Escalation in the ‘not war’ against Libya

The US, France, and Britain rushed the UN and NATO to intervene in Libya allegedly in order to prevent an imminent massacre of 100,000 people, although the evidence to back up this charge was slim and looks increasingly like an alarmist lie to get public support for starting a war in Libya, similar to the lie about Saddam Hussein’s imminent nuclear weapons that was used to steamroll the US public into starting that war.

Recall that the initial intervention was supposed to be a “limited humanitarian intervention, not war” to prevent the use of the Libyan air forces from attacking civilians. Then the air war shifted to attacking the Libyan armed forces on the ground wherever they are. Then the British, French, and Italian governments announced that they were sending in ‘advisors’ to help the rebels. The US already has acknowledged that CIA operatives are already working in the country. Now NATO has bombed Gadhafi’s compound. It should be obvious that preventing a massacre was just a pretext for the US to start a new war against yet another country.

The US has now ordered sending in Predator drones. It is important to realize that this is a non-trivial escalation. The drones have been used in Pakistan and Afghanistan for, among other things, targeted attacks on individuals (though they frequently go astray and kill civilians with the most recent incident occurring just yesterday that killed five women and four children) and one wonders who the targets are in Libya. The fact that the drone announcement came so soon after Gadhafi felt confident enough to jauntily ride around Tripoli waving to people while standing through the open sun-roof of a car suggests to me that the US might be targeting him or his close associates or even his family for summary execution. This would not be unprecedented. Recall that that in 1986 Reagan ordered the bombing of Gadhafi’s compound, killing his daughter and injuring his sons.

NPR had discussions on this option last Friday morning and again in the evening and it was sickening to hear supposedly ‘serious’ people so casually discuss the possibility of the US government murdering people including foreign leaders, although they avoid the harsh but accurate words ‘murder’ or ‘kill’ and prefer the softer euphemism of ‘take out’, as if the victim was being invited to a baseball game or the zoo. It become perfectly acceptable for the US president to act like a gangland boss and order ‘hits’ on his enemies.

Maybe Obama thinks that since he got a Nobel Peace Prize after merely escalating an ongoing war in Afghanistan, he can get another one by actually starting a new war in Libya. Or maybe David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy think that they could get a Peace Prize too. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian wonders if the British Prime Minister realized what he was getting the UK into in Libya and sees parallels with the 1956 Suez debacle.

It looks like we are witnessing the beginning of a long-drawn out civil war in Libya with the involvement of the US, Britain, and France rising to meeting the increasing needs and demands of the anti-Gadhafi forces. This strange policy of using external forces to supposedly ‘level the playing field’ between warring factions in another country only ensures that the ‘game’ will never end and that people will continue to suffer. This is why I think the drones have been brought in, to kill Gadhafi or at least kill enough of his family and close associates to force him to leave or to create a coup. NATO can then declare victory and leave the people of Libya to sort through the mess left behind, making sure that the US controls the oil supplies of course.

While all this is going on, a lot of innocent people are going to get killed. The western forces intervening in Libya steadfastly deny any intention of sending in ground forces but I cannot see how that can be avoided if the current stalemate continues, as seems likely, and the drones do not succeed in quickly winning the civil war for the anti-Gadhafi forces. After all, the drones have been used extensively in Pakistan, killing large numbers of people, including civilians, with no decisive outcome.

One thing that drone attacks are good at doing is creating widespread anti-American sentiment. As Glenn Greenwald notes about its effects in Pakistan:

Can someone who defends these drone attacks please identify the purpose? Is the idea that we’re going to keep dropping them until we kill all the “militants” in that area? We’ve been killing people in that area at a rapid clip for many, many years now, and we don’t seem to be much closer to extinguishing them. How many more do we have to kill before the eradication is complete?

Beyond that, isn’t it painfully obvious that however many “militants” we’re killing, we’re creating more and more all the time? How many family members, friends, neighbors and villagers of the “five children and four women” we just killed are now consumed with new levels of anti-American hatred? How many Pakistani adolescents who hear about these latest killings are now filled with an eagerness to become “militants”?

The NYT article dryly noted: “Friday’s attack could further fuel antidrone sentiment among the Pakistani public”; really, it could? It’s likely to fuel far more than mere “antidrone sentiment”; it’s certain to fuel more anti-American hatred: the primary driver of anti-American Terrorism. Isn’t that how you would react if a foreign country were sending flying robots over your town and continuously wiping out the lives of innocent women, children and men who are your fellow citizens? What conceivable rational purpose does this endless slaughter serve? Isn’t it obvious that the stated goal of all of this – to reduce the threat of Terrorism – is subverted rather than promoted by these actions?

We seem to have this strange policy of denying that the goal of the Libyan not-war is ‘regime change’ while insisting that the not-war will continue until Gadhafi is removed from office. Both things cannot be true.


  1. says

    Simon Jenkins’ invocation of the Suez Canal fiasco is a touch too trite for me. It also rests on an assumption that the Americans are adamantly against participation, which is demonstrably false despite Obama’s attempt to make it look like the erstwhile colonialists are in the vanguard.

    The Suez Crisis was the final, official death knell of the British Empire. For those who hadn’t already noticed, it left absolutely no doubt that the global policeman’s truncheon had been passed to the other side of the Atlantic. Without Eisenhower’s support, Eden’s misadventure was doomed, and the formerly glamorous premier resigned a broken man -- a tragic ending after waiting so long to succeed Churchill.

    From the British perspective, Suez is not the right analogy. Jenkins is much closer to the mark when he mentions the manhunt against Saddam Hussein, yet curiously silent on the continuing quagmire in Afghanistan -- both cases of the British Bulldog behaving like an American lapdog. The Libyan adventure belongs squarely in this same category, for there is no other category in this era of American Imperialism. (The only situation in which Britain might still be able to act independently would be in the protection of one of its few remaining territories, as we saw in the Falklands Crisis in the early 1980’s. In that case, American support was grudging at best because the Americans had nothing at stake other than a vague resentment of a technical violation of the Monroe Doctrine. The Western Hemisphere was supposed to be out-of-bounds, wasn’t it?)

    Cameron’s mistake, it seems to me, other than getting involved in the first place, was to allow himself to become just another American puppet. The part of me that still carries a British passport longs for a Prime Minister to tell the Americans to go #!@& themselves. Now that would be an act of political courage. The ghost of Charles de Gaulle would love it. And since the Americans are largely responsible for ruining the British economy, isn’t it long past time for anti-American sentiment to find an eloquent new voice along the Greenwich Meridian instead of in the dusty, flea-bitten backstreets of Baghdad?

    The best thing Britain could do for its former colony would be to begin a process of questioning the Imperialism it was forced to abandon. Britain is uniquely qualified to act in this advisory capacity, being one of the few imperial powers to have retracted relatively painlessly. The lesson will go unheeded, of course, since America knows far more than its long-forgotten parent, but it still needs to be given.

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