The Libyan Model and the Oxymoron: Class of 2012 Queen and King

There’s a new Atrocity Prevention Board in town, and its chief tool for preventing atrocities will be . . . wait for it . . . atrocities! 

What a breakthrough! And this clown is forming a tentative life partnership with an unbelievably beautiful model from Libya.  The key word is “unbelievably.” 

The Atrocity Prevention Board is rumored to still be married to World War II, but the primary reason to doubt the latest gossip is the grotesque hideousness of the Libyan Model with no makeup in the light of day.

One good resource for reviewing what’s occurred in Libya is “Arab Spring, Libyan Winter,” a new book by Vijay Prashad.  I don’t agree with all of it, and the bulk of it is historical background and context rather than the events of last year.  Yet it makes an excellent first draft of history — something that newspapers do not produce for us.

The United States and Europe had been arming and working with Gadaffi. U.S. and British spy agencies had worked with Gadaffi’s torturers and killers.  Sarkozy and Gadaffi may have been closer than Sarkozy claims. 

Gadaffi had given up his nuclear program.  His subsequent fate (butchered and displayed in a meat locker in Benghazi), along with Iraq’s fate, sends a strong message to other nations already inclined to believe that only nuclear weapons will protect them.  Perhaps just once we should allow a nation to give up its nukes and then not bomb the bejeezus out of it.

But Gadaffi had displeased the West and displeased the Arab dictatorships.  He was unreliable.  He wanted too much of Libya’s wealth for Libyans.  He was too independent.  He even called the Saudi monarch the worst thing in the book: “made by Britain and protected by the U.S.”  And he said that in Qatar, which made him another enemy. 

The Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt was out of control.  Nonviolent movements were overthrowing dictators.  Something had to be done.  Violence by protesters in Libya provided an opening — for the Gulf dictatorships and for U.S.A./NATO.  Violent engagement in Libya, supposedly on behalf of the Arab Spring, provided cover for violent crackdowns on nonviolent protesters in Bahrain and Yemen.

It was opponents of the Arab Spring who helped to arm the rebels in Libya — and later in Syria — but not just to arm them, also to control them.  This began under the banner of humanitarianism. 

Between February 15th and 19th, according to Human Rights Watch, 104 protesters were killed in Libya.  Protests did not remain nonviolent.  Rebels burned down a police station in Dernah and executed 50 “African mercenaries” in Al Bayda’.  On February 21st the Libyan air force attacked Benghazi.  Reports vary as to whether the targets were military or civilian.  By February 24th Benghazi residents were lining up to be issued guns looted from the army and police. 

Gadaffi’s troops tried to take Az Zawiya on March 1st and Misrata on March 6th but the rebels held off the attacks.  Gadaffi’s troops did take Az Zawiya on March 7th, and the loss of life was about eight people.  Thirty-three died on March 5th in Az Zawiya, eight of them Gadaffi’s soldiers.  And 21 were killed in Misrata on March 6th by Gadaffi’s army shelling.  But Gulf and NATO nations’ media began talking about 50,000 dead and genocide underway.  The number came from Sayed al-Shanuka, a Libyan member of the ICC who had defected.  There was no explanation of where or how the 50,000 had been killed.

On April 10th, Human Rights Watch reported on the dead in Misrata.  The highest numbers came from Dr. Muhammad el-Fortia who claimed there were 257 dead, with only 22 percent of them women — suggesting that fighters had been targeted rather than homes. 

By the middle of June credible reports claimed 10,000 had been killed over four months by both sides, including by NATO’s bombing.  NATO, dominated by the United States, entered the war on the pretext of protecting civilians from mass slaughter.  There is no solid evidence that slaughter would have occurred.  Some observers, including Prashad, believe the rebels had the upper hand.  They were, in any event, very well armed.

There were other options available, as well.  The African Union was proposing a peace settlement, one that Gadaffi might have agreed to.

But NATO immediately abandoned humanitarian rescue as the goal of its mission, replacing it with the need to overthrow Gadaffi.  General Khalifa Belqasim Hifter was brought in from Virginia by the CIA to lead the rebels, along with other CIA-friendly Libyans.  Obama, Sarkozy, and Cameron published an essay on April 15th announcing their plan to overthrow Gadaffi, something the United Nations did not authorize.  U.S. Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear admitted in May to Congressman Mike Turner that NATO was trying to assassinate Gadaffi. 

The New York Times admitted to “scores” of dead from NATO strikes unacknowledged by NATO.  Over 600,000 civilians fled the country, including 100,000 Libyans, while another 200,000 Libyans were internally displaced.  NATO had bombed the city of Tripoli for months, occasionally apologizing for the deaths of civilians, but leaving Prashad and others with the impression that the goal was “shock and awe” — or “terror bombing” as opposed to “precision bombing.”  Among the targets were media outlets, in which journalists were killed by NATO’s humanitarian missile strikes.

Because cruise missiles and drones did the dirty work, U.S. Department of State Legal Adviser Harold Koh told Congress that the war was neither a war nor even “hostilities” (the language in the War Powers Act).  If no U.S. pilots or soldiers were at risk, then the bombs were not hostile.  They were friendly explosions.  Prashad compares this to the first aerial bombing in world history, the Italian bombing of Tajura and Ain Zara in 1911.  The bombing, the air force said, had “a wonderful effect on the morale of the Arabs.”  The 2011 version had a less-than-wonderful effect on the U.S. Constitution, because of course Congress did not offer any resistance.  Discussions of a possible war on Iran now leave both Congress and the United Nations to one side.  Pentagon head Leon Panetta recently told the U.S. Senate that President Obama can go to war without Congress, without the United Nations, and with or without NATO. 

The International Criminal Court disgraced itself as well.  Lead investigator Luis Moreno-Ocampo made statements as if they were indisputable about alleged crimes by Gadaffi, including claims about mass-rape and the handing out of Viagra to troops, stories pushed at the same time by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.  Eventually Amnesty International investigated and found no grounds for the accusations.  Moreno-Ocampo did not investigate NATO’s crimes in Libya, any more than he has ever done so in Iraq or Afghanistan.  On January 19, 2012, the Arab Organization for Human Rights, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and the International Legal Assistance Consortium reported that NATO had targeted civilian areas and committed war crimes (other than, of course, the fundamental crime of making war which no human rights group considers a crime). 

Toward the end of the war, the rebels displaced the entire population of the town of Tawergha.  All 30,000 people are now gone.  The rebels had deemed the town’s residents’ skin too dark. 

Libya is now smuggling arms to Syrian rebels.  Tribes are at war in Southern Libya.  The new transitional Libyan government is not representative, democratic, stable, protective of civil rights, or productive of economic rights.  Libya is plagued by the resentment and instability that come with violent change.  Gadaffi’s death did nothing to prevent this inevitable outcome.  And unlike the outcome of homegrown violence, which would have been bad enough, the current state of affairs in Libya is one in which the nation suffers from foreign control.

The West could have left Libya alone in 2011.  Or it could have left Libya alone for decades.  Or it could have done good by Libya, economically and politically rather than seeking to exploit Libya’s oil.  Come the crises of 2011, the United States could have aided the nonviolent protesters in Bahrain rather than sending over a U.S. cop to lead the cracking of their skulls.  Instead, the people of the nations of Western Asia learned that the West will only aid violent campaigns, and then only if it too favors the overthrow of one of its former puppets.  Oil now flows from Libya to the West for free, as repayment apparently for “regime change services.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says, “NATO is needed and wanted more than ever, from Afghanistan to Kosovo, from the coast of Somalia to Libya.  We are busier than before.”

Busy-ness does not equate so easily with popularity.  NATO comes to Chicago on May 20th, and believers in peace and the rule of law will be there by the thousands to protest nonviolently against global lawless violence.

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