Defend Libya – Defeat U.S./U.N./NATO War!NATO bombs cars of Qaddafi supporters south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, March 20. Some “no fly
zone”! (Photo: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)
“Antiwar” Social-Democrats Back Pro-Imperialist Rebels, Paving the Way for Bombing
APRIL 8 – The United States and its NATO allies have embarked on a war of imperialist domination against Libya – yet despite their overwhelming firepower, they could soon be caught in the shifting sands of North Africa. U.S. president Barack Obama at first said the attacks would last “days, not weeks,” but after a week of massive “shock and awe” bombing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and War Secretary Robert Gates admitted that the operation could drag on for months and even into next year. The initial pretext was to protect civilian lives, as claimed in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. But that cover story was soon blown as French, British and U.S. submarines and warplanes fired off hundreds of cruise missiles and bombed Libyan troops far from any conceivably threatened populations. Claims to be aiding “Arab revolutions” are transparent lies. The purpose of the war is to topple (and possibly murder) Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and nail down imperialist control of this strategically placed, oil-rich North African and Mediterranean country – or failing that, to dismember it.
Wanton carnage is the stock in trade of the imperialist warmongers. All the talk of limiting “collateral damage” and avoiding civilian casualties is belied by the spectacular photo of planes striking the passenger cars of Qaddafi supporters retreating from Benghazi. It recalls the photos of the horrendous “mile of death” in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, where the U.S. Air Force indiscriminately slaughtered Iraqis leaving Kuwait, “like shooting fish in a barrel.” That was mass murder worthy of the Nazis, and U.S. imperialism is hardly less bloodthirsty today notwithstanding Obama’s appeals to the Muslim world. When Republicans like Bush II and Cheney attack Middle Eastern countries, they almost say outright that it’s an American crusade against Islam and they’re out to grab the oil. When the Democrats go to war or occupy a country, from Haiti to Libya, they claim it’s a “multilateral” effort and give it a “humanitarian” label with a U.N. stamp of approval. Both claim to be delivering democracy as they’re dropping bombs. Whatever the rhetoric, the result is a new colonial occupation.
has long been in the crosshairs of the
military. The U.S. Navy was formed to fight
“Barbary Corsairs” in North
and the Barbary Wars (1805-15) were
first foreign intervention. To this day the
U.S. Marines sing of their
“from the halls of Montezuma [Mexico]
to the shores of Tripoli [Libya].” Those
who appeal to the U.S.
to come to the aid of the Libyan rebels would
exchange a tinpot
dictator for an
empire with the largest and most destructive
military in the history of
world, which rides roughshod over peoples,
nations and whole
Cyrenaica served as a granary for the Roman
it endured slavery as its produce fueled Roman
conquests. Under the
of the U.S. empire no less than
under Qaddafi, Libya’s oil riches will not
prosperity for the Libyan people but fabulous
wealth for a tiny
ruling layer and enslavement of the masses.
The task of proletarian
revolutionaries is to break the chains of
empire, not just to oust the
The “Mile of
Death,” where in 1991 U.S. planes bombed
Iraqis leaving Kuwait City,
Obama’s “Humanitarian” Imperialist War
The hypocrisy of the imperialists knows no bounds. Barack Obama claims he ordered the bombing of Libya in the name of “universal values.” Apparently those values include threatening to assassinate the Libyan leader, the message delivered by bombing Qaddafi’s compound. When Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of Tripoli 25 years ago, it was precisely for that purpose. It’s not hard to imagine the reaction of U.S. rulers to anyone applying similar “values” to certain locations in Washington, D.C. Another tack taken by U.S. rulers is to try to disguise with bureaucratic gobbledygook the gruesome reality of the new war they claim they are not waging. Thus State Department spokesmen speak of “time-limited, scope-limited military action” while the Pentagon refers to “kinetic military action.” We are reminded of the lines from Communist playwright Bertolt Brecht’s “German War Primer”:
the leaders speak of peace,
And when the U.N. and a Nobel Peace Prize winning U.S. president talk of “humanitarian” action to “protect civilians,” you know that bombs will soon be falling on Libyan cities.
Euphemisms like “no fly zones” and “kinetic” action were a staple in the Pentagonese lexicon under Donald Rumsfeld back when the U.S. was launching the invasion of Iraq eight years ago almost to the day that Washington commenced bombing Libya. Then their casus belli (justification for war) was the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” By the time it was definitively proven that this was a sheer invention, the U.S. occupation of the Mesopotamian country had been accomplished. It continues today, with almost 50,000 U.S. troops still “in-country” despite the “withdrawal” of combat units (many of which were simply renamed “advise and assist brigades”). In Libya the pretext was supposed massacres by pro-Qaddafi forces. A Libyan rebel spokesman provided the figure of 6,000 dead, which was then duly repeated by Al Jazeera TV and U.S. officials (Bloomberg/Businessweek, 4 March). But there is no evidence of anything even remotely of that magnitude, and most of the dead have been killed in combat.
Human Rights Watch, which acts as an pressure group and propagandist for “humanitarian” imperialist wars (e.g., against Yugoslavia), reported that Libyan security forces killed 24 protesters during Libya’s “day of rage” on February 17, notably in Benghazi and Bayda. Yet when Iraq exploded with protests in more than a dozen cities a week later and the U.S.-backed government “killed at least 29 people” (Washington Post, 27 February) the story was buried in the press. More recently, British prime minister David Cameron claimed that the U.S., UK and French bombing of Libya had “saved hundreds of thousands of people from a humanitarian disaster,” according to the London Guardian (29 March). But no such massacres have been reported in the several cities that have been reoccupied by Libyan government troops. In fact, the only recent conflict involving such numbers of casualties was the war and occupation of Iraq by U.S. imperialism and its UK junior partners, in which a million people were slaughtered.
To build public support for the war, the U.S., British and French media caricature Qaddafi as a “madman,” a “megalomaniac” and a bloodthirsty dictator with really bad hair. Granted that the Libyan strongman’s ravings give them plenty of material to work with. But leaving aside the fact that there are plenty of deranged capitalist rulers around, the “democratic” imperialists have murdered far more people than a tinpot or crackpot dictator in a small country ever could, no matter how evil. Just between the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, the United States alone has produced more than 6 million dead – as much as the entire population of Libya. The French colonialists in Indochina and Algeria, the British in Malaya and Kenya were just as bloody. The Italians put 100,000 Libyans in concentration camps when they ruled the country between 1911 and 1945; at least 80,000 died through combat, starvation and disease. Today they all complain that Qaddafi is “killing his own people,” as if the Western powers slaughtering other peoples is somehow morally superior – and gives them the right to bomb Libya.
Did the Whole “Libyan People” Rise Up Against Qaddafi?
Qaddafi has “lost the legitimacy to lead,” declares Hillary Clinton. How did she determine that? The warmongers claim that “the Libyan people” as a whole are rising up against the raïs (Leader) and it’s only guns that are keeping him in power. But on the ground, the reality is far more contradictory. There is certainly widespread discontent after four decades of his erratic regime, called the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, or state of the masses. It was hardly socialist and in many ways similar to other military-based and police-state regimes in North Africa and the Middle East – such as Tunisia and Egypt, whose rulers Qaddafi defended against mass revolts. But Libya did spread around some of the oil wealth, raising living standards for the poor well above those of neighboring countries. It has by far the highest ranking in Africa on the U.N. Human Development Index and a greater chance of children completing college than in the U.S. As a result, Qaddafi has maintained a base of support, as has Ahmadinejad in Iran under the Islamic Republic – though in both cases you wouldn’t know it from reading the press.
Consider this undeniable fact: Libyan soldiers and militia members hold out and fight, even against heavy odds, whereas the rebel “freedom fighters” cut and run as soon as the first shells land. Pro-government forces held on to Ajdabiya for eight days, even as they were being pounded by NATO bombs and missiles; they then staged an orderly withdrawal of 200 miles, regrouped and counterattacked, rapidly regaining the lost ground. Can this solely be due to fear? The so-called rebel “army,” on the other hand, spends most of its time in macho posing on tanks hit by Western airstrikes and shooting off their weapons in celebration, then turns tail and scatters in flight variously described by reporters as “chaotic,” “panicked,” “headlong,” “pell-mell” and “terrified retreat.” A senior rebel officer described his forces as having “dissolved like snow in the sand.” Some “revolutionaries”! Moreover, buried in the mounds of shameless war propaganda churned out by the bourgeois press, there is the occasional report indicating that something less than the entire Libyan people have risen up against Qaddafi.
Thus when Libyan soldiers drove into the rebel capital of Benghazi on March 17, it turns out that they were joined by numerous government supporters living in the city. An article by the McClatchy newspapers (24 March) reported: “most unnerving was the discovery that hundreds, if not thousands, of Gadhafi sympathizers were among them. During the loyalist attack, rebels here say, men in civilian clothes came out of their Benghazi homes and attacked the city along with Gadhafi forces charging in from the south.” Some residents of Ajdabiya were reportedly less than happy to see the rebels return, and during the rebels’ drive to the west it is reported that: “At some towns and villages, residents turned against them and fought alongside loyalist troops” (Independent, 31 March). This was the case in the town of Al Aghayla. In the city of Bin Jawad the reporter witnessed residents shooting from their homes at rebel fighters and “around 220 men, either members of the Hosseini clan or people associated with them, being dragged out of their homes, beaten up and taken away” by the rebels searching for “fifth columnists.”
Inter-Imperialist Rivalries and Plans for War on Libya
For Washington, the war on Libya started out as a target of opportunity. Under pressure from the Arab masses, it had to sacrifice U.S.-backed dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt – a linchpin of American imperial domination of the Middle East. So the strategic planners in the White House, whose motto is “never let a good crisis go to waste,” evidently decided to go after Qaddafi. It would also have the benefit of building up the U.S.’ new Africa Command (Africom). The Pentagon, however, already bogged down in Afghanistan and heavily deployed in Iraq, was none too eager to launch a third Middle Eastern war. In his March 28 TV address, Obama made much of the transfer of control of the current intervention to NATO. This is a fiction – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has always had a U.S. commander. Canadian general Charles Bouchard, who is now formally in charge of the Libyan operation, is subordinate to U.S. admiral Samuel Locklear in Naples, head of NATO operations in the Mediterranean, and U.S. admiral James Savridis at NATO HQ in Belgium.
Who was itching to attack Libya was France and Britain. Within 36 hours of the approval of U.N. Resolution 1973, the French began bombing near Benghazi in Operation Harmattan (named for the winter winds in the southern Sahara), even before NATO had agreed on an order of battle and rules of engagement. Moreover, last November the French and British war ministers agreed to a joint military exercise, scheduled to begin March 15, which was eerily similar to the actual attack on Libya. Code-named Operation Southern Mistral (for the springtime winds in southern France), it involved a long-range aerial attack (“Southern Storm”) against a dictator in the fictional country of Southland, authorized by a pretend U.N. Security Council resolution. Commenting on this strange coincidence, U.S. Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich asked the obvious question: were these war “games” a cover for Operation Odyssey Dawn (the actual attack on Libya)? He added:
“Were opposition forces in Libya informed by the US, the UK or France about the existence of Southern Mistral/Southern Storm, which may have encouraged them to violence leading to greater repression and a humanitarian crisis? In short was this war against Gaddafi’s Libya planned or a spontaneous response to the great suffering which Gaddafi was visiting upon his opposition?”
–The Observer (London), 27 March
Break with Left Accomplices of Imperialist Attack
We have spelled out how from the beginning the uprising in Libya, although it fed on the frustrations of youth and working people with the authoritarian Qaddafi government, was in fact led by pro-imperialist forces. The prominent role of Islamists, many of them former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is perfectly evident, including many of the bearded fighters in the rebel “army,” such as it is. The monarchists and civilian and military leaders with CIA ties of long standing play a leading role. U.S. officials now confirm that “the CIA has been in rebel-held areas of Libya since shortly after the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Tripoli, was evacuated in February,” reports the Los Angeles Times (31 March). The rebels are not simply an imperialist mercenary operation – if they were they would be considerably more coherent and effective. So long as it was a civil war between them and the Qaddafi regime, Trotskyists took no sides. But since the French/British/U.S. began military operations under the cover of the United Nations and now formally run by NATO, the Libyan insurgents are effectively agents of imperialist domination who must be defeated.
During the 2008 election campaign, at a time that liberals and most of the left were either enthusiastically backing Barack Obama or doing their best to sidle up to the Democratic candidate, we warned that “U.S. Imperialism Seeks a New Face on System of War and Racism” (The Internationalist No 27, May-June 2008). Now the first African American president is bombing an African country. President Obama didn’t even bother to ask Congress for a war powers resolution, even though candidate Obama emphasized that the U.S. Constitution requires it. A few Democratic legislators were miffed and politely tsk-tsked the administration for not going through the motions. Some liberals complained of the cost at a time of budget cutbacks. Peace groups called protests for the record, though the numbers were tiny – and not by accident, since most of these same liberals and leftists had been screaming for weeks to support the Libyan rebels (just not militarily). Some even backed – or did not oppose – imposing a “no fly zone,” just as they did against Yugoslavia in the late ’90s.
When the imperialists attack a semi-colonial country like Libya, it is not enough to oppose the bombing or call for a different foreign policy, as various pseudo-socialists and “peace coalitions” do. They only want a more “peace-loving” imperialism and eagerly chase after ruling-class “doves” to denounce the war hawks. Yet it is the imperialist system which is the cause of the endless wars of the 20th and 21st century. But today what the reformists are doing is even worse than their usual “antiwar” class collaboration: they paved the way for the attack by acting as propagandists for the pro-imperialist Libyan rebels. The social democrats are championing the cause of the “revolutionaries” who have insistently demanded Western military action against Qaddafi. They try to cover their tracks by piously saying no to intervention, but the stark fact is that they have acted as accomplices in preparing the road to imperialist war.
fighting to defend Libya and defeat the
war, the key is to break politically with all
bourgeois forces and their
opportunist left tails, and to
undertake the struggle to build genuinely
parties to lead the struggle for workers
revolution, through a
socialist federation of the Near East and in
the heart of imperialism,
Europe to North America. ■
was made of an attack on a mosque at
Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, with the New York Times (25
February) reporting “around
100 dead and 200 injured”
based on a phone call from the besieged
city. But this came in the
midst of an
intense firefight in which rebels claimed
to have killed many
troops; many of those who took refuge in
the mosque were armed with
the number of dead according to sources at
the local hospital was ten.
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