[Marxism] Assessments of Libya by David McReynolds and Phyllis Bennis
ffeldman at verizon.net
Wed Aug 24 00:50:12 MDT 2011
EdgeLeft by David McReynolds
I'm grateful to Harry Targ, of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism, who forwarded Phyllis Bennis' important notes. I
had earlier written some notes on Libya, which can be found on my website:
www.edgeleft.org, and whichI don't need to duplicate here. It is true my
only visit to Libya was in 1989, and enormous changes occurred since then.
As I watch TV coverage of the rebel's taking charge of the Gadaffi compound
I am seeing the famous sculpture of the US plane shot down by Libyans, after
the attack on that compound so long ago (with such heavy loss of life). I
saw thatsculpture then, and stood in the ruins of what had been the Gadaffi
home. (On that trip our delegation from the Fellowshipof Reconciliation was
accompanied by Prof. Dirk Vandewalle, one of the few experts on Libya, whose
book,A History of Modern Libya, is available in paperback and might be read
with profit by some of those who are commenting on Libya).
Good friends have felt I have become an apologist for Gadaffi - I ask them
to think about some of the facts and consider whetherI may not be "an
apologist for truth". I've been deeply disturbed by the way the American and
Western media (and, alas,Al Jazeera as well) have reached "a single
viewpoint" on events in Libya. Phyllis notes, in the comments below, that
the cheeringcrowds we have seen are entirely male, and entirely armed rebels
- not a fair sampling of the Libyan population.
I've found it interesting to watch the 24 hour Russian and Chinese cable
news because they make alternative viewpointsavailable (not necessarily any
more accurate - but alternative!). I do not blame the correspondents, who
are risking a great deal to be on the streets, for sharing the enthusiasm of
those they are with. But it is risky to make major politcal assumptionsbased
on the enthusiasm of the crowd you are with. (I do NOT in any way mean to
compare the rebels with the Germans, butone of the saddest experiences one
can have is to look at old newsreels of Germans cheering Hitler before he
had total powerthat such enthusiasm could be compelled).
Consider the general agreement, if one reads the New York Times dispatches
closely, that it was the NATO air strikes andthe military personnel sent in
by NATO, and working with the rebels on the ground, which made their sudden
seizure ofTripoli possible. In fairness, no matter what your view of
Gadaffi, one must ask why, if there is no support for him in Libya, there
are still so many pockets of resistance? Again, I do not argue that the
resisters are right - I only note they exist andat this point to assume they
are fighting the rebels only because they were paid by the regime is thin
Consider whether NATO did not exceed the UN Resolution under which it began
operations in Libya - which were clearly and specifically NOT to achieve
regime change but only to protect civilians. Consider whether Obama did not
violate the constitution - and effectively lie to the American public - by
taking military action without Congressional authorization
and then insist he had done no such thing.
Consider whether, even if all that has been said about Gadaffi were true,
that it was a cruel dictatorship with no redeeming values, with no
complexity of history, we can really think NATO took its actions based on a
concern for civilian lives there? If so, why no NATO action in Bahrain? Or
no sanctions on Saudi Arabia? Or not troops in Syria?
Is is not more likely that it was oil which drove NATO, not abstract values?
Leaving aside Obama, whom I know is still a sacred cow for many liberals,
are any of you who get this able to believe that the French and British
governments acted out of interest in protecting civilians? If so, why is
NATO in Afghanistan, why did Britain so eagerly commit to the unholy
invasion of Iraq? (An interesting example of a vile dictatorship, but no one
which posed a threat to the West, and whose overthrow, in the end,
strengthened the hand of Iran in that area?).
How strange that we find a few predictable leftists embracing this war - the
nauseating French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, the handful of liberals
who should know better. Can any of them truly believe that if Libya had no
oil that NATO would have moved? Is there a single military expert who can
argue that the rebels would have achieved their success without Western
experts in their midst and NATO aircraft at their beck and call?
None of what I'm saying, in frustration and anger, is out of deference to
Gadaffi. It is based on the painful memory of other years. Of the
"respectable voices" who so eagerly embraced World War I as "the war to end
all war", "the war to make the world safe for democracy".
I hear cries for the "old regime's leaders" to be brought to trial. What a
mockery that would be, since a number of the leaders in the rebel camp were,
until a few weeks or months ago, part of Gadaffi's leadership. But let us
assume that Gadaffi is arrested and not killed (am I alone in feeling that
the repeated NATO air strikes which were clearly aimed
at his murder were, in and of themselves, a violation of international
law?), where does he go on the list of those to be tried. Before or after
Obama? Cameron? Sarkozy? Surely somewhere after George Bush, Donald
Rumsfeld, and the dozen architects of the Iraq war.
Why is the media not asking more clearly just who the rebels are? I do not
say this because I know in my heart of hearts who they are - I don't. They
may, one and all, be secular democrats. (Or even secular Republicans). But
considering that just a week or so ago the military commander of the rebels
was murdered by his own camp, am I alone in
wanting to have more information on who the rebels are?
Let me close with a single headline from the Business section of today's New
York Times: SCRAMBLE BEGINS FOR ACCESS TO LIBYA'S OIL.
(EdgeLeft is an occasional column by David McReynolds, former Chair of War
Resisters International, the Socialist Party's candidate for President in
1980 and 2000. He is retired and lives with two cats on Manhattan's Lower
East Side. He may be reached at: dmcreynolds at nyc.rr.com and the contents of
EdgeLeft can be found at: www.edgeleft.org)
Too Soon to Declare Victory
by Phyllis Bennis
The origins of the Libyan transition emerged very much in the context of the
Arab Spring - a popular uprising against a brutal dictatorship. But unlike
others in the neighborhood - Egypt and Tunisia especially, but also Bahrain,
and even Syria - Libyans quickly took up arms on a large scale to challenge
the regime's assault. That initial decision soon led to calls for a Western
no-fly zone, and quickly to the welcoming of direct US/NATO/Qatari military
intervention based on the UN resolution's "all necessary measures" language.
Despite the resolution's focus on protecting civilians, it was U.S.,
European, and NATO officials who made the actual decisions about the use of
force - and quickly the NATO planes soon began what one Al Jazeera reporter
described as "openly functioning as the air force of the opposition army."
Particularly in these last few days of fast-moving gains by the opposition,
air power played a disproportionately important role. That means that the
ability of opposition forces to move into Tripoli, take control of at least
parts of the capital so quickly, and potentially accede to power, was
dependent on NATO.
The circumstances are different from other recent overthrows of Arab
tyrants. The people visible overnight, celebrating in Tripoli's Green Square
(renamed Martyrs Square by the opposition) were overwhelmingly armed rebels,
largely coming into Tripoli from the mountains to the south. Unlike the
celebrations in Tahrir Square in Egypt and other similar venues, there were
virtually no women except for reporters. Many local residents had already
fled the city, most others remained indoors, as violence continued to flare
across Tripoli. Few were visible to greet the rebel forces as they entered
the city. This may have been the continuing uncertainty of conditions in the
city, but it also may reflect ambivalence or perhaps even stronger unease
about the opposition forces among Tripoli's population, which accounts for
about a third of Libya's people.
In Benghazi, the rebel capital in eastern Libya, Sunday's celebrations went
on all night. By mid-day Monday the head of Libya's Transitional National
Council, the rebel leadership already recognized by the United States and
numerous other countries as the rightful government of Libya, spoke at a
press conference, congratulating the people of Tripoli and in effect
claiming the expanding control by anti-Qaddafi forces as the achievement of
But the legitimacy of the TNC remains contested. It is a widely diverse,
self-selected group already facing significant and sometimes lethal division
within its ranks. It remains unclear how much popular support there was for
the TNC's decision to ask for foreign military intervention. Even now, as
Patrick Cockburn wrote in The Independent, the "Transitional National
Council (TNC) in Benghazi is now recognized by more than 30 foreign
governments, including the U.S. and Britain, as the government of Libya. But
it is by no means clear that it is recognized as such by the rebel
militiamen who are in the process of seizing the capital. The rebel fighters
in Misrata, who fought so long to defend their city, say privately that they
have no intention of obeying orders from the TNC." Certainly it is military
and security exigencies that have resulted in Tripoli not being represented
in the Council, but it also remains uncertain whether the TNC's leadership
is recognized in the capital or not. It remains too soon to say whether the
TNC will show itself willing to broaden out to embrace Libyans so far
The success of Libya's uprising will have a great deal to do with the
willingness of its leadership to break its dependency on the United States
and NATO. In what might or might not be a positive sign in that direction,
TNC officials have said they intend to call for United Nations assistance in
holding new elections within eight months of taking power. But more
immediately, if the United States and European countries turn over the
billions in frozen Libyan assets directly to the TNC, the question of the
breadth of its representation and its legitimacy become even more crucial.
Will the TNC, eager to claim the billions of oil money being held by
European and U.S. banks, demand that NATO and the United States pull back
and allow Libya to sort out its own problems and develop its own trajectory
for an independent future? During a Monday press conference, the president
of the TNC, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, thanked the international community as a
whole but singled out those countries that had been especially supportive of
the TNC; the implication was unmistakable that those countries, presumably
the United States, other NATO members, and Qatar (whose special forces had
trained the TNC's "Tripoli Brigade") could expect closer ties and privileged
access to Libyan resources in the future.
That, more than anything else, will determine whether a "new Libya" has a
chance of becoming a truly new, unified and sovereign Libya, or whether it
just moves from control by a small family-based autocracy to control by
outside Western forces more interested in maintaining privileged access to
Libya's oil and strategic location than in the human and national rights of
The Libyan uprising began as part of the Arab Spring, with an effort to
depose one more Arab dictator. Current developments are moving towards that
goal. But the complications of the Libyan Summer, and the consequences of
the militarization of its struggle, leave unanswered the question of whether
events so far are ultimately a victory for the Libyan people, or for NATO.
Given recent models of U.S. and NATO involvement in overthrowing
dictatorships, we don't have a lot of examples of how it can be both.
Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her books
include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer,
Understanding the U.S.-Iran Crisis: A Primer, and most recently Ending the
Iraq War: A Primer. If you want to receive her talking points and articles
on a regular basis, click here and choose "New Internationalism."
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