Patrick Cockburn, the veteran and expert commentator on international affairs for The Independent newspaper, wrote a disturbing, powerful and insightful article called The West is Silent as Libya falls into the abyss. Cockburn exhorts his readers to consider the calamitous consequences of the 2011 NATO-led intervention into Libya, and the resultant lethal chaos that has gripped the country.
The Western powers, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron in particular, were lauding the 2011 Libyan intervention as a successful example of humanitarian liberation, toppling an authoritarian regime and bringing hope to its people. Cameron is today completely silent, along with the other interventionists, as Libya is fractured into rival statelets, controlled by tribal militias fighting each other, and central authority has all but collapsed. There are rival authorities based in different cities of the country, each controlling its own fiefdom.
The revolving door of official Libyan politics has seen a rapid succession of governments and cabinets, each equally incompetent and unable to unify the country and provide basic services for the population. With a complete absence of the rule of law, human rights abuses are rampant, with the various competing militias equally culpable. Health care is woefully inadequate, government services non-existent, and the education system abysmal. In other words, Libya is today a failed state because of Western intervention. Cameron and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, proudly grandstanding in 2011 about the supposed Libyan revolution, today remain indifferent to the disastrous humanitarian consequences of the military intervention they once loudly advocated.
The latest incarnation of the ever-fluid Libyan government, has relocated its headquarters to the eastern city of Tobruk, and exercises little authority over the rest of the country. In September 2014, there were reports that the Libyan cabinet had hired a Greek ferry in which to meet, with the security situation so dangerous it had to find secure surrounding offshore.
In July 2014, US embassy staff fled the capital city Tripoli in a panicked flight in order to avoid the heavy fighting that erupted between government forces and militias. In August 2014, the Libyan government fled Tripoli, after that city was finally overtaken by a combination of Islamist militia groups. As Cockburn explains in his article:
Without the rest of the world paying much attention, a civil war has been raging in western Libya since 13 July between the Libya Dawn coalition of militias, originally based in Misrata, and another militia group centred on Zintan. A largely separate civil war between the forces of retired General Khalifa Haftar and the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries is being fought out in the city. Government has collapsed. Amnesty says that torture has become commonplace with victims being “beaten with plastic tubes, sticks, metal bars or cables, given electric shocks, suspended in stress positions for hours, kept blindfolded and shackled for days.”
The Amnesty report that Cockburn quotes from is called “Libya: ‘Rule of the gun’ amid mounting war crimes by rival militias” published in October 2014. The report details the systematic use of torture and coercion by the Libyan army, itself an enormous militia, and the various Islamist militia groupings.
Ill-treatment, abductions and torture have become the usual modus operandi of the competing militia factions, and the Libyan government is no better. This chaotic and lawless situation makes a mockery of the claims by the 2011 liberal interventionists that stopping human rights violations was a prime motivator of Western military concerns. It is absolutely true that the previous Libyan regime of Qadhafi tortured dissidents and political Islamist activists – when the US and UK cooperated with the Qadhafi regime, the latter allowing the rendition of suspected Islamist militants to secret prisons in Libya where they were mistreated; after those Islamist militants were tortured by the CIA first. Most of those subjected to ill-treatment in Qadhafi’s prisons, at the behest of the CIA, were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the latter joining the NATO-led campaign in 2011 to oust the Qadhafi administration; the ironies of imperialist intrigues.
The abyss of violent lawlessness and turmoil into which Libya has descended, and the consequent destruction of the meritorious health care and education systems that Libya once had, are the direct responsibility of the imperialist states. As Garigkai Chengu, scholar and fellow at Harvard University’s Du Bois Institute for African research explains;
In 1967 Colonel Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa; however, by the time he was assassinated, Gaddafi had turned Libya into Africa’s wealthiest nation. Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.
After NATO’s intervention in 2011, Libya is now a failed state and its economy is in shambles. As the government’s control slips through their fingers and into to the militia fighters’ hands, oil production has all but stopped.
Libya did have a standard of education, health care and housing that was the envy of sub-Saharan Africa – not any more.
When Cameron and Sarkozy made their bellicose and boastful pronouncements in 2011, they did not have any inkling that their words would come back to haunt them. Nothing exemplifies the sheer contempt that the imperialist states have for the lives of people outside their immediate coterie than the disgraceful comments of former US secretary of state Hilary Clinton. Upon witnessing the lynch-mob murder of Qadhafi, she commented that “we came, we saw, he died”. Such a cowardly statement indicates a psychopathic personality, devoid of concern for human life. Qadhafi was murdered, and along with him Libya 2014 has suffered and thousands have been killed. After a nation has been broken down by Western intervention, it is not the capitalist powers that pick up the tab. The people in that country are condemned to an existence blighted by human rights abuses and immiseration.
The shattered oil industry, the collapse of the economy and social services, and the fracturing of the Libyan state into warring regions is a terrible indictment of the actions of US and European imperialism in Africa and the wider Middle East.
Cockburn’s timely article in The Independent is a stark warning for those in the West that advocate military intervention. As Cockburn notes, while imperialist military actions may temporarily protect a besieged minority, the intervention ultimately serves the interests and principal goals of the intervening force. The devastating consequences of the 2011 intervention are there for all to see. Libya 2014 demonstrates that the foreign policy of the imperialist states is driven by political scoundrels and financial parasites, who plunder everything and create nothing in resource-rich, militarily-smaller countries.