Sunday, April 10, 2011

Understanding the Libyan uprising

The political Left, composed of various socialist groups, has been vigorously debating the Libyan uprising and subsequent French-led NATO intervention. This intervention has been backed up with the willing participation of Britain and the United States, but has caused deep divisions with the Western powers. Germany, Poland, Hungary and the Czech republic have all opposed the Libyan invasion.

Many on the political Left, while recognising the hypocrisy and duplicity of the imperialist powers, reluctantly support the intervention as a necessary evil that thwarted the impending massacre of Libyan rebels by Gaddafi loyalists. For instance, see this article in the Links magazine. There are many voices opposed to the American-backed Libyan invasion, as demonstrated by this compilation of excellent articles by various authors.

Many political commentators have been defending the imposition of a no-fly zone on humanitarian grounds. However, there are voices in the socialist Left that oppose the US/NATO intervention, and expose the hypocrisy of imputed 'humanitarian' for the actions of Western powers. See for instance, the article in the US Socialist Worker criticising the humanitarian disguise for the latest invasion of Libya. The article's authors, Eric Ruder and Tom Arabia, expose the stench of hypocrisy surrounding this latest intervention. Humanitarian motives disguise the economic and geostrategic interests that motivate the imperialist powers in their mad scramble to grab an even-greater share of Libya's oil wealth. A US delegation has visited the Libyan Interim Transitional National Council, the rebel leadership, to discuss future oil contracts and business opportunities.

While I have supported the uprising, I must be wary of any intervention by the former colonial powers that are supposedly motivated by humanitarian concerns. These concerns are nothing but a clever disguise for the imperial geo-strategic interests that the Western powers in Libya specifically and in the Middle East generally.

Posing as humanitarian, selfless rescuers of Libya's embattled rebels absolves the US, Britain, France and other powers of their direct culpability in creating the current impasse. Let's face it; Gaddafi opened Libya's doors to multinational capital, particularly oil corporations which the Europeans were quick to exploit. They armed and trained the Libyan military, and since 2001 the Gaddafi regime was a solid, highly-praised ally in the so-called 'war on terror'. Gaddafi even posed as a 'defender' of Europe against the supposed influx of African migrants, and guaranteed he was doing all he could to 'protect' European countries from this alleged danger.

The Links magazine, the theoretical journal of the Socialist Alliance, has this essay on how the Libyan regime became a willing collaborator of European and western big capital. In the 1990s, US multinational concerns were enthusiastically reaching out to Libya, in order to establish profitable businesses. With the Libyan uprising of early 2011, the Gaddafi regime became a liability because of its inability to quickly suppress the rebellion and guarantee continued cooperation with Western business interests.

What of the accusation that had the Western powers not intervened, troops loyal to Gaddafi would have massacred the insurgents? Let us note firstly that some groups in the Libyan rebellion did call for western intervention, and those calls were ignored at first. The US, Britain and France spent countless hours debating with their counterparts in NATO about the scale and efficacy of any military intervention. While some groups within the Libyan insurgency directly appealed to the European powers for help, those calls were ignored by the politicians in Europe. The Italian government for instance, voiced concerns that the rebels might establish an 'Islamic state' in Libya, and thus hesitated in supporting the uprising. But the western powers have now fully embraced the rebels, and I will return to this point later.

Secondly, there were moves by African countries to establish dialogue between the warring parties, and there were high-level delegations and proposals for African peacekeeping troops to be sent to Libya, much as happened in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 1990s. All these proposals were made through the African Union, and they all came to nothing because of the insistence of the big capitalist powers on intervening militarily. France in particular was pushing for a military presence in Libya, while Germany has maintained its opposition until today. There was no need for an immediate no-fly zone, a tactic that was only a first-step; mission creep has set in, and the military intervention has quickly escalated into an embryonic military occupation of Libya.

I think the recent history of US occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan prove the unreality of this tactic; it is impossible to just carve out a no-fly zone and remain at that. A no-fly zone necessitates an increase in military presence in the occupied country, initially with intelligence agents and special forces, and later with ground troops. It is the beginning of a slippery slope to foreign occupation.

The conditions for the original uprising are familiar to anyone who follows the politics and economics of the Arab countries; widespread unemployment and economic inequality due to privatisation and opening up to multinational giants, lack of opportunity, rampant corruption, inefficient and dictatorial political structures, the repression of dissidents and ruthless denial of democratic rights - which all create a combustible social situation. So while it is necessary to support the Libyan uprising, I think it is advisable to examine the political leadership of the Libyan Interim Council, which is composed of former Gaddafi regime politicians, former anti-Soviet mujahedeen fighters, and various disaffected elements.

The article carried by the In Defence of Marxism website, summarises the activities of various members of the Libyan Interim Council. While the uprising started out as a genuine revolt against a brutal and corrupt capitalist dictatorship, the leadership of the rebels is fully coopted by Western imperialism. Reactionary bourgeois figures are in positions of authority in this interim council, and will turn Libya into a compliant stooge of multinational economic interests. A number of Libyan rebel leaders have extensive connections with the CIA, and some are Islamist fighters, having fought in Afghanistan and have connections with al-Qaeda. Their presence, while small, should give pause for thought about the nature of a Libyan post-Gaddafi regime. There is an extensive investigation published in The Independent. Khalifa Haftar, appointed a leading rebel military commander in March this year, has extensive contacts and training with the CIA. The Guardian carried the story about Haftar, who became a CIA asset in the 1980s and helped to run a CIA-sponsored anti-Gaddafi group.

No doubt the debate will continue as the situation on the ground in Libya changes from week to week. But at this stage, I will make this observation; while the Gaddafi regime is repellant, should the objective of regime change succeed, the regime will be replaced by a network of pro-capitalist stooges supported by external powers. This will be a severe defeat for the Libyan uprising and the ideals which motivated the original rebellion. The Interim Transitional National Council will open up Libya even further to US, British, European multinational corporations, and the inequalities and social injustices inflicted on the Libyan people will increase. This is hardly the outcome intended by the spontaneous uprising of the Libyan masses. The nature of the Karzai regime in Afghanistan, or the Maliki government in Iraq, reveals kind of regime will eventuate in Libya should imperialism be able to manoeuvre its underlings into the political leadership of the Libyan rebels.

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