So, why did the powers now attacking Libya easily tolerate Gaddafi for the last 10 years?
Right from the first, Muammar Gaddafi made no secret of his hatred for the Tunisian and Egyptian rebellions against Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s dictatorial rule, this comment in l’Humanité in English has explained. In his own idiosyncratic way he has just hit upon the safest way to put the great post-colonial powers back into the saddle by providing the Tunisian and Egyptian former dictators’ accomplices with a pretext for bombing his territory. Paris, London or Washington are thus once more taking over the controls.
A smell of oil gives the neo-colonial powers’ real objectives away. Protection of the civilians is not among them. And this fuels criticism. Since resolution 1973 was voted by the Security Council last Friday despite the abstention and reservation of several states, French Rafale or British Tornado planes can drop their bombs on the tyrant’s hideouts. There are and will be major collateral damages, more civilian victims. As was the case twenty years ago, during the first Gulf war led by an international coalition where the US then played the most prominent part, France being content with playing the part of first-rank participant.
This time the French president Nicolas Sarkozy stands on the Western armada’s front line. Last Friday he was saying before the cameras that the aim is “to protect defenceless civilians” and to support the emergence of democracy. UNO’s resolution stipulates that the war objective pursued is only to protect “the populations and civilian zones under the threat of attacks in Lybia’s Arab Jamhiriya.” But these verbal precautions are meant to rally the countries that balk at approving the Security Council’s resolution, or at least to persuade them to abstain. They ill conceal the Western powers’ war-prone strategies.
Today Libya is the next biggest producer of oil in Africa after Nigeria. And it sits on huge reserves. Enough to stir limitless greed, even as, Japan’s nuclear catastrophe aiding, oil seems to be a most highly coveted fuel. The great capitalist powers easily came to terms with the Gaddafi regime during the last decade. Libya’s oil thus represents nearly 20% of Italy’s supply and at least 10% of France’s.
The great Western capitals consider that part of the Libyan elite who have broken off with the guide might grab all or part of the oil and constitute an even more “pliant” partner than the present regime. Especially as they would stand indebted to the West for its military intervention and as the social question, which is incontrovertible in Tunisia or in Egypt, does not figure so prominently in Libya, whose population was somehow driven into exile: its migrants (4,5 million out of 10 million inhabitants) being caught between two fires, had no demands to formulate other than the right to save their skin by fleeing the country.
[Original French article is ‘L’aubaine pour reprendre la main sur le monde arabe’ by Bruno Odent, ‘Libya: A Golden Opportunity for Western Powers to Regain Control over the Arab World’]
“A puzzling question preoccupied commentators in the aftermath of the Obama administration’s apparent about-face sometime around March 16, the day before passage of UNSC 1973. Prior to that day, conventional wisdom held that the White House opposed military intercession, even in the shape of a no-fly zone, and despite the increasingly impassioned pleas of Britain, France and the Libyan National Council in rebel-controlled Benghazi.” This editorial statement, titled ‘Of Principle and Peril’, has been made by the editors of Middle East Research and Information Project (Merip).
The objections to a no-fly zone, given voice before Congress by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, were pragmatic rather than principled. Among their number: Libya is a huge country, much larger in area than the twin swathes of Iraq the US and Britain policed in the 1990s; the necessary military assets, such as aircraft carriers, were not in theater; and Qaddafi’s helicopter gunships and tanks would be undeterred by an aerial exclusion zone, just as Saddam’s forces were in 1991, when they crushed the uprising in southern Iraq despite US mastery of the skies. Gates underlined for the legislators that imposing this measure would be, in essence, an act of war. “Let’s call a spade a spade,” he said on March 2. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.”
So why, in UNSC 1973, did the US push for and attain an authorization of force that not only includes a no-fly zone but also goes beyond it? Mainstream accounts, since they are molded by White House media outreach, have predictably emphasized the administration’s mounting worries about massacres as Qaddafi’s legions regained ground, as well as President Barack Obama’s desire to be on the right side of the struggle between peoples and autocrats in the Arab world. UNSC 1973 is portrayed as a victory for the humanitarian interventionist element of Obama’s foreign policy team, among them UN Ambassador Susan Rice and adviser Samantha Power, who are eager to expiate the sins of the Clinton administration in ignoring Rwanda. The resolution is depicted simultaneously as belated, but determined fulfillment of Obama’s pledge in his Cairo speech of June 2009 to revise the list of US priorities in the Middle East, bringing US interests into greater harmony with the aspirations of the region’s populace.
The more plausible explanation for the confused signals from the White House is that official circles were engaged in debate over whether Qaddafi would win. If, as it appeared in the second week of March, the Libyan strongman would rapidly quell the rebellion and reestablish his dominion across the country, there would be little point to Western intervention.