Saturday, 26 March 2011

Some Thoughts on Libya.

The intervention of Western powers such as France and Britain with air strikes to protect the rebels against Gaddafi's regime and safeguarding the Libyan Uprising has been portrayed as another "humanitarian intervention" has been met with cynicism in many quarters.

The reasons are clear enough: the invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to a colossal catastrophe and a descent into anarchy and chaos. Afghanistan has gone on for a decade since NATO invaded in 2001. Advocates of intervention have argued that Libya will be different.

Nora Bensahel, formerly of the Rand Corporation, and a think tank analyst for the Centre for a New American Security in Washington DC, sees this as a "make or break" moment for NATO,in which the presumed testing ground is a place called Libya.
The initial phase of the allied military operation to prevent mass killings of Libyan civilians by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces is rapidly ending. The overall decline in cruise missile strikes suggests that Libya's surface-to-air weapons have been suppressed and the immediate threat of a massacre in Benghazi has been alleviated for the time being. The hard truth is that Nato's European allies are the only countries that can ensure the protection of civilians, particularly those countries like the United Kingdom and France that pushed vigorously for intervention.
As it stands that is true enough. Yet there is in Libya's case no sense of the idea of whether this intervention lies within the art of the possible.

Propaganda is flying forth over the Western campaign against the Gaddafi regime and many rationalisations for and against the conflict are failing to deal with what is actually at stake. Increasingly, it is unsure if the means are at all proportionate to ends that remain unclear in official government explanations.

The intervention is clearly concerned with protecting the oil interests of the West. Even so, it is possible that if Gaddafi had entered Benghazi the civil war would have escalated into a full scale bloodbath as he had the advantage of 15,000 disciplined loyal troops compared to the straggling insurgents.

Having lost control over Libya, Gaddafi could no longer be ensured to ensure stability in Libya. Once his forces had advanced into the key oil refining cities and ports of the east such as Al Sidrah, Ras Lanuf, Al Barygah ( a crucial LNG plant ) he seemed set to battle to the end, knocking out an important oil supply.

Evidently, this would have affected the oil supplied to Italy, one with a pipeline to Libya and which derives much of its oil from that source. France gets oil directly from Libya as well. Shell has large oil concessions in the east in the Sirt Basin oil fields.

Set against the background of the debacle in Iraq, the Western powers had already responded to Gaddafi's offer to supply the shortfall in oil production caused by the collapse of Saddam's state into violent warfare. That was why Blair went to Libya in 2004 and struck a deal with the Libyan dictator.

The problem with the opposition to the war, the "anti-war" movement is that it fails to grasp that Western prosperity depends on controlling these oil supplies. Orwell wrote in the 1930's that it was easy to be anti-imperialist but that if the empire stopped then many would have to subsist on herrings and potatoes.

Oil underpins the consumer societies of the West. This does not mean it ought to nor that resource conflicts are right. It simply means that those who state Libya is "all about the oil" need to start engaging with the need to offer alternatives to oil instead of pretending there is an infinite growth utopia.

In which case those stating that Libya is" all about the oil" should stop being hypocritical, as Galloway has been, in pretending that its about promoting the profits of oil corporations. It is not. Wars from Iraq to Afghanistan ( one crucially concerned with the TAPI pipeline ) are about preserving Western lifestyles.

The Sarkozy and Cameron governments no doubt believed they could use the undoubted potential humanitarian crisis caused by a massacre in Benghazi to promote intervention as enlightened self interest. A No Fly zone simply to stop Gaddafi's planes bombing could have been justified.

Gaddafi's available air force, however, consisted of a small number of Soviet era jets . The creation of a "No Fly Zone" really was intended so Gaddafi could not offer opposition to the use of Western air force to pummel his ground forces and tilt the advantage in favour of the rebel opposition.

That may well have prevented Gaddafi's forces causing bloodshed in Benghazi. But from there, the scope and scale of the intervention can not have said to be contained as the endgame is to depose Gaddafi. If the Libyan opposition can not do that, Gaddafi will remain a great threat both within Libya and elsewhere.

The hope was that elements within the Libyan regime would give up and depose Gaddafi, as seemed to be the pattern in the first few weeks after the protests started. Many of the leaders of the opposition are those who have defected or fallen from favour with the regime.

It did not happen and two dangers have followed. Firstly, if Gaddafi remains in power in the West of Libya he can set up a para state sponsoring terrorism. Secondly, he has a real support base in Tripoli with a stake in the regime. As rebel forces advance West the battle for Tripoli will lead to great fighting.

Even then the danger of intervention is not that the rebels will win with the West's help, thus compromising the revolutionary purity of the Arab Revolution, as pseudo "anti-war" ideologues such as Milne and Murray fear, but whether by getting rid of Gaddafi, the new government will be able to ensure peace and prosperity.

Conflicts over control of diminishing oil reserves are set to be pathological. The West needs to wean itself from dependence upon oil as a strategic priority.


  1. Syria Protocol: since this morning, social networks are inciting rebellion (started). Libya Protocol: landing of ground forces prepared. Madrid: thousands of people shouting "No to war" on the streets. Is it the beginning of World War III?:

  2. The blog above was posted, in part, on the Guardian's "Comment is Free" site and promptly censored. They call that "moderation", something that is needed, of course, but which can be used very stupidly at times.

    I have no idea why this blog would be removed.

  3. It must have been the reference to Milne being a 'pseudo anti-war" ideologue' Which he is, of course. Any person who can laud the Soviet Union as a historical force for progress, a regime that murdered 20 million or more of its own citizens and run a colossal Gulag, and affect to be "anti-war" is a mendacious fraud. But the Guardian wants to maintain the credibility of its star columnist. Despite the fact he is evil.

  4. That is very mild criticism of M & M that surely does not warrant moderation.