Libya is fractured into warring regions, its people are suffering, and the West is indifferent

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.


The prime minister, the weapons salesman and the hypocrite

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, traveled to the Persian Gulf countries back in November 2012, the royalist dictatorships that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council. He spoke to the rulers of the various petro-monarchies, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Speaking to the media, he defined the purpose of his trip – to encourage British weapons sales to those regimes, to smooth over any difficulties that British armaments manufacturers might have in their dealings with the Gulf states, and to increase lucrative contracts for the British Aerospace systems company (BAE). The Guardian newspaper elaborated on the trip, stating that:

“Speaking to students in the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, Cameron said: “I’m a supporter of the Arab spring, the opportunity of moving towards more open societies, more open democracies, I think is good for the Middle East, for North Africa.”

The same story in the Guardian explained that the British government, while paying lip service to the Arab awakening, values its most important strategic allies in the Gulf region, namely regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries have been generous recipients of British military hardware, and Cameron did his best as a traveling weapons salesman and prime minister.  In fact, Cameron was quite unapologetic about British arms sales, stating that the UAE should replace its declining fleet of French-supplied Mirage jets with the latest hardware from Britain. In 2009, Saudi Arabia assisted the Yemeni government to violently suppress anti-government demonstrations in that country by lending Yemen UK-built fighter planes and military equipment. Saudi Arabia also assisted the violent crackdown of the Bahraini uprising in 2011, and all the while the corporate media minimised the brutality of the Bahraini government’s suppression. The British government sold millions of pounds worth of military hardware directly to the Bahraini state during the 2011 political unrest. Cameron met with the Bahraini King in London during the 2011 London Olympics, where King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was an honoured guest.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, opined that while his government had raised concerns about the appalling human rights record of the Bahraini and Saudi Arabian regimes, he assured the House of Commons that Saudi forces were only sent in to Bahrain to guard military installations and not to participate in the suppression of demonstrations. Apparently Saudi forces were just helpless bystanders, caught up in defending the fragile Bahraini dictatorship from the maelstrom of violence unleashed by the anti-government demonstrations. Hague continued:

On Saudi Arabia, Hague said the government had raised concerns about its treatment of women and foreign workers. But 99% of Britain’s exports to the kingdom consisted of Typhoon jets. “They are not relevant to our concerns about these rights,” the foreign secretary said.

Early in January 2013, PM Cameron made a quick trip to his friend and ally, the petro-monarchy of Saudi Arabia, to discuss further economic and political cooperation. The question of weapons sales was top on the agenda, but their discussions also encompassed the growing spheres of energy and security cooperation. The BBC article explained the importance of the visit:

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East with annual trade worth £15bn a year. It has £62bn invested in the UK economy.

Without a hint of irony, Cameron went on to deplore the ‘appalling bloodshed’ on the streets of Syria, and called for renewed efforts by the Arab League to deal with the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad.

When George Galloway, Respect Party MP and sitting member for Bradford West, asked the Prime Minister why the government fully supported the ongoing French intervention in Mali against supposedly ‘Islamist extremist’ groups, but was quite happy to continue its support of Islamist extremist groups that are waging a war against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, Cameron sneeringly dismissed Galloway’s question, and attacked the latter as a supporter of Arab dictators. Apart from being a perverse accusation by Cameron, the British PM is studiously ignoring (or outright denying) that support for dictatorships in the Arab world is precisely long-standing British government policy.

Glenn Greenwald stated it plainly – the smear tactic used by Cameron, tarnishing opponents of war and militarism as apologists of dictators – shuts down debate and avoids the crucial issue. Opponents of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq were branded ‘Saddam supporters; those who opposed the NATO intervention in Libya were derided as ‘Gaddafi supporters;’ and fifty years ago, those who campaigned against the American war on Vietnam were maligned as ‘communist dupes’. By suppressing debate on the imperialist powers and their policies in the Arab and Islamic world, we are engaging in an act of self-delusion and hypocrisy, seeing US and its associated allies (such as Britain) as a force for ‘good’ in the world. When it comes to supporting dictatorships in the Arab countries, surely there is no better advocate for those regimes than David Cameron. Interestingly, over the two-year period 2010-2011, Britain exported $142 million worth of military hardware to the former Gaddafi regime in Libya. The secret police in Libya under Gaddafi were receiving training from British military personnel. And let us not forget that the widely despised Mubarak-regime in Egypt was fully supported by the United States. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on to proclaim in 2009 that Mubarak was a ‘personal friend’ – a touching reminder of just whom is considered a worthy ally by the imperialist states.

Go read Glenn Greenwald’s excellent article in full here.

The British prime minister is to be given credit for his multitasking skills – he combines the roles of politician, weapons salesman and hypocrite very elegantly.

Is the war on terror going to end? Obama says no…

The National Defence Authorisation Act, updated by the Obama administration for 2013, has been signed into law. It provides for the indefinite detention of any person suspected of ‘terrorism’ offences, prohibits the transfer of the remaining Guantanamo Bay detainees from that facility, and allows the US military to detain any person, even US citizens without any recourse to civilian courts and legal access. Obama, the ‘antiwar’ candidate of 2008, has not only continued the Bush-Cheney era ‘war on terror’, he is ensuring that its continuation, its corrosive effect on civil liberties, and the undermining of the already fragile democratic rights, will go on spreading its toxic effect.

The signing of this legislation represents a generalised attack on all civil liberties and basic constitutional practices. While the ‘war on terror’ was begun under the stewardship of Bush and Cheney, the Obama administration has ceaselessly expanded its provisions, and the assault on democratic rights has metamorphosed into an endless array of overseas unmanned drone strikes and targeted assassinations. The wondrous nature of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) has been the subject of lyrical praise in the corporate media, a media that celebrates the explosion of US military adventures abroad while hailing the creeping police-state measures at home. America’s robot wars, raining missiles and drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries, is the logical outcome of a shadowy war that has no definition and with no end in sight. The only guiding principle of the ‘war on terror’ – renamed by Obama ‘overseas contingency operations‘ – is to extend the rule of the financial-corporate elite at the expense of the working people and undermine democratic rights.

The $633 billion dollar budget provided by passing of the National Defence Authorisation Act 2013 will go towards the continuing US occupation of Afghanistan, a country severely mauled by the US-sponsored ‘war on terror’, and its civilians will continue to bear the brunt of the Karzai occupation regime. The Karzai clique, installed and backed by foreign guns and bombs, is rightly regarded as a puppet of its imperialist sponsors. After eleven years, Afghanistan’s population still lives in dire poverty, the rebellion shows no signs of abating, and the US military machine has left its deleterious impact on the country. Afghanistan was the immediate target of the war on terror, and is still suffering under the heavy blows of the US occupation regime.

One prominent feature of the ongoing Afghan war in 2012 has been the increasing number of so-called ‘Green on Blue’ attacks – Afghan army soldiers who turn their guns on their alleged benefactors, the NATO occupation troops. The drone strikes, the daily humiliations of Afghans by US soldiers has understandably fueled resentment of the foreign occupying forces. Even the New York Times, the loyal lapdog of US empire, had to admit a simple truth that is obvious to everyone but the empire’s fervent supporters – people under foreign occupation will inevitably end up despising their occupiers, no matter the best intentions of the foreign troops. Sending US troops crashing and killing into other countries only escalates the anti-American resentment at the policies and murderous result of US foreign policy, a lesson that seems to be lost on the Obama administration. How long will it be before we see similar hatreds and resentments arise in Yemen, where that other democratic ally of the United States – the royalist dictatorship of Saudi Arabia – has joined the US drone war on Yemen by providing its own air force jets in cooperation with US forces.

Outsourcing torture was a policy begun by Bush-Cheney, but refined and extended under Obama. The ‘black sites’ – secret prisons where terrorism suspects were imprisoned and tortured, were established in countries that had friendly relations with the United States, such as Poland, Mubarak-era Egypt and interestingly, Qadhafi’s Libya. Torture became normalised, and it has become an acceptable method of dealing with incarcerated individuals. No less a figure than prominent Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a vociferous supporter of America’s wars overseas (and Israel), made the case that there are times when torture is regrettably necessary in dealing with terrorism suspects. It was Obama’s own targeted assassination of Osama Bin Laden that opened the way for further impunity for torturers at home and abroad. One quiet achievement of the Obama administration in the last days of 2012 was the five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), an act that continues the ability of the US government to monitor and record the emails and phone calls of any American citizen deemed to be in contact with an officially designated ‘terrorist’ organisation, or having a conversation with a ‘terror’ suspect. This practice has come to be known as ‘warrantless eavesdropping’ because under FISA, a court order from a civilian court to authorise the surveillance is unnecessary.

Obama’s administration has demonstrated its sheer contempt for democratic rights and civil liberties. Anyone deemed an ‘enemy of the state’ can be arrested and detained without due process. These legislative attacks have been accompanied by a cultural change, with the demonisation of Islamic communities, the targeting of the Arab and Muslim ‘other’ which only serves to encourage racist attacks and the vilification of the Islamic world. Having a distinctive, stereotypical cultural enemy is a necessary component to win public support, and undermine the ability of dissenting viewpoints to be heard. Any criticism of the ‘war on terror’ is met with howls of ‘traitor’, and the increasingly Islamophobic political climate stifles opposition to the police-state measures of the US ruling class. However, there are very courageous individuals, such as the Egyptian American pharmacist Tarek Mehanna. Sentenced to 17.5 years jail for a spurious and baseless ‘terrorism’ offence, he has written a very thoughtful and intelligent critique of the US ‘war on terror’ and its militarist adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we may disagree with a religious viewpoint, it is Mehanna’s articulate defence, his understanding of the political thought of our times, and his willingness to stand up against injustice are to be commended. His writing demonstrates a deep understanding of the US political and military system, something to which can all aspire.

Read Tarek Mehanna’s full statement here.