On the day its planes and drones attacked North African ground, NATO decided the outcome of the Libyan rebellion. Scratch out all rebel fighters and the Gaddafi led government remained doomed. A relatively strong Yugoslavian army could not repel NATO aerial attacks and eventually surrendered. How could a deficient Libyan military expect to prevail? A powerful world body took advantage of a major dispute between elements of a nation in order to impose its authority and satisfy its wants. NATO certainly wasn’t going to permit itself to lose or be involved in a stalemate.
Those who regarded the war as a simple rebellion of oppressed masses against an illegitimate and brutal dictator are as naive as those who believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had to be immediately defeated. Subscribing to Muammar Gaddafi’s removal for imposing his dubious Green philosophy on the nation and for his harsh and autocratic tactics might have been correct. Those are issues, but not the issues. Revelations from the Libyan civil war expose the issues, which are significantly disturbing and demand careful attention:
- The internationalization of only this local conflict, which was not different and less compelling than similar conflicts throughout the world, notably in Syria, Bahrain, Nigeria, and other places.
- Use of an unverified story to justify immediate NATO intervention — prevention of Gaddafi forces from taking violent retribution against the citizens of Benghazi.
- Media failure to accurately report the conflict, and replaced by an unusual and intensive propaganda that favored the rebels.
- Rejection of compromises to resolve the conflict while the nation was being destroyed and many were being killed, a contradiction to NATO’s reasons for entering the conflict.
- NATO impolitely going beyond the original Security Council Resolution to only provide a “no-fly” zone and instead leading the rebel offensive by a cowardly method — bombing a defenseless nation that had had no military means to counter the attacks.
- The constant and one-sided demonizing of leader Gaddafi, while not knowing if antagonists were any better.
- Neglect of examining Libya’s real problems of being a rentier nation that supports its population from principally oil exports, whose supply is limited and whose derived wealth needs careful distribution.
Internationalization of the conflict
Still no satisfactory explanation of how or why NATO, constituted for defense against a Soviet attack on West Europe, and which evolved into an organization that endorses offense before defense against its self-proclaimed enemies, had been threatened by Libya, nor why the voices from Africa’s nations, all of whose nations had major reasons to be concerned with the Libyan conflagration, went unheard. At a meeting between the UN Security Council and the African Union (AU) High Level Ad hoc Committee on Libya on June 15, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, summarized the African Union position on NATO’s invasion of Libya:
The NATO attacks, noted the Addis meeting, had gone beyond the scope of the United Nation Security Council resolution 1970 and 1973….Whatever the genesis of the intervention by NATO in Libya, the AU called for dialogue before the UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 and after those Resolutions. Ignoring the AU for three months and going on with the bombings of the sacred land of Africa has been high-handed, arrogant and provocative. This is something that should not be sustained.
Those whom the conflict affected (Africans) are not consulted. Those whom the conflict did not affect (Europeans) make a unilateral decision.
No need to discuss the obvious; other rebellions, such as in Syria and Bahrain, which had more urgency than that of Libya, have been brutally suppressed. Bahrain’s self-proclaimed King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, with approval from the world’s guardians of oppressed peoples, invited Saudi Arabia to behave opposite to the NATO action by rough necking the insurgency and militarily assisting the oppressor government. In unison and patently contrived, the made for consumption public relations machines of the world’s savior nations proclaimed: “We can’t do anything, but we must do something.” Assistance is selective and random. If you are lucky you get attacked.
The reasons for the UN Security Council Resolution points to urgings by the Arab League, all of whose members detest the Libyan leader’s exposures of their gluttony and corruption, and a whim by French President Nicholas Sarkozy. France and its aggressive leader provoked the western community into the endeavor with Great Britain following the lead. U.S. President Barack Obama gave an impression of a reluctant suitor, who did not want to spoil the affair. Why did Sarkozy promote the attack on Libya? To help the rebels? Possibly, but why didn’t France assist rebellions in Nigeria and other mutinous nations?
August 25, 2011, Paris (Reuters):
France has taken a leading military role in the NATO force backing the rebels. Britain’s defense minister said on Thursday that NATO was helping with intelligence and reconnaissance in the hunt for Gaddafi and his sons. Many analysts believe France, Britain and Arab allies, notably Qatar, may have some special forces on the ground in Tripoli working with Libyan commandos.
One year ago, Muammar Gaddafi came to France and met with Sarkozy. Both leaders were all smiles to one another. What changed?
Conjecture – Revenge for Gaddafi’s previous attacks on French civilians and interests, personal animosity to Muammar Gaddafi due to his egotistic nature and deadly tactics, desire to increase French presence and prestige on the world stage, consolidate its position in Africa, and expect economic benefits from a new Libya.
Nations that didn’t support the early military actions, such as Turkey and Russia, subsequently joined the rebel cause. Their evolved positions seemed to validate NATO’s efforts. Consider that after NATO determined the outcome, these nations sensed it was more beneficial to end the war quickly by supporting the National Transition Council.
An unverified story to justify immediate NATO intervention
The principal excuse for the NATO intervention suggested that leader Gaddafi, after retaking Benghazi, intended to liquidate at least 100,000 of his opponents, a slight exaggeration and an obvious impossibility. According to President Barack Obama, “Gaddafi declared that he would show no mercy to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment.”
Reuters reported large differences between Gaddafi’s remarks and President Obama’s rendition:
Gaddafi Tells Rebel City, Benghazi, ‘We Will Show No Mercy,’ March 17, 2011.
Muammar Gaddafi told Libyan rebels on Thursday his armed forces were coming to their capital Benghazi tonight and would not show any mercy to fighters who resisted them. In a radio address, he told Benghazi residents that soldiers would search every house in the city and people who had no arms had no reason to fear. He also told his troops not to pursue any rebels who drop their guns and flee when government forces reach the city.
Logic tells us that few Benghazi residents could even have guns to hide, and Gaddafi’s forces were too limited to carry out any large scale purge, Gaddafi’s comment (much different than Obama’s presentation) was directed only to fighters and meant to create fear. Would any leader tell his people he intended to kill masses of them? If so, they had nothing to lose by fighting. Why encourage them?
Media failure to accurately report the conflict
Although battles raged throughout The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, destruction occurred, and combatants and civilians were killed and wounded, the news reports never seemed definite. Who controlled what wavered with each morning’s cup of coffee. How many rebel fighters, how large was the Libyan government’s military, who was most responsible for civilian damage – Libyan government forces, rebel fighters or NATO? Substantiated facts, wide view images, interviews, and on spot reporting were either suspect of being selective, lacking in depth, or contradictory.
Fact could not be separated from fiction, bias or propaganda. Was this a revolution or a civil war between a huge discontented portion of the society and its entrenched beneficiaries? The mass of citizens didn’t seem to care and went about trying to do their daily chores. Huge demonstrations for the rebels were not reported, and the gathering of new recruits and local assistance after victories were not apparent. Even after the liberation of Tripoli, the city of one million didn’t exhibit a massive celebratory environment. Widely dispersed and relatively moderate numbers of dedicated combatants characterized the rebel effort. A token number of willing fighters backed by missiles and sparse civilian support characterized the government effort.
The war’s final stage demonstrated the inaccuracy of the reporting. While media spoke of the impossibility of the rebel forces to enter Tripoli for weeks and insisted they would be encountering about 45,000 loyal and well equipped government troops, the rebel forces, who wisely didn’t listen to the media, just walked in, encountered moderate resistance and, within a few days, controlled most of the capital city. An intense NATO bombing of Tripoli, which preceded the rebel strike, indicated close coordination between European and rebel forces.
CNN broadcast intense and dramatic situations of foreign correspondents being held hostage by ‘gunmen’ at the Rixos hotel. Matthew Chance, CNN’s Tripoli reporter, insisted:
They told us we couldn’t leave the hotel. They were very keen to perpetuate the idea that they had been ordered by the Gaddafi regime to protect us. They said our lives would be in danger if we left. The clear implication of the way they cocked their guns was that the danger came from them, but they didn’t say that.
What nation, that had its capital city under attack and fighting close to a hotel, would permit the hotel guests to leave and wander the city? Rather than being in danger within the hotel, they were obviously being safely guarded. Nothing happened to them, and once the situation was clarified, all hotel guests left freely.
CNN’s Arwa Damon, who previously reported from Syria, toured in what she described as a luxurious Recreational Vehicle (RV), equipped with two golf carts on Muammar Gaddafi’s farm, and presumably owned by him. “The Libyan people wished they had this,” she said. Ms. Damon was also told (by whom?) that the Libyans did not realize the luxurious life that Gaddafi lived. Joe Johns, CNN correspondent, who undoubtedly recognized the standard RV as an ordinary U.S. vehicle, gulped as he exclaimed, “Yes, a RV with two golf carts, what luxury.”
Rejection of compromises to resolve the conflict
NATO declared its principal objective to be the protection of civilians and refused every opportunity to achieve that objective. Although the most direct means to limit casualties was to negotiate an end to the conflict, the European powers did nothing to convince the NTC to enter into negotiations. Maybe negotiations would not resolve the situation, and maybe they would lead to compromises not fully acceptable to the NTC, but, if successful, lives would have been saved, and a humanitarian crisis would have been averted. European powers were determined to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi and replace his government, regardless of suffering of the Libyan people.
NATO impolitely going beyond the original Security Council Resolution
The main details of UN Resolution 1973 authorizing action to protect Libyan civilians:
- A no-fly zone is an important element for the protection of civilians as well as the safety of the delivery of humanitarian assistance and a decisive step for the cessation of hostilities.
- It authorises UN member states to take all necessary measures [notwithstanding the previous arms embargo] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
- It decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians.
- It calls on member states to intercept boats and aircraft it believes may be taking arms and other items to Libya.
- Member states should ensure domestic businesses exercise vigilance when doing business with entities incorporated in Libya if the states have information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that such business could contribute to violence and use of force against civilians.
- It requests that the UN secretary general create a group of up to eight experts to oversee the implementation of the resolution.
With no UN authority to proceed with offensive actions, and no eight experts to oversee the implementation of the resolution, NATO aircraft conducted more than 20,000 sorties including 7,635 strikes. In effect, NATO served as the air force arm of the rebel military, or the other way around, the rebels served as the ground troops for NATO.
After the fall of Tripoli, “The alliance said its planes struck a command bunker and a convoy of 29 military vehicles in Sirte, where Gaddafi’s tribe, the Qaddafa, remain fiercely loyal to the ousted dictator. The rebel leadership had hoped the city would surrender peacefully, but tribal leaders have rejected all entreaties,” The Associated Press reported.
Does bombing a convoy of hopeless and helpless military vehicles protect civilians in a city that does not welcome NATO’s presence?
The constant and one-sided demonizing of leader Gaddafi
Muammar Gaddafi has been a tyrant who acted mercilessly against his opponents. However, all of that was in the past. Since the year 2003, after Libya no longer engaged the world, had halted developments into weapons of mass destruction, and began to recover from economic sanctions, the nation has been considered trustworthy. During 2008-2010, Gadhafi negotiated deals with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and released several hundred of its followers in return for promises to renounce violence and depart from a radical brand of Islam.
So, why when Libya was on a path to prosperity and becoming a respectable nation among other nations, was it suddenly mandatory that Gaddafi and his government be forcibly displaced?
Only one perspective of Muammar Gaddafi and his leadership has been provided; that of a mad, fumbling, bumbling tyrant who led his nation into mismanagement and catastrophe. Gaddafi did not lack vision in a world of self-seeking and self-promoting Arab leaders who have used terror to control their citizens and their nation’s oil wealth and acquire immense riches for themselves. His self-written Green Book claimed that in western parliamentary democracies, special interests compete for and gain power without representing the people. The book suggests a grassroots government that features “Popular Conferences and People’s Committees.” It could be true that the desired governance has created anarchy and forced a few to make the difficult decisions. Not much different from the US, where major problems are only contained and never resolved.
The Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2010 showed a different side of Libya. ”Libya’s Path From Desert to Modern Country-Complete With Ice Rink” by Sarah A. Topol:
[There’s] now on the economic side a pretty unstoppable momentum…. It’s the place to be,” says Dalton, now an analyst at Chatham House in London.
Libya’s nominal gross domestic product (GDP) rose from 16.7 billion dinars ($12.8 billion) in 1999 to 114 billion in 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The year after the US lifted sanctions, the country’s economy surged 10.3 percent in 2005. Foreign direct investment increased more than 50 percent from $1.5 billion in 2000 to $2.3 billion in 2007, according to the World Bank.
In Tripoli, the capital, cement skeletons along the city’s airport road will soon be sleek luxury high-rises as Libya tackles a 500,000 unit housing shortage. Known as the Bab Tripoli complex, the government-funded plush Turkish development is valued at some $1.3 billion and is set to be completed in November 2011. It boasts 115 buildings with 2,018 apartments as well as office spaces, and a giant mall complete with a 22-lane bowling alley, a movie theater, a five-star hotel. The changes aren’t just limited to Tripoli. In Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, two government-funded housing projects consisting of 20,000 units, costing approximately $4.8 billion, are half way to completion. To combat income disparity and alleviate the growing pains of privatization, the Libyan government has set up social fund to provide 222,000 families approximately $377 dollars per month from investment funds financed by oil profits.
The European powers neglected to observe the lessons from the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In that conflict, U.S. intelligence failed to vet the Iraqi dissidents, principally Ahmed Abdel Hadi Chalabi, who urged the charge into Mesopotamia and managed to deliver Iraq into friendly relations with Iran. The occupying administration allowed Saudi Arabia’s rejected Salafists and Afghanistan’s displaced Al-Qaeda to pour into Iraq and establish a strong presence. Could Mahmoud Jibri, NTC chairperson, be another Chalabi? Will the already well established Libyan Islamic Fighting Group take advantage of the expected disorder in the new Libya? Will NATO send a temporary clone of L. Paul Bremer, former head of the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority, to perform similar duties in Libya? If western policies follow form, expect positive responses to all the above.
The first two propositions are particularly intriguing. Gaddafi, for all his faults, was in the front line in the battle against Al-Qaeda and did not have good relations with Iran. Already, the Islamic Republic’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has congratulated NTC head Mustafa Abdel Jalil on the the NTC victory and invited him to visit Iran. In many ways Gaddafi benefited the west by remaining in power. In the war against Radical Islamic terrorism, Libya’s role in that battle is now less known.
None of the mayhem created by Gaddafi can be pardoned. However, compare Gaddafi’s brutality to Western nations’ punishing actions, and the intense focus on Gaddafi becomes suspect. Count in hundreds the deaths and maimed due to Gaddafi’s actions (none of which can be excused) and count in millions the deaths and maimed caused by western nations in several aggressive wars and assistance to homicidal tyrants since World War II.
Neglect of examining Libya’s real problems.
Colonel Gaddafi outlived his usefulness to the Libyan people and had to leave. A consensus of world leaders seemed to approve these propositions. However, is Gaddafi the problem, or is it the condition of Libya, a mildly prosperous nation ($14,000 per capita GDP) that must balance the spending of today with assuring survival after the oil runs out? Finding other than low service employment in a nation that has few large businesses outside of oil extraction and refinement is not a defect due to poor organization or negligence; it’s a difficult task in all single resource nations.
A 2008 article in Libyan newspaper The Tripoli Post describes a meeting at which Muammar Gaddafi discussed the issue.
Opinion: On the Distribution of Wealth in Libya by Sami Zaptia, 22/11/2008 15:54:00:
On Wednesday October 12, the Leader of the Revolution Muammar Al-Qathafi met with the Secretariat of the General People’s Congress and the Secretariat of the General People’s Committee and discussed the issue of the distribution of Libya’s wealth and its consequences. In the lively debate that followed, which was broadcast live on Libyan TV, different views on this issue were freely discussed.
Those who have reservations on the re-distribution of wealth, and specifically the abolition of some bureaucracies or General People’s Committees (ministries) was based on: the fear of short term economic chaos, hyper inflation, loss of the dinar value, uncontrolled consumption and frittering away of the oil income on consumer products, a balance of payments deficit and a real fall in the incomes of people. They stressed that the oil money ought to be centrally invested in long term projects and investment portfolios on behalf of the Libyan people to increase production, long term growth and development. However, history and the track record of centralized bureaucracy and administrators are not good. The General People’s Committees and administrators have had much time and even much more money to try and fix things – and they seem to have failed.
There has been increased oil production, increased oil income and Libya’s general non-oil income has increased. There are new and increased income flows from investments and portfolios. Moreover, Libyans’ expectations have risen, are rising and continue to rise. They see all these signboards going up and construction projects going on all over Libya. They note these new towers, hotels, offices, marinas, railways, metros, and leisure complexes being constructed. They say to themselves there must be a lot of money about and ask when is it going to trickle down to them. And they are right. There is much money about. There are huge and increasing annual budgets. Libya’s GDP for 2006 was about US$68 billion (PPP) and is estimated at US$ 83 billion plus for 2008. That is a per capita income of over $8,000 for 2006 and estimated at over $12,000 for 2008. Libya’s real unemployment level is estimated at 30% whilst that of Dubai is only 2.4% Moreover, 33% of Libya’s population is under 15 years of age. This young population is full of expectations and needs vital investment in education, health and all the other sectors.
Would Gaddafi the authoritative, Gaddafi, the self-chosen defender of the world’s dominated, and Gaddafi the conspirator exist if the western nations, most represented by the United States, treated The Third World fairly and did not interfere in the affairs of other nations for their own interests? It is unlikely he would have any raison d’être.
If NATO felt that the Libyan leader had physically, morally and economically harmed his people, and therefore warranted disposal, then it has set a precedent for interference in any nation of the world; albeit a bit late. During the first eight years of the twenty first century, a U.S. leader led his countrymen into military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, which cost the lives of several thousand of Americans, brought havoc to the Iraq population, with hundreds of thousands killed and two million displaced. Add to the horrific actions against his own and foreign populations, an economic mismanagement which caused a severe recession and generated mass unemployment.
NATO, where were you when the United States most needed you?
Dan Lieberman is Editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly web based newsletter. He is a writer of many published articles on the Middle East. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read other articles by Dan.