The so-called humanitarian intervention in Libya is nothing of the kind. It is a war in which the US-led imperialist forces have used the widespread sympathy for the Libyan people’s uprising to justify the latest chapter in their war for empire.
For every aspect of the misery of the people, the blame lies squarely on imperialism. Gaddafi and his regime’s hold on power are products of imperialist intervention. His social base is no longer the reforms that were made in the 1960s and 1970s under the pressure of a rising anti-imperialist movement. These gains were actively opposed by imperialism, and when it was in his interests to do so, Gaddafi conceded to imperialism, cutting deals and getting political, economic and military support in return.
Today the people of Libya are being attacked by two brutal armed forces, both using US-supplied weapons and ammunition.
The world knows of Gaddafi’s brutality. But the corporate media have sanitised the US-led bombing campaign. As the war on Libya began (eight years to the day since the beginning of the war on Iraq), the corporate media waxed lyrical about “surgical” bombing and “precision” bombs, just as they did during the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad.
Not a ‘good’ war
The attack began with the launching of 112 Tomahawk missiles against two cities. These weapons make a crater 10 metres wide and demolish houses within 30 metres. Bomb fragments will kill well past 800 metres. There is no “surgical” bombing. No wonder that even the support of the corrupt Arab League weakened after the first few days of bombing.
Despite the overwhelming weight of the history of US imperialism, the people of Libya and the world are being asked to trust its intentions. Internationally, many sections of the liberal left, including the Greens in Australia, have rallied around the intervention, cowed by the rhetoric of humanitarianism. This war is different, they say: this really is the “good” war. It might be more popular than the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, but that doesn’t mean it is right. This time the US rulers had a more believable sales pitch – and, unfortunately, some people who should know better have been fooled.
Without a consistent and vocal challenge and exposure of the manipulation by US imperialism, public support is bound initially to go the way of the war makers, who have the corporate media peddling their lies. A Reuters poll taken three days after the bombing began found that 60% of people in the US supported the attack.
This reflects the popular support for the Libyan uprising and the horror at the brutality of Gaddafi’s forces. In this case, the corporate media reported the atrocities. Meanwhile, just days after the beginning of the bombing raids on Libya, Israel renewed its attack on Gaza with another bombing campaign. Of course, this didn’t make the news. There were no pictures of dead and dying Palestinian children beamed into the lounge rooms of the West. This highlights that the hypocrisy of the US rulers knows no bounds. A US national security official was quoted on Al Jazeera after the attack on Libya had begun saying: “Gaddafi is one of the most unpredictable dictators on the planet and some of his loyalists can only be described as fanatical”; this dictator until very recently had the backing of the same imperialist forces now leading the attack. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton continues to warn Iran to “stop meddling” in the region!
US imperialism is the self-appointed global cop, and like all cops, it is there only to protect the interests of the rich. The intervention is not about supporting the popular uprising. The US has no interest in supporting genuine democracy in Libya or anywhere else. It fears that the rebellion will succeed and create a revolutionary government, which could threaten imperialist control over Libyan oil.
But this intervention is about more than oil. It is a war for political control of the Arab world. They rarely show their panic in public, but the US rulers are scrambling to ensure that they don’t lose control of the region. In Libya, they have seen an opportunity to step in to stop the events set in train by the revolutionary overthrow of the Ben-Ali regime in Tunisia on January 14. Through the war on Libya, they are seeking to re-assert their dominance.
This is the aim of the “no-fly zone”, and it will be the aim of any intervention in any of the other Arab countries where uprisings are taking place. This is why it is also naive and dangerous to demand the arming of the resistance by imperialism, as some on the left have done.
In the absence of a political leadership able and willing to provide an alternative course for the uprising, the call for the no-fly zone received support from Libyans who are facing the barbarity of Gaddafi’s forces. It is no surprise that the leadership of the uprising, organised through the new Transitional Council based in Benghazi, has supported the imperialist intervention: it is currently dominated by ex-regime figures who supported the uprising only as it became clear that the regime was out of favour with imperialism. They include Mahmoud Jibril, who was key in the opening up of the Libyan economy to imperialism through his role as head of the National Economic Development Board since 2007, and Mustafa Abdul Jalil, former minister for justice.
These reactionaries moved rapidly to usurp the leadership of the popular uprising, just as ex-regime and reactionary figures are attempting to do in other Arab countries. It is these forces that the US will turn to in order to regain control, as it is doing in Egypt and Tunisia now. Imperialism has decades of experience in usurping control and putting down popular uprisings. But the wave of uprisings taking place throughout the Arab world creates a very new situation. The balance of forces in the region rapidly shifted with the mass popular overthrow of Mubarak, the US’s main ally in the Arab world. It is desperate to regain lost ground and will be willing to resort to whatever force is necessary in order to do so.
The only thing that stays imperialism’s hand is the resistance of the people. Opposition to imperialism runs high in the Arab world, where the impact of US support for dictatorship and Israeli apartheid is a lived reality for millions of people. The US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan face a growing resistance. At home, these wars are as unpopular as ever. The US administration hopes that presenting its war on Libya as “humanitarianism” can gain some of the lost ground and weaken anti-war sentiment in the US. This sentiment has the potential to deepen in step with the economic crisis, as more people realise the contradiction of increasing war spending while cutting back already devastated social services. Those who profit from war also seek to distract from this contradiction by propagating the racist myth that US wars are about “bringing democracy” to the world.
While this is a contradiction for working people in the US, it is no contradiction for the rich. The US economy and capitalist profit making need war. The US$100 million spent on the Tomahawk missiles fired at Libya was pocketed by the war industry.
The dominance of the US is not without challenge. Within the imperialist camp, there were divisions over the war, with Germany opposing the intervention. As well, Russia, China and India also opposed the intervention in words though not in the Security Council.
Anti-imperialist opposition was expressed by the alliance of Latin American countries organised in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Fidel Castro was among the first to warn of the dangers of imperialist intervention. But Castro and the ALBA countries’ opposition and authority were unfortunately weakened by their failure to support the uprising against Gaddafi (which at best expressed itself as equivocation about the brutality of the regime). This sowed significant confusion and seriously weakened the anti-imperialist camp at a time when a strong and consistent anti-imperialist voice is needed.
The war on Libya is the latest in a long line of wars for empire, which have gone under many guises, as world capitalism battles a catastrophic economic crisis. It seeks an escape from its crisis by forcing the cost onto the people of the world – through economic exploitation backed up by brutal force. When it can’t rely on puppet dictators to repress the people’s desire for freedom, it uses its own military force.
The devastation facing the Libyan people is a product of imperialism. The US is the single most brutal regime on the face of the planet. It is foolish to believe that the wolf can turn into a shepherd. Anything that strengthens the hand of imperialism will be to the detriment of the people of Libya and the other peoples of the region.