What is going on in Libya?
Submitted by George Callaghan…
For eight long years Libya has not known peace. In early 2011 the Arab Spring came to Libya. An insurrection broke out in Cyrenaica. At the time Libya was ruled by Colonel Mummar Gaddafi. Gaddafi was never president, or prime minister nor did he ever hold any title that would be recognized in other countries. Instead he dubbed himself the Brotherly Guide of the Revolution. In some regards it was despotisme eclairee.
Say what you like about Gaddafi – deranged nincompoop would not be inapposite – but he ensured order and development in Libya. When the 29 year old colonel seized power in 1969 Libya was among the most underdeveloped countries on the planet. Literacy was very low. Many people could not speak the official language – Arabic – let alone read it. A large minority were only conversant in Berber. By the end of his time literacy in Arabic was almost universal. Life expectancy was very low in 1969. By 2011 it was among the highest in Africa. Most people were Bedouin. There is nothing amiss with an itinerant lifestyle. But by 2011 there were decent houses for those who wanted it.
Mummar Gaddafi was a son of the people. He was born in a tent and grow up in a family of no great consequence. Throughout his life he was noted for his relative indifference to material wealth. Many world leaders are chauffeur driven in ultra expensive cars. Gaddafi was proud to drive himself in an old banger. The old Senussi royal dynasty was given short shrift. No one was allowed to have servants as equality was the order of the day. Alcohol was outlawed.
Under Gaddafi Libya was proclaimed to be the Great Libyan Arab People’s Socialist Jamahuriyet. ‘Jamahuriyet’ is often translated literally as ‘mass state’ but it is also rendered as ‘republic’. There were hundreds of local councils all feeding decisions up to the supreme central authority. It was a case of l’etat c’est moi.
Gaddafi’s sons were not a chip off the old block! Profligate and ostentatious they flaunted their wealth in western capitals. They went a long way towards discrediting their father.
I loathed Gaddafi’s regime. His cult of the personality was risible and sinister at the same time. His preposterous pretensions were mercilessly lampooned in Sacaha Baron Cohen’s film The Dictator. It was difficult to parody something which was in itself autoparodic. Much about Gaddafi’s government was deeply unfunny. There was no freedom of expression. Kangaroo courts sent political prisoners by the thousands to while away decades in dark and fetid dungeons. Gaddafi’s sententious and otiose orations were an exercise in bombast from the theatre of the absurd. His braggadocio, self-laudation, mendacity and dementia are rivalled only by Donald Trump. But Gaddafi’s buffoonery was trivial compared to the barbaric tortures inflicted on dissidents. This was not done on any petty scale. Peruse the pages of Amnesty International or any other human rights organisations that you care to mention and you will read case after case of well documented torture. These monstrous crimes were committed against people who sought to peaceably secure change in the country. Executions for non-violent crimes were commonplace. In 1998, in particular, hundreds of people were summarily put to death. In response the world merely twiddled its thumbs. Gaddafi strove to export his deranged brand of jingoism, Islamism and leader worship across the world. There were few terrorist groups that did not find aid and comfort coming from Tripoli albeit sometimes only verbally.
Under Gaddafi the Libyan Government was routinely denounced by the United States as being wicked beyond compare. Gaddafi’s narcissism, mental delinquency, erraticism and hyper aggression were an open goal. However, the United States inveighing against Gaddafi rang hollow. The US at the same time abetted similarly unpalatable and pernicious regimes around the globe from Mobutu, to the Shah, to Saddam Hussein, to Papa Doc to Trujillo. Gaddafi’s insupportable oppression was not unexampled. One can plead in mitigation for Gaddafi. He secured the blessings of economic progress to his country.
President Ronald Reagan fulminated against Gaddafi as mad dog. This was unbecoming of Reagan. Bear in mind that Reagan gave the most fulsome praise to various tyrants. It was a bit rich for him to deliver this bitter philippics against Gaddafi while propping up worse dictators. At least it can be said that Gaddafi did something for his people. He was not diabolonian compared to some of Washington’s darlings. He dedicated himself to the abolition of pauperism, ignorance, disease and inegalitarianism.
The US detested Gaddafi because he worked in close concert with the Soviet Union. He had people from other communist countries assist Libya in its development projects. There were Bulgarian engineers for example.
Although Gaddafi was an oppressor at home he was sometimes a friend of the oppressed abroad. He gave shelter and succour to ANC fighters and Palestinian fighters. However, Gaddafi sometimes fought against freedom. He armed and trained the IRA in their criminal actions against democracy in the UK.
Despite Gaddafi’s manifold failings he kept peace in the country. There was a certain very rough justice in the country. The economy grew year and year. There were decent public services. The country was not run for private profit but for the commonweal.
In 2003 Tony Blair visited Gaddafi. He met the Libyan leader in his tent. The United Kingdom and Libya restored diplomatic relations. Libya dismantled its weapons of mass destruction programme.
Italy – the former colonial metropolis – and Libya also achieved rapprochement. This was perhaps a model for reconciliation between former colonies and former colonisers. There were many such accomplishments. Libya enjoyed cordial relations with all her neighbours. The European Union invited Colonel Gaddafi to Brussels in 2009. He went and was very well received by the EU. Just two years after he was anathematised by the very organisation that had rolled out the red carpet for him.
In 2011 Gaddafi was ousted after an eight month civil war. Benghazi – the second city – fell early to the rebels. The Libyan Army commenced a counter-offensive. As the government troops drew close to Benghazi it was said that they would kill all the civilians in the city. Western nations proposed a UN Security Council Resolution authorizing the use of force to prevent this from happening. Russia and China were persuaded to vote for this.
NATO countries and EU countries then bombed the Libyan Armed Forces. The EU adopted the ouster of Gaddafi as its policy. The rebels formed the National Transitional Council (NTC). A handful of foreign governments started to recognize the NTC as the government of Libya. What do you call people who fight illegally and out of uniform? Most people would call them terrorists. NATO countries often preach to other nation about the sacredness of international law and the rule of law. But surely the NATO countries were brazenly in breach of both. Before long both Tripolitania and the Fezzan were in tumult.
Love him or loathe him but Gaddafi headed the lawful government of Libya. His regime held the UN seat for Libya. It was to his government that foreign ambassadors were accredited.
NATO started to act as the air force of the insurgents. The rebels closed in on the capital. Gaddafi repeatedly turned down pressing invitations to flee to Belarus and other countries. Instead he stayed in the capital city till almost the very end. He was caught and killed by the rebels. Bloody anarchy has reigned ever since.
Russia and China were miffed. They had been had for chumps. NATO made monkeys of them by persuading them that this was a humanitarian intervention. In fact, it was NATO fomenting civil war. Russia and China vowed not to be duped again. Their good faith and credulity were exploited by Western war hawks.
Libya is now ruled by the Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA is recognized by the UN and holds Tripoli but little else. The situation is immensely complex and forever in flux. A number of other factions are battling for control of the rest of Libya. The Libyan National Army under General Khalifa Haftar is trying to seize power. Haftar is a Libyan who has taken American citizenship. The White House has confirmed that President Trump has a friendly chat on the phone with his fellow American. Is Haftar the Pentagon’s new favourite? The United States has done nothing to discourage Haftar’s attempt on the capital.
ISIS has raised its ugly head. Gaddafi was an observant Muslim but obscurantist he was not. ISIS has grabbed control of swathes of the country. This nefarious organisation has also caused chaos in nearby countries like Mali and Algeria. It was all so terribly predictable.
Why has internecine conflict lasted so long? Civil wars are often intractable. They are all the more savage and rancorous because they are fought between compatriots. This war rages on because it suits certain powerful vested interests. It drives up the price of oil. It creates more of a market for weaponry. It allows more securocrats to opine about the need for more money for them. Some people want to see Libya feeble, impoverished and anarchic.
The Gaddafi Government prevented illegal immigrants from crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. Gaddafi warned European countries not to meddle with his country or otherwise there would be a huge number of illegal immigrants traversing the sea to Europe. These were prophetic words. Apres moi le deluge! Heedless of these warnings NATO countries rained bombs on Libya. Look at the repercussions. If you sow the wind you shall reap the whirlwind. Since then the EU has been struggling to cope with hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants. There is no end in sight. Thousands of people have drowned essaying to cross the Med. This is a humanitarian crisis made in Brussels.
The situation under Gaddafi was bad in some ways. It was better to tolerate that than to make things dystopian as they are now. It is the war of all against all. No country in 2011 experienced such a drastic economic contraction as Libya did. At the moment there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Various Arab countries have taken the side of the LNA. The country is regularly bombed by foreign warplanes. The country is still in turmoil.
If it had not been for the ouster of Gaddafi where would we be now? Gaddafi might have died of natural causes since he was born in 1940. He was clearly grooming his sons for succession. Despite their playboy shortcomings they were modern minded, reformist and cosmopolitan. Whatever the failings of l’ancien regime most Libyans pine for it. They rue the day that the rebellion started. If the old government had retained power the country would have made much economic progress. There would not have been this ghastly civil war which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Who are these people in the NTC? Most of them were Gaddafi’s henchmen. If he was guilty then so are they. It has not been much of a transition. There has been one major change though. Now the economy is in tatters and the country is in tumult.
Let us for a moment be generous. For the sake of argument we shall assume that Western government interfered in Libya with the noblest intentions. They were actuated only by a disinterested desire to uphold human rights. There was no selfish, strategic or economic interest. Animated solely by these entirely honourable goals NATO bombed Gaddafi’s army. Even if the intent was pure the outcome was not. A leader must not only try to do good he must also achieve it. The intervention has backfired spectacularly. It is blowback yet again. Just as helping the mujahideen, helping Saddam Hussein, propping up the Shah these shortsighted policies have boomeranged back into our faces. When will we ever learn.
At a time when the British economy was screaming the UK Government found billions to attack Libya. There was retrenchment at home. The armed forces suffered spending reductions. This was not cutting only fat it was cutting muscle. The British Armed Forces lacked the capability to launch a major expedition while still fighting in Afghanistan. Yet Cameron still ordered the British military to bomb Libya. The UK Armed Forces were stretched very thin indeed. It was foolhardy to put it mildly. The UK has been paying the price ever since. It was all so Cameron can say he was ballsy. It was part of his Gladstonian delusion about being able to free people who did not wish to be ‘freed’. As he said himself he is the new Blair. His surname means ‘crooked nose’ in Scots Gaelic. Oddly his nose is the least crooked thing about him.
If the Libyan debacle has taught us anything it is that Western intervention is fraught with danger. Always keep a hold of nurse for fear of meeting something worse. Occidental governments have a limited ability to ameliorate the situation in other zones of the world. Yet they have an almost illimited ability to aggravate these situations. The notion that democracy can be exported by cruise missile has been tested to democracy. If foreign governments stopped sticking their oar in then it is possible that the Libyans might sort these matters out for themselves. Western interference is a recipe for disaster. That ought to be superabundantly clear.