However, he does have planes. This is the real danger.” BHL called for the scrambling of radio communications, the destruction of landing strips in all regions of Libya, and the bombardment of Qaddafi’s personal bunker. In brief, this would be a humanitarian intervention, the modalities of which he did not specify.
“Next step, as BHL explained: “I called him [Sarkozy] from Benghazi. And when I returned, I went to the Elysée Palace to see him and tell him that the people on the National Transition Council are good guys.” Indeed, on March 6, BHL returned to France and met with Sarkozy. Four days later, on March 10, he saw Sarkozy again, this time with three Libyans whom he had encouraged to visit France, along with Sarkozy’s top advisors. On March 11, Sarkozy declared the Libyan National Transition Council the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Back in Benghazi, people screamed in relief and cheered Sarkozy’s name, popularity at last for Sarko, whose approval ratings in France have been hovering around the 20 per cent mark.”
So much for the circumstances in which the intervention was conceived. It had nothing to do with oil; everything to do with ego and political self promotion. But to whom exactly did the interveners lend imperial succor? There was great vagueness here, beyond enthusiastic references to the romantic revolutionaries of Benghazi, and much ridicule for Qaddafi’s identification of his opponents in eastern Libya as Al Qaida.
In fact two documents strongly backed Qaddafi on this issue. The first was a secret cable to the State Department from the US embassy in Tripoli in 2008, part of the Wikileaks trove, entitled “Extremism in Eastern Libya,” which revealed that this area was rife with anti-American, pro-jihad sentiment.
According to the cable, the most troubling aspect
“… is the pride that many eastern Libyans, particularly those in and around Dernah, appear to take in the role their native sons have played in the insurgency in Iraq … [and the] ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support for and participation in jihad.”
The second document or rather set of documents are the so-called Sinjar Records, captured Al Qaeda documents that fell into American hands in 2007. They were duly analyzed by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Al-Qaeda is a bureaucratic outfit and the Records contain precise details on personnel, including those who came to Iraq to fight and when called for, to commit suicide, fighting American and Coalition forces.
The West Point analysts’ statistical study of the al-Qaeda personnel records concludes that one country provided “far more” foreign fighters in per capita terms than any other: namely, Libya. The records show that the “vast majority of Libyan fighters that included their hometown in the Sinjar Records resided in the country’s Northeast.” Benghazi provided many volunteers. So did Darnah, a town about 200 kms east of Benghazi, in which an Islamic emirate was declared when the rebellion against Qaddafi started. New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid even spoke with Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi who promulgated the Islamic emirate. Al-Hasadi “praises Osama bin Laden’s ‘good points,’” Shadid reported, though he prudently denounced the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Other sources have said that this keen admirer of Osama would prove most influential in the formation of any provisional government.
The West Point study of the Iraqi Sinjar Records calculates that of the 440 foreign al-Qaeda recruits whose hometowns are known, 21 came from Benghazi, thereby making it the fourth most common hometown listed in the records. Fifty-three of the al-Qaeda recruits came from Darnah, the highest total of any of the hometowns listed in the records. The second highest number, 51, came from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Darnah (80,000) has less than 2 per cent the population of Riyadh. Darnah contributed “far and away the largest per capita number of fighters.”
As former CIA operations officer Brian Fairchild observed, “Amid the apparent absence of any plan for post-Gaddafi governance, an ignorance of Libya’s tribal nature and our poor record of dealing with tribes, American government documents conclusively establish that the epicenter of the revolt is rife with anti-American and pro-jihad sentiment, and with al-Qaeda’s explicit support for the revolt, it is appropriate to ask our policymakers how American military intervention in support of this revolt in any way serves vital U.S. strategic interests.” (See Diana Johnstone’s Queen of Chaos for a detailed account of the Libyan operation.)
* * *
By October of that year, Muammar Qaddafi was dead and stuffed in a meat locker. Denied post mortem imagery of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, the world was presented with photographs of Qaddafi, dispatched with a bullet to the head after being wounded by NATO’s ground troops outside Sirte.
Did the terminal command, Finish Him Off, come via cell phone from the US State Department whose Secretary, Hillary Clinton, had earlier called for his death, or by dint of local initiative, under winking eyes in Washington?
In any event, since Qaddafi was a prisoner at the time of his execution, it was a war crime and we trust that in the years of her retirement Mrs Clinton will be detained amid some foreign vacation and handed a subpoena.
We suppose the first triumphalist imperial post-mortem photo of such an execution in our lifetimes is that of Che Guevara, killed on the CIA’s orders at La Higuera in Bolivia on October 9, 1967. Perhaps Che’s finest hour came with his leadership of the Cuban anti-imperial forces deployed in Africa, defeating South African and white mercenary forces in one of the greatest acts of revolutionary solidarity the world has ever seen.
Qaddafi, even in his latterday accomodationist phase, was always a bitter affront to Empire, a “devil” figure in a tradition stretching back to the Mahdi, whose men killed General Gordon in the Sudan in 1885. We remember fondly the leftists and Republicans who trekked to Tripoli in the 1960s to appeal to Qaddafi for funds for their causes, some of them returning amply supplied with money and detailed counsel.
Dollar for dollar we doubt Qaddafi had a rival in any assessment of the amount of oil revenues in his domain actually distributed for benign social purposes. Derision is heaped on his Green Book, but in intention it can surely stand favorable comparison with kindred Western texts. Anyone labeled by Ronald Reagan as “This mad dog of the Middle East” has an honored place in our personal pantheon.
This is excerpted from An Orgy of Thieves forthcoming from CounterPunch Books.