Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Endgame Libya.

The Battle for Tripoli rages on between Gaddafi's forces and the rebels with it appearing almost certain the Libyan dictator's regime is set to fall and that a new National Transitional Council will assume control with the full military and political backing of the West.

In Britain, The Sun newspaper inadvertently revealed the relevance of Cameron's decision to use RAF jets as part of the air campaign against Gaddafi's forces and the undoubted use of SAS personnel to use sophisticated technology to coordinate the capture of the Libyan capital.

THE downfall of tyrant Colonel Gaddafi will bring joy to motorists by slashing more than 4 PENCE off petrol prices, the AA said last night.

Experts said global oil prices are set to tumble as Libya's production returns to normal when fighting ends - and that will be passed on at the pumps.

The revolution's effects on prices were already apparent yesterday, when Brent crude fell more than one per cent in London to 107.9 dollars a barrel.

The Sun gets it right when they write more candidly about the benefits to Britain in aiding the rebels overthrow Gaddafi. It will mean a 4p reduction in oil prices. This means far more to motorist Britons than abstract arguments about 'humanitarian intervention'.

None of the quality newspapers have bothered to mention the obvious impact on the consumer in such populist terms, despite the fact the popularity of the British government will be boosted by opening up the flow of high grade crude from Libya.

Advanced Western consumer democracies need falling or stable oil prices to maintain their lifestyles. Arab nations need rising prices if the majority of a rising population of young people are going to see benefits from their oil.

Libyan British emigres have been ready to ignore this in the understandably euphoric atmosphere witnessed in Tripoli as Gaddafi's regime crumbles. One, the writer Hashim Matar, wrotes in The Guardian,

The past six months have put an end not only not only to Gaddafi's rule but also to the myths propagated by its extensive PR campaign, managed by companies in London and New York and promoted by western governments and companies wishing to do business with the dictator.

But why have Western attitudes gone from embracing the dictator as happened after 2003 when Britain and the USA led the way in invading Iraq and Gaddafi to now vilifying him to the point of having ruled out any idea of negotiating with him and a settlement between the warring sides ?

Gaddafi had lost de facto authority after the Arab Spring motivated those particularly in the East around Benghazi to rise up against him. When he threatened to exterminate the rebels there, Britain and France saw an opportunity to be rid of him and get a democratic new regime installed.

Yet the problem with the Libyan NTC will be not merely the creation of a democracy and civil society in a land beset with tribal divisions but also whether any new government can oversee a transition that will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq in 2003 after the dictator was removed.

The NTC have claimed there will be reconciliation and nothing resembling "De-Baathification".The create a vaccuum of power in Libya would create the same conditions after Saddam Hussein was removed in Iraq

However, the difficult facing the TNC is not only about the political settlement that will prove acceptable to competing factions but also the terms of the economic reforms which may well be spelt out by Western governments and pliant client elites over the heads of the people.

A US diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks that dates back to 2007 at least indicates what is at stake with the removal of Gaddafi,

'Libya needs to exploit its hydrocarbon resources to provide for its rapidly-growing, relatively young population. To do so, it requires extensive foreign investment and participation by credible IOCs [international oil companies]. Reformist elements in the Libyan government and the small but growing private sector recognize this reality. But those who dominate Libya's political and economic leadership are pursuing increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector that could jeopardize efficient exploitation of Libya's extensive oil and gas reserves'.

The Libyan conflict is not exactly "all about oil" as no conflict is ever all about just only one thing. But clearly Western intervention is premised on the geopolitical advantages of 'regime change' in Libya that has echoes of Iraq in a number of ways.

Firstly, the idea that a rapid transition to a stable democracy boosted by oil revenue will act as a model and beacon for other Arab nations undergoing change and reform. One reason the West has released $150 million of oil revenue to win over the rebels.

Many of the rebels have fought through idealism, hatred of Gaddafi, ethnic and tribal loyalties that date back before Gaddafi's secular Arab national socialist regime. These are very strong in the East of Libya ( Cyrenaica ) which under the Ottoman Empire was a distinct province quite different from Tripolitania.

Secondly, therefore, it is important that the new government does not follow an extreme shock therapy neoliberal model of privatisation that without the creation of a strong democratic state first will lead to corruption and unaccountable elites and tribal bosses fighting over the lucrative oil revenues.

Libya has a rapidly growing young population that needs the oil revenue to be chanelled into providing a diversified economy and a degree of state provision for all Libyans. This requires the new government to no cede away control of its oil wealth wholly to the West which prefers lower prices.

This was aimed at in Iraq when the new government there agreed to PSA's ( Profit Sharing Agreements ) that would ensure a fixed price for 100 years to Western nation.

Then there is the evidence of history. Matar states ,

For exactly 100 years now, our country has battled fascism. In 1911 we had Mussolini, then, after a short break under King Idris, in 1969 we had our own home-grown variety of authoritarian rule in the form of Gaddafi...

This is a curious statement. For a start Gaddafi was, of course, not a 'fascist' but an Arab nationalist who espoused a form of 'socialism' in so far as he could appeal to the wretched of the earth in his part of North Africa in common with the anti-imperialist rhetoric of the 1960s.

Moreover, Mussolini was not even in power in Italy until 1922. The occupation of Libya was a more old fashioned imperial adventure that was about controlling oil resources as well. As Mark Mazower has emphasises these aims have not changed despite humanitarian interventionist doctrines.

After the Second World War and formal decolonisation that happened under King Idris it is true that there was more political freedom. Yet the majority of Libyan's remained poor and cut off from the wealth of the Sanussi elites who in the East in Benghazi who backed the monarchy.

This is important as it should not be forgotten that this is how Gaddafi was able to exploit discontent to gain power in the first place and to retain in by encouraging migration of black Africans from sub Saharan Africa to act as a power base in the Fezzan region in the south.

This is one reason to be cautious about what happens if and when the rebels flying the flag of King Idris take Tripoli. As with Baghdad in 2003, it seems Gaddafi will retreat to his ancestral tribal homeland in Sabha just as Saddam tried to rouse the oil poor Sunni regions to rise up.

It is likely that Gaddafi has abandoned Tripoli to flee to the south which has little to lose when compared to the elites who stand to benefit from Gaddafi's demise in the two oil rich northern provinces on the Mediterranean.

All the more reason that the transition to democracy has to be accompanied without mass corruption encouraged by overhasty economic reforms, asset stripping and the creation of new unaccountable elites who will wave goodbye to those who made their victory possible once they gain power and control.

Western states were content enough to bargain with Gaddafi when they thought they could extract what they wanted as regards drilling rights and oil concessions. When Gaddafi lost control, then it was clear that he was no longer useful and incapable of securing stability.

This does not mean that Gaddafi's removal is not a great moment for a vast number of Libyans. Yet whether it will prove a victory that will satisy a substantial number of its people, should the economic settlement give precedence to Western interests at the expense of those who fought for freedom, remains to be seen.

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