A hard look at why the west is really involved in Libya.
By **Russ Baker**
By arrangement with WhoWhatWhy.Com.
As I write this, a new day is dawning in Libya. The “people’s revolt” against yet another tyrant is unquestionably exciting, and the demise (political and/or otherwise) of Muammar Qaddafi will, of course, be widely hailed. But barely below the surface something else is going on and it concerns not the Libyan “people” but an elite. In reality, a narrowly based Libyan elite is being supplanted by a much older, more enduring one of an international variety.
The media, as is so often the case, has botched its job. Thus virtually all of its resources over the past six months have gone into providing us with an entertainment, a horse race, a battle, with almost no insight into the deeper situation.
It’s true that Qaddafi, like many—perhaps a majority of—rulers in his region was a thug and a brute, if at times a comical figure. But one doesn’t need to be an apologist for him—nor deny the satisfaction of seeing the citizenry joyously celebrating his ousting—to demand some honesty about the motives behind his removal, especially when it comes to our own government’s role in funding it and thus every American’s unwitting participation in that action.
Let’s start with the official justification for NATO’s launch of its bombing campaign—for without that campaign it’s highly improbable the rebels could ever have toppled Qaddafi. We were told from the beginning that the major purpose of what was to be very limited bombing—indeed its sole purpose—was to protect those Libyan civilians rebelling against an oppressive regime from massive retaliation by Qaddafi. Perhaps because of NATO’s initial intervention, the feared Qaddafi-sponsored, genocidal bloodletting never did occur. (At least, not beyond the military actions one would expect a government to take when facing a civil war. After all, remember General Sherman’s “scorched earth” policy in the U.S. Civil War?). However, protecting civilians apparently didn’t generate sufficient public support for intervention, so we started to hear about other purported reasons for it. Qaddafi was encouraging his soldiers to commit mass rape! And giving them Viagra! And condoms!
If you questioned the mass rape story, you were a “rape-enabler.” If you pointed out that Qaddafi was being bombed for anything other than humanitarian reasons, you were a “Qaddafi-lover.”
You can’t make this sort of thing up. And yet that’s just what the NATO crew did—made it up. The media, always glad to have a “sexy” story, especially a sick sexy story, even a sick sexy story with no evidence to back it up, covered this ad nauseum, but never bothered to find out if it was true.
We’ve been expressing doubts about these claims for a number of reasons—including logic—for some time now but it’s tough to counterpoise hot-button issues with rationality. If you questioned the mass rape story, you were a “rape-enabler.” If you pointed out that Qaddafi was being bombed for anything other than humanitarian reasons, you were a “Qaddafi-lover.”
The media was so gullible that the professional disinformation guys went onto autopilot, recycling tired old tropes that nobody ought to be buying anymore. For example, most news outlets reported recently that Libya had fired a SCUD missile at the rebels.
“That it didn’t hit anything or kill anyone is not the point. It’s a weapon of mass destruction that Col. Qaddafi is willing to train on his own people,” said one Western official.
If the effort to rally public opinion against Qaddafi centered on any one factor, it was fury over Libya’s purported role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In the years since the conviction of a Libyan intelligence officer in the tragedy, a chorus of doubts has grown steadily. The doubt is based on new forensic evidence and research, plus subsequent claims by prosecution witnesses that their testimony was the result of threats, bribes, or other forms of coercion. It is an ugly and disturbing story, not well known to the larger news audience.
Yet Lockerbie has continued to touch nerves. In February, when Qaddafi’s Justice Minister turned against him and became a rebel leader, he brought with him dynamite. Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil made the dramatic claim that his ex-boss was the culprit behind the bombing of Pan Am 103. He asserted that he had proof of Qaddafi giving the direct order for the crime. This got considerable media attention, though almost no news organizations followed up or reported that Jeleil never did supply that proof. The Libyan convicted of the crime has consistently denied any involvement. Nonetheless, his conviction in the case has had Qaddafi on the defensive for years—and working hard to prove to the West that he can be a “good citizen.” Part of this has entailed his paying out huge sums in reparations.
From the beginning of the Libya saga in February until now, the NATO coalition has never wavered from its initial declaration of humanitarian motives. And, to be sure, we may still learn of horrible, previously unknown atrocities by Qaddafi. Still, the United States and its allies have little history of using their might strictly to protect civilians. If so, millions of South Sudanese, Rwandans, and others might not be in their graves.
Besides, with all the talk about Qaddafi harming his citizens, what about the effect of more than 7,000—yes, seven thousand—NATO bombing runs? We heard constant reports about how Qaddafi was facing charges of “war crimes,” with never a word about NATO. To learn the impact of this massive unleashing, you had to be visiting little-known sources such as the Canadian website, Global Research, which often probes beyond official Western accounts of global interventions.
Some Western military officials couldn’t even be bothered to participate in the “humanitarianism” charade. For example, the top British general explicitly stated that the objective was really to remove Qaddafi. Nobody—including the media—paid much attention to this admission, perhaps because it’s already assumed to be the case.
Qaddafi should never be seen as a victim—indeed, he has always been sleazy and monstrous in various ways. But the US and its allies appear to have cared little about this, while being deeply troubled by his role as a fly in the geopolitical ointment. A look at the long and complex historical relationship between Qaddafi and the West begins to explain the true reason he had to go. It also dovetails perfectly with a growing body of indications that Western elites encouraged and even provoked the uprising—while tapping into deep discontent with the dictator.
Qaddafi has long been a thorn in the side of the West’s oil industry and their national security apparatus. In the early 1970s he worked closely with Occidental Petroleum chairman Armand Hammer in thwarting the ambitions of the oil majors. He was a leader in the boycott of Israel and often cozied up to the Soviet Union.
As for real motives, Hersh discerned from a three-month investigation that the Reagan Administration saw Qaddafi as being pro-Soviet, “relentlessly anti-Israel,” and a supporter of extreme elements in Syria.
Back in the 1980s, the Reagan Administration plotted for five years to get rid of Qaddafi and finally sent 18 U.S. warplanes in April 1987 to eliminate the “Mad Dog of the Middle East.” Reporter Seymour Hersh actually did investigate the whys and wherefores of the ensuing bombings over Tripoli.(The bombings killed the Libyan dictator’s daughter but obviously failed to achieve their primary objective). Hersh’s piece in the February 22nd, 1987 New York Times Magazine, “Target Qaddafi,” has striking echoes in the NATO attacks of 2011. It revealed:
— “internal manipulation and deceit” on the part of the White House to disguise its real intentions, namely, to assassinate Qaddafi.
— Denials after the raid on Qaddafi’s compound that he had been a target, insisting that the compound hit was “a command-and-control” building.
— The training of Libyan exiles, armed by Israel, to infiltrate Libya through Tunisia.
— The creation of a pretext for the attacks. In this case, it was the April 5, 1986 bombing of the La Belle discotheque in West Berlin, a hangout of American servicemen. This bombing was blamed on Libya “based on intercepted communications,” despite the explicit rejection of this claim by Berlin’s then-chief of anti-terrorist police.
— The revelation, according to one intelligence official, that “We came out with this big terrorist threat to the U.S. government. The whole thing was a complete fabrication.”
— As for real motives, Hersh discerned from a three-month investigation that the Reagan Administration saw Qaddafi as being pro-Soviet, “relentlessly anti-Israel,” and a supporter of extreme elements in Syria as opposed to “the more moderate regimes in Jordan and Egypt.”
— Qaddafi’s “often-stated ambition to set up a new federation of Arab and Muslim states in North Africa” frightened policy makers about their access to minerals.
It’s this that has to be considered as background for the true story of Libya—the one the Western media cannot, or will not now, report.
Behind Liyba’s “spontaneous revolution”
What the media has so relentlessly characterized as the “spontaneous uprising” of February 2011 was hardly spontaneous. It began even before the Arab Spring itself commenced in Tunisia during December of last year—and it was orchestrated by the West.
In October 2010, Qaddafi’s protocol chief, Nouri Al-Mesmari, arrived in France, purportedly for medical treatment. But he had his family with him, and the declared reason for his trip was a cover story. He almost immediately plunged into talks with the French and their intelligence service. He argued that Qaddafi was weak. He pointed out breaches in Qaddafi’s national security shield that made it possible to take him down. (More on this can be found on the subscription-newsletter site “Africa Intelligence.”)
In December, Mesmari was joined by three Western-educated Libyan businessmen who had years earlier staged an unsuccessful revolt against Qaddafi. It didn’t take long for the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy to sign on to a covert effort to topple Qaddafi. There are multiple possible reasons for this, including intra-European competition, notably with the Italians, who enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Qaddafi and an inside track on Libya’s oil. In addition, the French were deeply concerned about illegal immigration from Arab and African countries via Libya, that they felt was tolerated or even encouraged by Qaddafi. The French began talking with the British, who shared many of their concerns and a history of cooperation on covert projects.
Qaddafi and Sarkozy (France)
In November, a French trade delegation, including representatives of multinational corporations, traveled to Benghazi in Eastern Libya. That delegation has been characterized by Africa Intelligence’s Maghreb Confidential, as having included French military officials under commercial cover assessing the possibilities on the ground.
The New Year’s uprising in Tunisia, followed in rapid succession by those in other Arab states, created a kind of perfect storm, arguably even a smoke screen for the “popular revolt.” (It is interesting to note the above newsletter’s assertion that Mesmari paid a brief visit to Tunisia in October on his way to France.)
News organizations do not appear to have scrutinized who ordered Tarbel arrested, or exactly why—though this was the seminal event that would ultimately lead to the end of Qaddafi’s regime.
“Muammar Qaddafi’s chief of protocol, Nouri Mesmari, is currently in Paris after stopping off in Tunisia. Normally, Mesmari sticks closely to his boss’s side, so there’s some talk that he may have broken his long-standing tie with the Libyan leader.”
Egypt followed quickly on Tunisia’s heels, and on February 16, just days after the dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled in neighboring Egypt, peaceful demonstrations began in Benghazi—after calls went out on Facebook for people to take to the streets in protest over the arrest of a human rights lawyer. (The lawyer, Fethi Tarbel, was quickly released—news organizations do not appear to have scrutinized who ordered Tarbel arrested, or exactly why—though this was the seminal event that would ultimately lead to the end of Qaddafi’s regime.)
On February 27, a National Transitional Council, made up of politicians, ex-military officers, tribal leaders, businessmen and academics, announced its launching in Benghazi as the rebel leadership. Not surprisingly, no mention was made of the French back-story.
The Italian intelligence services, intent on preserving that country’s advantageously close relationship with Qaddafi, began trying to leak what was going on. When it proved unable to stop the operation, the Italian government seemingly decided to switch and try to head this particular parade, lest the spoils go to the others.
The Guardian, reported the role of British special forces in coordinating the rebels on the ground; this was denied by the UK government.
Qaddafi and Berlusconi (Italy)
The United States was late to this affair, but determined to get its share of the picnic. The U.S. has been as nervous about Qaddafi’s relationship with Russia’s Putin as France was about his ties to Italy.
The CIA was ready with its own man and plan. As we previously noted, Khalifa Hifter, a former Libyan army officer, had spent the past two decades living just down the road from CIA headquarters, with no apparent source of income. In 1996, while a resident of Vienna, Virginia, he organized a Benghazi-based revolt that failed. When the current uprising was sputtering in March, the CIA sent Hifter in to take command.
Qaddafi and Blair (UK)
When the rebels were being routed, the United Nations Security Council approved a no-fly order for Qaddafi. The NATO bombing began almost immediately, under the “humanitarian” label.
Before long, other European countries had covert elements in Libya. The British paper, The Guardian, has just reported the role of British special forces in coordinating the rebels on the ground; this was denied by the UK government. But then another British paper, The Telegraph, cited UK defense sources saying special forces had been in Libya already for weeks, i.e., since early August.)
Now that it is all over, expect details to emerge daily.
For the first time, defense sources have confirmed that the SAS has been in Libya for several weeks, and played a key role in coordinating the fall of Tripoli.
Now that it is all over, expect details to emerge daily. For example, see this from the Daily Beast on the extent of US involvement behind the scenes, including:
“[A]t NATO headquarters outside Brussels, the U.S.was intimately involved in all decisions about how the Libyan rebels should be supported as they rolled up control of cities and oil refineries and marched toward the capital, Tripoli.”
Nato’s mare nostrum
Ok, so certain Western powers wanted, really, really badly, to oust Qaddafi; but why exactly? France’s intra-European competitive motive was certainly one factor. But there was more.
Back in 2007, European Union leaders were seriously toying with the idea of NATO-izing the entire Mediterranean, turning it into the new mare nostrum originally contemplated in Roman days. In 2007, France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy invited 27 European Union heads of state to launch a “Mediterranean union.” He also invited 17 non-EU Mediterranean countries to use, as Britain’s Daily Telegraph put it, “imperial Rome’s centre of the world as a unifying factor linking 44 countries that are home to 800 million people.”
“There are Imperialist maps and designs that we have already rolled up. We should not have them again.”
One leader did not buy in, however: Muammar Qaddafi. He claimed the scheme would divide Africa and the Arab World. “We shall have another Roman empire and imperialist design,” he was quoted as saying in July, 2008. “There are Imperialist maps and designs that we have already rolled up. We should not have them again.”
Qaddafi was particularly angered that an earlier plan, which contemplated building closer co-operation among a few southern European and North African states bordering the Mediterranean, had been replaced with one which included the whole EU, the Middle East—and Israel—in the new “union.”
“It is unbelievable that I would come to my own country and people and say that I have a union with Israel. It is very dangerous,” he said, referring to the possibility of the plan fomenting jihadism throughout Europe, not just the Middle East.
Despite this “insult,” however, Qaddafi had been attempting for some time to get his country out of the near-global embargo imposed after blame for the Lockerbie bombing was laid at Libya’s feet. And the West, for its part, had been largely in a great hurry to “forgive” and to get access to Libya’s riches.
Qaddafi and Condoleezza (U.S.)
While Qaddafi was discussing with the Russians in 2007, for instance, the prospect of building a Russian military base in Libya, he’d also been busy rapidly repairing relations with other potential allies. French President Sarkozy visited that year, and signed a number of agreements, including a deal for France to build a nuclear-powered facility to desalinate ocean water for drinking. The next year, Qaddafi signed a cooperation treaty with Italy’s Berlusconi. And American secretary of state Condi Rice came calling in 2008, accelerating the thaw George W. Bush had avidly begun early in his administration.
McCain and Qaddafi
In recent years, Qaddafi was on such good behavior that U.S. officials showered him with the sort of praise usually reserved for those officially deemed to be close allies. If that sounds unlikely, all you need to do is watch this video of Republican Sen. John McCain on an August 2009 visit to Tripoli—with his buddy Joe Lieberman, known to most as a pro-Israel, pro-Iraq-war hawk—gushing about Qaddafi and his regime. Emerging from meetings, they evoked a spirit of friendship and mutual respect, and endorsed the U.S. providing defense equipment to that regime. (Ever the political animal, in recent weeks, the very same McCain who led that delegation has turned to criticizing Obama for not being willing to bomb Libya heavily enough.)
A cable from the US embassy in Tripoli, released by WikiLeaks, confirms that on that 2009 visit, “Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends,” the cable continues. “The senators recognized Libya’s cooperation on counterterrorism and conveyed that it was in the interest of both countries to make the relationship stronger.”
This rapprochement was characterized by a land rush of Western corporations that had long coveted their share of Libya’s oil revenues. Leading the way was the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Qaddafi and his advisers trusted Goldman’s claims that it would turn handsome profits with any funds entrusted to it. Yet Goldman managed to lose an astonishing 98 percent of the funds, which were the Libyan people’s sovereign wealth. No matter. Goldman was soon back with more brilliant ideas—including suggesting, at the height of the Wall Street crisis, that Qaddafi buy a substantial stake in the Goldman firm itself.
Qaddafi was faced with these huge losses at the very time Libya was carrying a crushing obligation of reparations for the Lockerbie bombing that had been pressed on Libya as a condition of its re-emergence from years of isolation, and he began to worry about how he would pay for it all. Keeping the Libyan population at a relatively high standard of living (compared certainly to neighboring Egypt) was essential to his maintaining power. It was at this point that Qaddafi began pressing foreign oil companies to increase the royalties they paid and the companies began grousing about it.
Could this hardening of postures have contributed to the sudden decision to oust a man who had worked hard to ingratiate himself with the West?
At least two factors appear to have come together to create an impossible situation for Qaddafi: (1) The French, perhaps impatient with Qaddafi’s independence, and frustrated with his Italian alliance, began considering whether they might effect a change of government in Libya. And (2) the Arab Spring. Suddenly, a startling number of the thuggish Middle Eastern allies of the NATO countries began to come under threat. For a number of U.S. Eastern establishment types, at least, these regional spasms of disaffection and bravery seemed to come as a genuine surprise. The Council on Foreign Affairs produced articles titled “What Just Happened?” and “Why No One Saw it Coming,” in the May/June issue of its Foreign Affairs magazine, dedicated to “the New Arab Revolt.”
No one seemed to know for certain what was going to happen, although there was plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking about how the Arab Spring was entirely predictable in light of the world-wide financial meltdown in 2008-09 and a growing restiveness in the Arab world.
A mere glance at the map reveals the strategic location of Libya; right next to Egypt, large, and unlike Egypt, full of oil.
But while it may take years to put the Arab Spring in its proper perspective, it surely had begun to occur to foreign policy elites that NATO’s plans for a militarized Mediterranean would be susceptible to unraveling if Libya’s unpredictable Qaddafi remained unpredictable. Especially with the NATO-allied dictator Mubarak on his way out and Egypt destabilized.
Libya Oil Exports
A mere glance at the map reveals the strategic location of Libya; right next to Egypt, large, and unlike Egypt, full of oil. And it’s full of a particularly sought-after grade of sweet crude oil. (If you had momentarily forgotten how incredibly important oil is to Western government and corporations, consider this news item: Exxon Mobil reported second quarter profits of $10.7 billion, up 41 percent from the previous year.)
In other words, Libya is both sitting on gobs of oil and perfectly, strategically located for military bases to protect that oil and the oil of nearby countries, including Saudi Arabia, whose citizens have expressed hostility to the stationing of American troops there. Almost nobody could stand Qaddafi. So if he were pushed out, who would complain? By getting behind the rebels (or, even better, helping to create and fortify the rebels) the forces of the West might be able to have their own Arab Spring.
Crude Oil Prices in February
In an inexcusable affront to the public, the media (with notable exceptions such as The Guardian) has largely waited until Qaddafi was destroyed to begin focusing on this incredibly obvious oil factor. One example is a piece just published by the New York Times. How useful is it to allow the one-sided demonization of this man, and then, when he is on his way out, to begin saying, “Oh, by the way, it was always about oil”?
The piece focuses on the rebels’ plans to favor the countries who backed them over those who preferred a negotiated settlement with Qaddafi:
“We don’t have a problem with Western countries like Italians, French and U.K. companies,” Abdeljalil Mayouf, a spokesman for the Libyan rebel oil company Agoco, was quoted by Reuters as saying. “But we may have some political issues with Russia, China, and Brazil.”
This feels like Iraq Redux, only with different players and, so far, a different outcome.
Russia, China, and Brazil did not back strong sanctions on the Qaddafi regime, and they generally supported a negotiated end to the uprising. All three countries have large oil companies that are seeking deals in Africa.
This feels like Iraq Redux, only with different players and, so far, a different outcome. In 2003, it was Germany and “Freedom-fries”.; France refused to join the “Coalition of the Willing” in George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Why? Because they had pending oil deals with Saddam Hussein.
There are other possible factors, including Qaddafi’s unique influence as an uncontrollable, Castro/Chavez-style independent nationalist with influence throughout the region. Qaddafi was an avid promoter of African unity, of governments that would remain free from the influence of the major powers. He poured a lot of money into South Africa, for instance, when it was struggling to free itself from Western influence after the fall of the apartheid regime there. As Qaddafi was going down to defeat, the West began pressuring South Africa to turn over frozen Libyan funds. (Not incidentally, there’s more than $35 billion of frozen Libyan assets in the U.S., and a comparable sum in Europe.)
African nationalism remains a big concern for Western mining, banking and industrial interests. Though the people of Africa remain desperately poor, the continent is the earth’s richest potential source of precious and strategic metals, minerals and resources of every stripe.
Qaddafi and Obama (US)
In hindsight, the Libyan “revolution” may be viewed as a clever effort to harness genuine domestic discontent to a global competition for the resources necessary to sustain the industrial West as well as newly emerging industrial countries like China, India and Brazil. Refracted this way, the whole NATO involvement in Libya appears to be, at root, business as usual. As they say in law enforcement, follow the money. In the midst of a severe fiscal crisis, Pentagon spending alone on Libya through the end of July was $896 million. Will everyone who believes that the Western military establishment is spending such vast sums to further the “aspirations of the Libyan people,” please raise their hands?
At this juncture, it seems realistic to expect the U.S. and its allies to settle in, nice and comfortable, on Libyan “assets” for a very long time. Anyone who doubts that might want to check out US statements, not widely discussed, of intent for US troops to remain in Iraq well past the original troop departure date. Or a proposal for the same thing in Afghanistan—see this report about a desire to keep substantial military personnel there through 2024. Then do a little reading on the potentially $1 trillion worth of minerals in Afghanistan which the U.S. says it only recently learned about. (Wink, wink.) As the New York Times reported in June, 2010 (the story generated little public reaction):
“The previously unknown deposits—including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium—are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.”
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.
Some will say that ascribing solely selfish motives to Western “liberators” is too cynical. For one thing, aren’t the rebels at least an improvement on Qaddafi in terms of human rights, liberties, and so forth?
For a possible answer, it’s worth reading the British journalist Patrick Cockburn. He nicely sums up the craziness, brutality and internecine murder taking place in the rebels’ ranks without proper Western media attention. They appear to have killed one or possibly two of their own commanding generals on suspicion of treachery—or at least being partial to the wrong faction. For example, we’ve been hearing—in part via a seemingly well-informed individual inside Libya—that the reason the rebels killed their own commander-in-chief General Abdul Fatah Younis was his advocacy of negotiations with Qaddafi. If that’s correct—and these subjects need more reporting by the news organizations there on the ground—then we’d like to know what position all those Western spooks took on the ouster and killing of this man.
Dead Black Libyans
Continuing on this score, we have the plight of black Libyans, generally among the poorest in the country. We’ve seen a steady stream of indications that, almost by definition, anyone black in Libya (many African migrant workers but also some Libyan citizens) has been lumped in with Qaddafi’s non-Libyan African mercenaries, considered a suspected Qaddafi loyalist and therefore targeted for harassment, physical violence and death.
Meanwhile, the rebels have released, en masse, prisoners linked to extremist Islamic movements. And one analyst is currently asserting that an Al Qaeda-linked figure is the new military commander of post-Qaddafi Tripoli.
Here’s another twist: The Libyan convicted in the Lockerbie bombing, released in 2009 from jail in Scotland and allowed to return home for health reasons, is now, according to CNN, on his death bed, said to be deprived of medicines due to the recent looting of Libyan pharmacies. Once the rebels had consolidated their hold over Tripoli, CNN found Abdel Basset al-Megrahi comatose, and while he has consistently maintained his innocence, it is unlikely the world will ever learn what he knows. With him and Qaddafi disappearing from the scene, any demand for a deeper inquiry into the bombing will likely evaporate.
But where is the West in all of this? A leaked plan for post-Qaddafi Libya shows how elaborately involved NATO has been in the entire operation. It includes a carefully thought-out proposal for avoiding the mistakes made in the Iraq occupation—including embracing most of Qaddafi’s security forces, and an initial occupying force “resourced and supported” by the United Arab Emirates, with essentially no (visible) Western “boots on the ground.”
Doesn’t this sound more and more like an invasion, for spoils? And one that could—notwithstanding lessons supposedly learned—quickly get very messy?
Additional research by Charlotte Dennett
By arrangement with WhoWhatWhy.Com.