Thursday, 31 March 2011

Telling People What They Don't Want to Hear on Libya.

Under the capitalist system, in order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation--an evil state of affairs, but you acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream. The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little island where we should all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes".-
George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier.

George Orwell wrote that back in 1937 in order to jolt people, not least on the left, out of their complacent assumptions. If this were to be brought up to date, it could be said that you collude with the oppression of Arabs living under dictatorships every time a car owner drives to the filling station.

Obviously, it's far more complex than that. But it has the virtue of drawing attention to the fact that both defenders and opponents of Imperialism back then and some form of "Neo-imperialism" in 2011 have utterly failing to grasp what has been at stake with regards diminishing supplies of oil and increasing global demand.

None of this has percolated into the world view of commentators such as Sir Simon Jenkins who writes in The Guardian today,
Welcome to 21st-century war, liberal style. You do not fix an objective and use main force to get it. You nuance words, bomb a little, half assassinate, scare, twist, spin and make it up as you go along. Nato's Libyan campaign is proving a field day for the new interventionism.
Simon Jenkins made some good observations on the contradictions of the Western powers in using propaganda about 'humanitarian intervention'. The No Fly Zone was originally posited as a means of protecting the rebels in Benghazi and their supporters from a bloodbath. In reality, it was about "regime change".
Stalling Gaddafi's advance on Benghazi appears to have prevented its fall. Whether there would have been a genocidal massacre, as interventionists maintain, is not known. There would surely have been bloody retribution against ringleaders, which is what dictators do to those who cross them.
True, but what Jenkins fails to mention is the key role of oil in the conflict, one consistently mentioned by leftist critics of "Western Imperialism" as if it were merely the gambit of the elites and corporations to profit from war. It's all about the mere idiocy of "Them".

The upshot of such rationalisations from the conservative non-interventionist right and the anti-imperialist militant left is that political elites are to blame for Iraq, Afghanistan and the potential for the Libyan intervention to become another quagmire.

Conservatives such as Jenkins are against this as it is simply "nothing to do with us". Despite the fact that the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for all the lies, duplicity and spin was not about WMD, Saddam's dictatorship or the Kurds but about grabbing one of the the world's largest supplies of oil.

Those like Milne, Pilger and Galloway and those in the Stop the War Coalition leadership such as Hudson and Murray then think that because Western intervention in Iraq and, indeed Libya, is "all about the oil" a decisive populist trump card has been played that proves the Western elites are sinister.

Yet the more disturbing and chilling fact is that interventions such as that now occurring in Libya no less than the previous rapprochement with Gaddafi after 2004 reflects the geostrategic desperation caused by nations such as Britain being overdependent upon oil.

Oil is essential to maintain the consumer economy that the vast masses of the British people have accepted as a given right. That the entire prosperity of post war Europe and North America was based on abundant supplies of cheap and readily available oil has become a fact of modern existence.

In which case, one issue that has not been addressed is the one that looks at all these wars as the necessary consequence nations such as Britain pay for a system of high octane consumerism in which higher prices for petrol can lead to the kind of strikes carried out by the road hauliers in 2000.

The trope that recent wars were "all about oil" is as obvious as it is vacuous. If those protesting on March 26th against expenditure on wars such as Libya instead of on public libraries etc could grasp the situation , they would realise that increased militarism and war is the price to be paid by failing to find alternatives to oil.

When George Osborne's "Ford Focus" budget promised to put "fuel into the tank of the British economy" by reducing the cost of petrol, few bothered to link it with events in Libya or Iraq, and this populist gesture was to avoid the populist outrage that greeted high petrol prices in 2000 under Blair's government.

The twists, follies and perversions inherent in Britain's foreign policy are determined by the government wanting to keep the petroleum fuelled Great Car Economy going, no less than offering the growth Utopia inherent in the ghastly future envisioned by progressives.

The fact that nations such as China and India have joined in the global race for controlling oil and gas only makes the necessity of intervention more likely wherever there is the chance to get it ( this is a statement of what "is" rather than what "ought" to be ).

Face facts: Libya produces 41.5% of all African reserves of petrol and 46.5% of its natural gas. The petrol is of the light and sweet variety prized by refiners in the US, China and Europe. From the British perspective, the colossal oil concessions in the Ghadamis Oil block and the Gulf of Sirte are key interests.

The reason is not merely to make profits for BP but, as Michael T Klare has argued in Blood and Oil, that high octane consumerism, the very way that life has been moulded to the use of the car and determined by supermarkets and all year available produce makes Western lifestyles dependent upon oil.

The statistics on Libyan oil production are from the 2006 data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2007, as featured in Michael T Klare's Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet ( 2008 )

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Afghanistan: the Futility of Imposing Freedom Through Force

The existence of "kill teams" in Afghanistan and grisly photos revealing US troops murdering and carving up Afghan civilian's corpses have been published in, of all places, the Rolling Stone magazine. It reports,
During the first five months of last year, a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan went on a shooting spree, killing at least four unarmed civilians and mutilating several of the corpses.

The “kill team” – members of the 5th Stryker Brigade stationed near Kandahar – took scores of photos chronicling their kills and their time in Afghanistan. Even before the war crimes became public, the Pentagon went to extraordinary measures to suppress the photos, launching a massive effort to find every file and pull the pictures out of circulation before they could touch off a scandal on the scale of Abu Ghraib.

The images – more than 150 of which have been obtained by Rolling Stone – portray a front-line culture among U.S. troops in which killing innocent civilians is seen as a cause for celebration. “Most people within the unit disliked the Afghan people,” one of the soldiers told Army investigators. “Everyone would say they’re savages.”

Resentment against the NATO war in this benighted land can only increase. Afghan writer Malalai Joya wrote in The Guardian, ( Kill teams in Afghanistan: the truth Wednesday 30 March 2011 ).
All the PR about this war being about democracy and human rights melts into thin air with the pictures of US soldiers posing with the dead and mutilated bodies of innocent Afghan civilians.

We believe that the brutal actions of these "kill teams" reveal the aggression and racism which is part and parcel of the entire military occupation.

While these photos are new, the murder of innocents is not. Such crimes have sparked many protests in Afghanistan and have sharply raised anti-American sentiment among ordinary Afghans.

The occupying armies have tried to buy off the families of their victims, offering $2,000 for each one killed. Afghans' lives are cheap for the US and Nato, but no matter how much they offer, we don't want their blood money.

Once you know all this, and once you have seen the "kill team" photos, you will understand more clearly why Afghans have turned against this occupation. The Karzai regime is more hated than ever: it only rules through intimidation, corruption, and with the help of the occupying armies. Afghans deserve much better than this.

However, this does not mean more Afghans are supporting the reactionary so-called resistance of the Taliban. Instead we are seeing the growth, under very difficult conditions, of another resistance led by students, women and the ordinary poor people of Afghanistan. They are taking to the streets to protest against the massacre of civilians and to demand an end to the war. Demonstrations like this were recently held in Kabul, Marzar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Farah.

Naturally, the whole idea that the Afghanistan war is primarily about human rights and democracy is a rationalisation for a war that is crucially about the geopolitics of the New great Game and specifically the construction of the TAPI pipeline, a war aim seldom, if ever mentioned in the mainstream Western news.

The Afghanistan debacle is justified as an exercise in enlightened self interest and "liberal imperialism" when it is founded on the idea that should the country be stabilised sufficient to enable the TAPI pipeline to be built then it will unite the regional powers of Central Asia together to the benefit of the West.

The civilian victims are seen as a price worth paying as when the TAPI is built the economic regeneration of Afghanistan will proceed and then the victims will be forgotten. As Shantie Mariet D'Souza recently outlined the stakes in the Afghanistan War ( Business Standard March 20, 2011 )

Even while consensus eludes the end-game in Afghanistan, and regional rivalry continues to complicate even a remote possibility of establishing peace in this conflict-ridden country, the economic windfall from an oil pipeline may yet help stabilise Afghanistan. The projected gains from the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline still retain the potential to create a win-win deal among regional stakeholders in Afghanistan.

The TAPI project, expected to start in 2012 and be commissioned by 2016, envisages constructing 1,680 km of pipeline with a total gas capacity of 90 million standard cubic meters per day (mscmd).

The proposed pipeline would stretch from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad gas field and travel 1650 km through Turkmenistan (145 km), Afghanistan (735 km) and Pakistan (800 km), before culminating at the Indian border town of Fazilka in Punjab. It would carry 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually to consumers.

It is thus not altogether surprising that the US is propounding the project as ‘magic glue’ that will bind the warring factions and their regional proxies into an inter-dependent cooperative framework. The US also hopes that the TAPI pipeline will usher in economic interdependence among competing regional powers, thus making the costs of conflict too high and benefits of cooperation lucrative.

The strategy also fits in with containing and isolating Iran which would be encircled and hemmed in by a pro-US regime in Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east.

TAPI will in all likelihood wean India away from the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline from Iran’s South Pars gas complex in the Persian Gulf, one of the largest gas fields in the world. This would not only further isolate Iran, but the resultant interdependence and benefits of cooperation would possibly act as a catalyst for peace between India and Pakistan, narrowing differences between the two nuclear armed rivals in South Asia.

The problem has been that the Taliban has kept up its attacks in key areas such as Helmland, where British casualties continue to increase, as this lies squarely across the route of the TAPI pipeline. No attempt by politicians or the media has been made to explain this basic fact.

Think tanks and leading members of the US government have continually mentioned the TAPI pipeline as a strategic prize, though. D'Souza seems to suggest that it might be possible to get

A major factor, which will impinge directly on the fate of the project, would be political instability, issues of pricing and security considerations in the region. Since the birth of independent Central Asian states, the region has been plagued by political instability as witnessed by various ‘colour revolutions’.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, the near absence of an effective police force, providing security for the pipeline, could turn this project into a lucrative protection-racket or cash cow for insurgents, local warlords or simply more dependence on private security armies and contractors, with little being done to build on Afghanistan national security institutions.

In fact, there is little chance that the TAPI pipeline will have the intended effects of regional stability. For a start the objective is contradicted by the "War on Drugs" which makes opium production profitable and thus funds the Taliban insurgency.

Even in Georgia, the creation of a pipeline transit state has led to politics becoming a corrupt and pathological struggle between clans and interest groups vying for control over the transit fees. Pipelines in danger will always ratchet up the potential for the Western powers being dragged in to protect it.

The reason NATO has "stayed the course" in Afghanistan for a decade now shows how dangerous it is for the West to remain addicted to fossil fuels lying in dangerous and far off lands and to become embroiled in futile and farcical projects to impose freedom by force.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Stakes in the Libyan War.

Jonathan Freedland has written an intelligent article in The Guardian outlining what is at stake in the Libyan Conflict. ( We've avoided a Libyan Srebrenica, so when is the bombing going to stop? Tuesday 29 March 2011 )

News of rebel advances on Monday brought hope that Colonel Gaddafi might be gone by the end of the week. The morning bulletins on Tuesday brought word of pro-Gaddafi successes, suggesting that the dictator would not be out any time soon.

That's what a protracted civil war could look like, a tug of war between two armed groups where the momentum shifts back and forth. But this very pattern presents an awkward question for the alliance thumping Libya and for all those who supported this intervention: a question that becomes all the more urgent on those days when the rebel forces do well.

The problem here is that Gaddafi most likely cannot be removed without a continuation of a bloody civil war should the rebels attempt to push west towards Tripoli. The best solution to the crisis will be to accept that a Srebrenica style massacre has been avoided and to negotiate a partition, if possible.

Clearly, it is possible that the largest oil producing areas of the east would fall under rebel control. A brokered ceasefire would ensure that the terms of the UN Resolution were fulfilled in protecting the civilians of the east. To have the war escalate in an attempt to go all the way to Tripoli would only ensure the deaths of civilians towards in the west.

With regards the legal situation, Freedland writes,

Philippe Sands QC, an authority on such matters, is clear: "The resolution allows for protection of civilians from the threat of attack. If the threat of attack has ceased, there is no justification for the use of force."

The problem might be that certain influential representatives of the Western powers will use the perception of a "threat" to argue to push on to the bitter end in order to maintain "credibility" and save face after effectively having implied that Gaddafi should go whilst arguing the aim is not "regime change".

The political reality is that no one wants to see the stalemate scenario, in which Gaddafi clings on as the seething ruler of a Tripoli-plus statelet in the west, while the rebels control the east. They want him gone, no matter how much they have to stretch the language of the UN resolution to achieve that outcome.

What also needs to be considered is how much the control of Libyan oil from the west is also prized as a strategic goal. Most of the petroleum refining plants and LNG terminals are in the east, with four oil exporting harbours there compared to just one in the west at Azzawiyah near Tripoli.

To understand what's at stake in the realpolitik calculations of the powers maps of the petroleum geology of Libya and the main concessions to foreign oil corporations is a useful indicator. Most of the existing operational oil concessions, indeed largest oil field are in the east. Shell has a huge concession in the Sirt Basin.

Germany, which opposed the intervention, has major concessions in the west of Libya through Wintershall. But the USA's Exxon Mobil has a huge concession in the Ghadamis Basin. The other large company in the west is Spain's Repsol. These oil interests are a key factor omitted from Freedman's analysis.

The oil concession map also includes the two large concessions agreed between BP and the Libyan regime, one in the Gulf of Sirt which abuts the region of Benghazi is clearly a vital interest for Britain and may account for the hawkish stance of Cameron and Fox.

But BP also has a colossal concession in the Ghadamis basin. This along with Exxon Mobil's concession could account for the determination of the US and UK to arm the rebels in an attempt to get rid of Gaddafi. It's a major factor that has not been clearly related to diplomatic events as much as it should.

Faisal Islam of Channel 4 News remarked that it was important to look at

BP’s own map of its two oil concessions in Libya, signed with great fanfare during the last few weeks of Tony Blair’s premiership in May 2007. Look at the offshore Sirt block, in the Gulf of Sirt. It is the size of Belgium.

It is, of course, thousands of feet underwater....according to a Reuters report last week, BP said it was going to start offshore exploration drilling within weeks – before June. 3D seismic has already been done by a Norwegian company. Drilling was delayed, partly because of Libyan concerns about the Gulf Oil spill.

The question is how valuable the BP concession is to Britain now and how far the British government is going to risk escalating the war to secure control over the concession in the Ghadamis Basin, even assuming a partition of Libya would allow the colossal Sirt block to fall to a new rebel government in the east.

Obviously, the intervention in Libya is crucially concerned with oil. Unless the West learn to find alternatives, pathological conflicts such as these are set to become normal in the course of the 21st century. Even Afghanistan is now crucially about the geopolitics of the TAPI gas pipeline.

In any case, Libyan oil, whilst accounting for 2% of global oil supply, is still of great significance to all the high octane consumer economies of Europe, not least set against the background of economic recession following the crash of 2008 and Arab Uprisings In Bahrain and Yemen.

As Edward L Morse remarks in Oil and Unrest ( Foreign Affairs journal March 8, 2011)

The ongoing violence in Libya has had a more consequential impact on oil prices. To date, some 750,000 barrels a day of Libyan crude oil have been lost; Saudi Arabia claims to have replaced all of that supply. But Libyan and Saudi oil are not interchangeable. Libya's crude oil is known for its high quality: most of the 1.5 million barrels a day that the country produces is light and sweet, which means it is low in sulfur (hence its "sweet" smell) and is easily refined into high-demand petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel fuel. Only 25 percent of global crude is of similar quality; the loss of Libyan crude represents about nine percent of that pool. Saudi oil, however, is heavy and sour, making it -- at best -- an imperfect substitute for Libyan supply.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Memories of Libyan Interventions Past.

As the rebels push westwards towards Tripoli, it is clear that Gaddafi still retains much genuine support there. An interesting essay by Mark Mazower provides some essential historical background to show why the Libyan dictator might be able to draw on popular sentiment should the bombing go on.

The full version is here ( Libya remembers, we forget: these bombs are not the first The Guardian Friday 25 March 2011 )
Almost exactly one hundred years ago, the world's first aerial bombing campaign took place – in Libya. In September 1911, desperate for an empire of their own, the Italians invaded.

When the airman Giulio Gavotti dropped four grenades from his Taube monoplane on to the enemy outside Tripoli, little damage was done: indeed the practice of priming and then dropping live bombs by hand was nearly as hazardous to the Italian pilots as it was to the Turkish troops below. Nevertheless, a staff officer, Major Giulio Douhet, had seen enough to formulate the arguments that would make him the century's foremost advocate of war from the skies. A decade later, Douhet argued in his classic study The Command of the Air that the sheer terror induced by mass bombing of civilian targets would shorten conflicts and save lives; outrage was thus misplaced, for total war was humane. The western way of war had been born in the north African desert.

Faced with a popular insurrection, they retaliated through the deliberate destruction of villages, wells and herds with force. Nearly 100,000 people were interned or deported, and thousands died of disease or malnutrition in labour camps. Italian planes once again bombed the country, this time dropping mustard gas in defiance of the 1925 Geneva protocol.

Memories of anti-colonial resistance helped to legitimise Libya's new British-backed king, Idris, who as head of the Sanusi order had been a figurehead for the struggle against the Italians. But such memories also helped bolster the 27-year-old Colonel Gaddafi when he accused the king of selling out to latter-day imperialism, toppled him in a coup and set up the republic that he continues to rule to this day.

The majority of Libyans may hate Gaddafi and wish him gone as quickly as possible. But they will remember what we have forgotten – that these planes are not the first, that there is a long history of overwhelming western might being deployed on north African shores, and that western power generally comes professing good intentions. If the west wishes today to underline the differences that surely exist between its intervention now and earlier ones, a precondition for persuasiveness is to familiarise ourselves with what we have forgotten, to understand why this history does matter despite everything that the Gaddafis of the world do with it, and will matter more and more the longer the regime hangs on.

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.