In his speech on Monday night, President Obama articulated his rationale for the ongoing military campaign in Libya, claiming that a failure to act would have permitted humanitarian catastrophe that would have "would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world".The reason for this is that the Libyan civil war and the intervention of the Western powers is crucially concerned with the future of Libya's large oil reserves, the largest in Africa, and the fact that Gaddafi lo longer had de facto control over the nation.
But as recent events have demonstrated, a compelling moral case does not equate to a coherent strategy. Indeed, it is charitable to call this strategy muddled. Initially committed to only to defensive operations to stop the advance of the Libyan military into cities like Benghazi, the Obama administration quickly began working with the rebels to coordinate air strikes to push back Gaddafi's forces.
This turned the US, Britain and France into combatants in a civil war; no matter how much they claim only to be engaged in "kinetic military action" or some other Orwellian euphemism, the facts are plain.
There are now CIA officers present in Libya to coordinate air strikes with rebels, and the US has flown over 1,600 sorties. While the American public may be fooled by the dissembling language, Gaddafi and his regime will have no illusions about who is bombing them.Now, if only to underscore this point that this is a real war, the US and its allies are considering sending weapons to the Libyan rebels.
That Britain and the US have gone beyond the UN mandate to protect civilians and have aimed at "regime alteration" by proposing to supply arms to the rebels is now obvious and the endgame has cleared mutated into getting rid of Gaddafi.
The reality is that where oil is concerned, the strategic over dependence upon oil and the continued longer term failure of Western nations to wean themselves off having oil fuel their high octane consumer economies necessarily and inevitably is drawing them further into the war going on in Libya.
When oil is at stake, it is clear that morality is subordinated to realpolitik in a way that becomes dangerous. The need is to broker a negotiated peace that will partition Libya and not for Britain and the USA to push the endgame towards propelling the civil war further by backing the rebels to push west.
Both BP and Exxon Mobil have huge oil concessions in the Ghadamis region in the west of Libya and it is interesting to speculate whether they will for an all out attempt to remove Gaddafi or advocate the partition the nation between the eastern region of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania in the west.
A strategy that minimises the bloodshed and returns Libya to some form of stability in the right one. The question is whether the rebel leadership in the east is prepared to accept a partition any more than Gaddafi's clan and supporters could be induced to.
Proponents of "humanitarian intervention" have as yet often failed to demonstrate coherent strategy no less than reflexive "anti-war" agitators who, in reality, are opposed to what they consider another attempt to impose Western clients on an Arab state.
Noam Chomsky, the veteran critic of US Foreign policy, has not denied the fact that had Gaddafi gone on to attempt retaking Benghazi that a bloodbath would have ensued, ( On Libya and the Unfolding Crises March 30, 2011 )
Libya is rich in oil, and though the US and UK have often given quite remarkable support to its cruel dictator, right to the present, he is not reliable. They would much prefer a more obedient client. Furthermore, the vast territory of Libya is mostly unexplored, and oil specialists believe it may have rich untapped resources, which a more dependable government might open to Western exploitation.
When a non-violent uprising began, Qaddafi crushed it violently, and a rebellion broke out that liberated Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, and seemed about to move on to Qaddafi's stronghold in the West. His forces, however, reversed the course of the conflict and were at the gates of Benghazi.
A slaughter in Benghazi was likely, and as Obama's Middle East adviser Dennis Ross pointed out, "everyone would blame us for it." That would be unacceptable, as would a Qaddafi military victory enhancing his power and independence. The US then joined in UN Security Council resolution 1973 calling for a no-fly zone, to be implemented by France, the UK, and the US, with the US supposed to move to a supporting role.
There was no effort to limit action to instituting a no-fly zone, or even to keep within the broader mandate of resolution 1973.A ceasefire was intended to be "imposed" on Gaddafi's forces but clearly bombing from the air cannot achieve that. It is as if Chomsky thinks that the Western powers have more influence over events in Libya than they actually do.
The triumvirate at once interpreted the resolution as authorizing direct participation on the side of the rebels. A ceasefire was imposed by force on Qaddafi's forces, but not on the rebels. On the contrary, they were given military support as they advanced to the West, soon securing the major sources of Libya's oil production, and poised to move on.( my italic-K.N )
But Chomsky is correct that the military intervention went further than the mandate allowed, one reason that Russia and China then stated they disagreed with the bombing of Gaddafi's ground forces, after having abstained rather than vetoed the UN mandate.
China and Russia's criticism most likely as they do not want the West to control Libya or install clients who will give the oil concessions to Western companies The CNPC had in 2005, one year after Blair's rapprochement with Gaddafi, won the right to a major exploration block.
All the large powers have a stake in the oil in Libya and clearly the failure of Iraq, no less than the fact the invasions aftermath, the severe impact upon the US economy caused by this expensive conflict and the global crash of 2008, led to a weakening of the dollar, allowing the CNPC to gain control of oilfields.
Libya is interconnected to Iraq in that it was in the year of this catastrophic invasion (2003) that the USA lifted sanctions on Libya and them, when Iraq started to go badly wrong, to negotiate American participation in Libya's energy sector and why Blair opened up relations with him again.
Saddam's removal also led Gaddafi into terminating his nuclear weapons programme and adhere to the terms on the non-proliferation treaty and for the US to become involved with signing new contracts with the Libyan regime to develop drilling rights in large areas of unexplored territory.
It is hard to avoid the fact that the intervention, though partly about avoiding a protraction of the civil war that would have gone on if Benghazi had been entered by Gaddafi's forces, has been concerned about control over the oil, as a longer civil war would have knocked out production of high quality crude oil.
Yet critics such as Chomsky ignore their own criteria for what a "humanitarian intervention" by default could look like, as when he wrote in 1994, ( Humanitarian Intervention, Boston Review ),
.....intervention undertaken on the normal grounds of power interests might, by accident, be helpful to the targeted population. Such examples exist. The most obvious recent one is Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 after years of murderous Khmer Rouge attacks on Vietnamese border areas...the Vietnamese invasion removed Pol Pot, terminating major atrocities, though that was not the motivating factor.Whether that could apply to the intervention of the Western powers will be seen only if they are prepared to move towards negotiating a settlement that could require them to be prepared to sacrifice their oil interests in the west of Libya or one that leaves the Gaddafi clan in control of major oil blocks.