Imperialist ‘mission lurch’ sees first troops dispatched. Eddie Ford reports
Well, it’s official now – imperialism wants regime change in Libya. David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama issued a joint statement on April 15 published in The Times, The Washington Post and Le Figaro. Understandably, after the Iraq debacle, there is a constant referencing of the United Nations security council and its “historic resolution” 1973. So while claiming that they are mandated by the UN to “protect civilians”, and admitting they have no similar mandate to “remove Gaddafi by force”, the three state that it is “impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power”.
Hence, what started with a no-fly zone – always a gross misnomer – supposedly to ‘protect’ civilians has over the last week seen first Britain and then France and Italy sending “special military advisers”. William Hague said the team would help the rebels “improve their military organisational structures, communications and logistics” and “distribute humanitarian aid and deliver medical assistance”. But under no circumstances, Hague maintained, would the British government “train or arm rebel forces” fighting Gaddafi – absolutely not – and everything would be “fully within the terms” of resolution 1973.
What hogwash. The British government’s deployment of ‘advisers’ to Libya is more akin to mission lurch than mission creep and might even, if you have a very good lawyer, be deemed “illegal under international law” – as the Morning Star disapprovingly notes (April 15). Of course, you would have to be extremely naive to think that ‘advisers’ and special operatives/forces from a number of countries are not already crawling over rebel-controlled Libya – and maybe further afield, right into Tripoli itself.
Just as likely, Hague’s announcement could well presage the introduction of ground troops – whether overtly or semi-covertly. Hague himself has more or less hinted at such, delphically remarking to one journalist that there would be “no large-scale use of ground forces” in Libya – the obvious inference being that the ‘small-scale’ use is being contemplated.
If more evidence of imperialist intent was required, European Union member-states – by all accounts – have been poised since the beginning of April to send some 1,000 troops to the sporadically besieged city of Misrata (‘Operation Eufor Libya’). Purely to “assist relief efforts” naturally, though this worthy humanitarian endeavour would require – as one EU official put it – that ‘Eufor’ troops “secure sea and land corridors” into Libya and engage in “defensive operations” if necessary. And the US has released $25 million-worth of surplus military supplies to the Benghazi ‘government’ – vehicles, communications equipment, flak jackets, etc.
The end-game is clear: an imperialist-approved ‘post-Gaddafi’ government sitting in Tripoli. And one, presumably, that will need to be protected and defended from those that rebel against it – which is bound to happen sooner rather than later – that is, especially if the Arab revolution goes from strength to strength elsewhere. Such is the logic of ‘humanitarian’ imperialism, which inevitably has made fools out of the apologists on the liberal and social-imperialist left – they weaved fairy tales, some of them even well-intentioned, about how imperialist intervention would somehow ‘coincide with’ or ‘correspond to’ the democratic needs and aspirations of the Libyan masses.
So, like something out of High noon, the triumvirate declared that the world (the imperialist world, that is) would be committing an “unconscionable betrayal” if Gaddafi was left in power. To do so, they write, would leave the anti-Gaddafi forces open to “fearful vengeance” and risk Libya becoming a “failed state” – only spreading further instability and chaos in the region. Therefore, we are told – Gaddafi has to “go for good” and thus Britain, France and the United States “will not rest until the United Nations security council resolutions have been implemented” and “the Libyan people can choose their own future”; a future approved and rubber-stamped by the core imperialist powers and Nato, of course. The three leaders rejected demands for an immediate ceasefire or any sort of “negotiated exit” for Gaddafi (whether to Venezuela or Saudi Arabia). In other words, no ‘peace’ until Gaddafi and his entourage are finally booted out of Tripoli.
Perhaps we are seeing a rerun of imperialist history – a carving up of Libya? Between 1943 and 1951 Libya, which had been an Italian colony, was divided between France and Britain – with Tripolitania and Cyrenaica being under British administration, while the French controlled Fezzan. Meanwhile the US had established a significant military base in the south and used it, amongst other things, to conduct preliminary research into Libya’s oil reserves (which, as it happens, are the largest in Africa and the ninth largest in the world – 41.5 billion barrels, as of 2007).
More significant though is the fact that Obama has felt the need to come out with a more muscular-sounding policy. A return to the righteous front line after accusations from various critics, both to his left and right, that the US was dilly-dallying around and not behaving as the world’s policeman. There is some truth to such a charge. US imperialism has dithered, in certain ways, when it comes to the Gaddafi regime – and for quite understandable reasons. Simply, it fears getting sucked into yet another war. Obama and world imperialism have been completely wrong-footed by the Arab upsurge which has meant a whole succession of Arab regimes (including key client states in the region) staring revolution in the face – and blinking. Meaning that US imperialism is confronted by a whole new set of looming imponderables.
All of which helps to explain why the US, burdened with wider geo-political imperialist interests, is in reality still dragging its feet over Libya – fiery rhetoric-by-numbers from Obama aside (not insignificantly then, US ground-attack aircraft have been quietly withdrawn from the Libyan operation). At the meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Berlin on the same day as the triumvirate statement, Nato general secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen was humiliatingly forced to appeal for more ground-attack aircraft – a plea which seems, so far, to have fallen on stony ground. Objectively, there is indeed a genuine – if not grievous – shortage of such aircraft and, pertinently, trained pilots to fly them. Take the UK and its Typhoon fighters – £60 million a piece and developed from the original Eurofighter. These were designed during the cold war for use against the military apparatus of the Soviet Union and are being constantly upgraded and redeveloped, the cost of which inexorably spirals upwards – from an original 1988 estimate of £13 billion to a 2011 national audit office projection of at least £37 billion.
Of course, on the other hand, the US has no lack of the sort of specialised military hardware necessary to conduct such warfare. Far from it. For example, there is the gruesomely impressive Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II – designed to provide close air support for ground forces – which spits out death (thanks to its GAU-8 Avenger heavy automatic cannon) at tanks, armoured vehicles and just about anything else that makes the fatal mistake of getting in its way. No, what is lacking from the US administration is political will – not military might or prowess. So Obama quickly stated that, although the US and Nato have apparently averted “wholesale slaughter” by their intervention, there was no need for “greater” US participation in the military campaign – so it is up to Europe, as things stand now, to finish off Gaddafi.
The only trouble being that Europe is not interested in getting bogged down in the Libyan quagmire. Spain, the Netherlands and Italy are refusing to deploy their aircraft in an ‘aggressive’ fashion. Thus Rome insists that the eight it has supplied to the military effort against Gaddafi are only to be used for reconnaissance and monitoring purposes. Then there are the Russians, who are predictably less than happy with the current situation – for them, it has gone too far, too quickly. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov complained that Nato had been “exceeding its UN mandate” and called for an “immediate shift” to “a political and diplomatic settlement”.
Sentiments endorsed by China, with its ambassador to the UN proclaiming that Beijing “respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Libya”. It is not being cynical, of course, to suggest that the Chinese regime’s ‘respect’ for Libyan “sovereignty” – whether under Gaddafi’s tutelage or not – is partly explainable by the fact that China runs about 50 large-scale projects in Libya, valued at about $18 billion. Indeed, China evacuated thousands of its workers after oil establishments operated by China National Petroleum Corporation and other firms were attacked and occupied by anti-Gaddafi insurgents. As for the Arab League, it goes without saying that it has cold feet about the whole affair – after all, deposing Arab despots by external military intervention is not exactly a precedent it wants to see widely emulated.
Unsurprisingly then, there are tensions over UN resolution 1973, which ‘mandates’ the Nato action against Gaddafi – sorry, the action taken by the ‘international community’. Anyway, the French foreign minister, Gérard Longuet, has gone on record to argue that the direct ousting of Gaddafi (ie, regime change) would “certainly” be beyond the scope of the resolution and would therefore require a new council vote. After the bloody Iraq debacle, some imperialist powers are understandably keen to be seen obeying the rules and strictures of bourgeois ‘international law’ – especially the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” of France, of course, given its fierce criticisms of the ‘illegalities’ surrounding the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Otherwise, it could be accused of inconsistency and hypocrisy – as if. To date, both the US and UK are playing hardball with resolution 1973 – claiming it gives sufficient authority to dislodge Gaddafi from power. In all probability though, it will be ‘amended’ in such a way as to satisfy – just about – the different political/military considerations and interests of the US, UK and French governments. A UN fig-leaf for all occasions.
This then begs the obvious question – exactly how to topple the Gaddafi regime? The current military strategy, if that is not too grand a term for it, had led to nothing but stalemate – neither side, clearly, has the ability to mount a decisive knock-out blow. Nothing flies, so the ‘no-fly zone’ is beginning to look absurd – if not a bit of an embarrassment for the military. Nato aircraft can buzz about forever, taking out this or that tank or armoured vehicle almost as a desultory afterthought. A grim stasis thus beckons, with both the insurgents and government forces fighting indefinitely over the same bit of desert – sometimes winning it, sometimes losing it.
Self-evidently, the only realistic course – from the viewpoint of imperialist goals and objectives – is to arm the Benghazi ‘government’, supplying it with anti-tank weaponry, RPGs, etc. And to provide the Benghazi-based regime with sufficient military clout to do the job. And if that does not work then it could well be boots on the ground. In that case the “special military advisers” are just the first tranche.
It could not be clearer that the imperialists’ ‘no-fly zone’ was never about ‘protecting’ civilians from supposed ‘genocide’ or any other such thoroughly mendacious crap – that was just the big lie. Imperialism has no intention of spreading democracy throughout the Arab world – or anywhere else, for that matter: the bourgeoisie has never been a democratic class and never will be. But criminally, or tragically, some on the left fell for it, hook, line and sinker – or at least pretended to. Though from out-and-out social-imperialists like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty we never really expected anything else. First and foremost, the imperialist meddling in Libya was about reasserting control – so as to make sure that it was the ‘great powers’ determining who and what replaces Gaddafi, not the Libyan masses themselves. If it turns out that this or that section of the Libyan people tacitly prefer the new regime to the old – whether temporarily or longer – then that is purely incidental for imperialism. By turning the Benghazi proto-government into its agents or proxies, imperialism hopes that further down the line this will assist it in its efforts to reassert dominance over the region as a whole.
That does not mean we were wrong to support the spontaneous democratic uprising again the Gaddafi tyranny – quite the opposite. One would have to be wilfully blind, or a hopeless dogmatist, not to acknowledge that the Libyan uprising was inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions – which the protestors in Benghazi and elsewhere sought to emulate. Tragically, being weak and divided, they failed – with the last vestiges of that democratic revolution being subsumed by an imperialist-sponsored civil war. To borrow a phrase, the Arab revolution became deflected – then appropriated.
Yet communists have every confidence that the pan-Arab revolution is just in its initial stage and will come to revisit Libya again – sweeping aside whatever stooge gets the imperialist stamp of approval in Tripoli.