[Marxism] Democracy Now: A Look at Role of the U.S., NATO and Oil Firms in Libya Uprising

pat costello pat.costello412 at gmail.com
Tue Aug 23 20:19:45 MDT 2011

Are events in Libya more in the interest of the people of Libya or
more in the interest of NATO and the US?


AMY GOODMAN: As we go to broadcast, heavy fighting continues in parts
of Tripoli, the capital of Libya, where rebels are reportedly battling
with Muammar Gaddafi’s forces outside his heavily fortified compound.
Rebel leaders say they do not expect the huge complex to fall easily.
Sky News reports many casualties are arriving at a hospital in central
Tripoli following the intense fighting. It also says, "In parts of
Tripoli, there is reportedly no power, water supplies have been cut
and phone lines [are] down."

Reports by the Libyan Rebel Council that Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam,
had been captured yesterday were contradicted when he emerged amongst
supporters in front of the foreign journalists’ hotel in Tripoli late
on Monday. The International Criminal Court had claimed he had been in
the custody of anti-Gaddafi fighters for the past 24 hours. This is
Saif al-Islam speaking to reporters.

    SAIF AL-ISLAM: [translated] Firstly, I want to deny all the
rumors. NATO and the West have modern technology, and they have
blocked and jammed communications. They sent messages to the Libyan
people through the Libyan network, I think. They have stopped the
state TV broadcast. They created a media and electronic war to spread
chaos and fear in Libya. They have also smuggled saboteur gangs
through the sea and civilian cars into the city to create a mess.

    You have seen how the Libyan people rose up together, men and
women, to break the spine of the rebels, rats and gangs yesterday and
today. Now we will have a tour of the hot spots of the city of
Tripoli, so you can see that the situation is good and everything is
well. We want to reassure the world that the situation in Libya is
excellent, thank God. We will go now for a tour in Tripoli in the
areas where they claim there is fighting and battles.

    REPORTER: [translated] Are you afraid that you’ll be handed over
to the criminal court?

    SAIF AL-ISLAM: [translated] Screw the criminal court.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, speaking to
reporters, disproving reports he had been captured by rebel forces.
The rebels have also claimed two of Gaddafi’s other sons were detained
but have provided no evidence.

Meanwhile, more details are emerging on how the U.S. and NATO forces
played a key role in the Libyan rebel push into Tripoli. Between
August 10th and 22nd, the U.S. carried out 17 Predator drone strikes
since August 10th, and 38 air strikes. Overall, the U.S. have carried
out more than 1,200 air strikes and 101 Predator drone strikes in
Libya since April 1st.

Some prominent U.S. analysts are now calling for U.S. ground troops to
be sent into Libya to help stabilize the country. As we go to air, a
NATO press conference is underway. A spokesperson at NATO will
not—said there will not be troops on the ground. Colonel Roland
Lavoie, NATO spokesman, said, quote, "We will keep up pressure until
there are no more attacks on the civilian population." He added, "In
sum, our mission is not over yet."

To discuss these developments, we’re joined by Phyllis Bennis, a
fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She’s written a number of
books, including Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the
U.N. Defy U.S. Power.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Phyllis.


Your latest piece at AlterNet is called "Qaddafi’s Whereabouts
Unknown—But Is It Too Soon to Declare Victory in Libya?" Explain.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think that there’s been a rush to judgment, if you
will, that the fact that rebels from the Western Mountains were able
to enter Tripoli without too much fighting on the way and to occupy
parts of the city, that somehow that meant the fall of the regime. It
clearly does not. The fighting is continuing. The dying is continuing.
The one thing we knew was that taking Tripoli was going to lead to
significant civilian deaths, probably on all sides, as well as
military deaths on all sides. So I think that this is a very difficult
time in Libya.

And the role of NATO, the U.S., Qatar, the outside forces that have
been involved, both directly and indirectly, both funding and training
the Libyan opposition, and, on the part of the U.S. and other NATO
forces, acting as, as one reporter described it, the air force of the
opposition’s army, has reshaped the reality that began in the context
of the Arab Spring as an indigenous Libyan uprising against a 42-year
dictatorship. Now it’s very unclear whether what is happening is more
in the interests of the people of Libya or more in the interests of
NATO, the U.S. and other outside powers.

AMY GOODMAN: State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked
yesterday what NATO’s future in Libya will be.

    VICTORIA NULAND: My sense is that NATO obviously needs to maintain
its vigilance, as it has said, until the situation is stable and
peaceful and all of Libya is under the TNC and Libyan people’s
control, so that job continues. With regard to onward future mission
for NATO, I don’t think anybody is envisioning boots on the ground,
but I think we need to wait and see. NATO has a long tradition of
supporting the U.N., supporting the European Union, other
international organizations, in humanitarian relief, other things like
that. So, let’s just wait and see what’s needed.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.
Phyllis Bennis, your response?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think that the notion that NATO has to be wary and
has to watch is a misnomer. NATO is a player in the civil war in
Libya, and it is continuing its role as a major player. I think that
what we’re looking at—there are already boots on the ground, not in
large numbers. This is not like Iraq. We have to be careful. This is
not like Afghanistan. This is not a NATO occupation of Libya, although
there are some special forces and training and other things going on
on the ground, but not in large numbers. The large military role of
NATO, the U.S., Qatar, other countries, is in air power. And air power
has been absolutely decisive in recent days in what has made it
possible for the rebels to move so quickly into Tripoli.

I think that there—we have to look at the speech, for example, of the
Leader of the National Transitional Council, who spoke yesterday at a
very celebratory press conference, I think rather prematurely, in
which he thanked the international community as a whole for their
support but went on to specifically single out the countries that had
provided specific support to the TNC and to the opposition in Libya
and indicated very directly that they would be given—they would not be
forgotten. They would be given, presumably, special privileges in the
future, if the TNC, when the TNC, in his view, should take power. The
assumption I made was that his reference is to privileged access to
oil contracts, privileged access to perhaps bases, to the very
strategic location of Libya, that all of that would be made available
in a more privileged way to those countries that had played such a
direct role in this civil war.

I think that we are in a situation where the TNC has been recognized
now by the U.S., by most of the European countries, by 30 different
countries, as the legitimate representative of Libya, at a time when
it’s not clear how much legitimacy it has inside the country. Some of
the rebel fighters from Misurata, for instance, have been very
explicit. They told Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent
yesterday—they told him directly they do not believe that the TNC
represents them. Rebels coming into the mountain—down from the
mountains into Tripoli yesterday were reported to be rolling their
eyes when asked about the TNC. They don’t believe that it’s their
representative. The rebel forces inside Libya—inside Tripoli,
sorry—inside Tripoli have not been involved in the TNC, partly for
military reality reasons. The military situation has not allowed that.
But we also don’t know what their view is inside Tripoli.

What we saw last night, the footage of celebrations on the streets of
some parts of Tripoli, were celebrations by the armed rebels who had
entered the city coming down from the mountain. They were not the
civilian population welcoming in the rebels and celebrating with them
in the street. Some of that may have been fear. We know that many
civilians inside Tripoli are trying to leave. But the result is, you
have a situation where we don’t really know what the population of
Tripoli, which amounts to a third the population of the country, what
they think. We saw no women on the streets. There were no civilians,
no old people, no children celebrating. These were armed rebels with
their weapons, holding their weapons above their heads as they
celebrated entry into the capital. This is not yet the people of the
capital coming out to join them.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times says, "The fighting is not [yet] over
in Tripoli, but the scramble to secure access to Libya’s oil wealth
has [already] begun." Oil firms in Libya include BP of Britain, Total
of France, Repsol YPF of Spain, U.S. companies like Hess,
ConocoPhillips, Marathon. The significance of the oil politics in
Libya, Phyllis?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, I think the Times is a little bit late. I think
that access to oil contracts was very much a part—it wasn’t the only
part, but it was one part—of the reasons that this war went ahead. It
wasn’t directly a war for oil, in the sense that the U.S. and European
oil companies, all these international companies that you just
mentioned, already were in bed with the Gaddafi regime. They were
already giving—getting enormous access to Libyan oil. So it wasn’t
simply to get access. It was in recognition that there was a change

Again, the Libyan revolutionary process began in the context of the
Arab Spring as a whole. And in the early stages, it wasn’t at all
clear which side was going to win out. At a certain point, there was a
recognition that, as in many other countries, a dictatorship that has
little popularity among the population is not likely to survive for
long, and so you have these great powers from outside trying to
position themselves in a place where they could ensure future access
both to oil directly as well as control of things like refugee flows.
Many different rationales were involved, especially for Europeans. For
the U.S., one of the key rationales was, once European allies were
involved in—militarily involvement in Libya, there was an urging by
the U.S. to join that, so that they could keep the Europeans on board
in Afghanistan. So all of these features were at play.

Now, the question of making sure that in a future—in a future Libya
that is assumed, perhaps prematurely, but perhaps will be a
post-Gaddafi Libya, they want to position themselves in a way to get
continuing access to those oil contracts. It’s not about access to the
oil itself. That will be on a global market. It will be part of it.
It’s about control. It’s about controlling the terms of those
contracts. It’s about controlling amounts that are being pumped at
different times. It’s about controlling prices. It’s about controlling
that crucial resource.

AMY GOODMAN: Reporting from The Independent, the longtime Middle East
correspondent Robert Fisk wrote, "We have spent far too much time
honouring the courage of Libyan 'freedom fighters' as they scurried
across the desert floor, far too little time examining the nature of
the beast, the glutinous Transitional National Council whose supposed
leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has still been unable to explain if his
own chums connived in the murder of their own army commander last
month. Already, the West is offering lessons in democracy to New
Libya, indulgently telling its unelected leadership how to avoid the
chaos which we ourselves inflicted on the Iraqis when we [quote]
'liberated' them eight years ago. Who will get the backhanders in the
new regime—democratic or not—once it is in place?" he asks. Phyllis?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: He asks all the right questions. What I was saying
earlier, I think, is crucial about the lack of clear support for the
TNC from many different sectors in Libya, including important sectors
of the revolutionary forces themselves, the opposition forces, the
rebels, whatever we want to call them. The anti-Gaddafi forces are
themselves incredibly divided. And in that situation, the U.S. and its
allies have honed in on one sector of that opposition force, the TNC,
the Transitional National Council, and said, "We’re going to anoint
you the officials." And, of course, by doing so, they give them even
more power.

There’s now talk of releasing frozen Libyan assets that are in U.S.
and European banks, in the billions of dollars, billions of euros. And
if that money is immediately released and turned over to this
unrepresentative TNC, it’s going to empower them, disempower other
forces within the opposition movement, and set the stage for ongoing
and very serious chaos, which doesn’t necessarily mean it will look
like Iraq. It may or may not take an internal military form. But it’s
certainly not something that we can assume will not happen. This is
now a highly armed country. Everyone on all sides now is armed. And
with that kind of exacerbating features that happens when one faction
of a multi-faction movement is adopted by the West, given not only
credibility and credentials of the West, but given billions of dollars
to determine how to rebuild the country, in whose image, you’re
setting the stage for a very difficult, very contentious period,
assuming that a post-Gaddafi period is even in the works right now.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s the NATO news conference going on as we broadcast
this, and the spokesperson was asked, "What if NATO tracks Gaddafi
fleeing by satellite? Would they target him?" He said, "We do not
target individuals, and Gaddafi is not a target," from NATO. They did
say, however, "We do target command-and-control facilities. If he is
in one of those, those are legitimate targets, we will strike."

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think what they’re referring to is that if they know
where Gaddafi is, if he’s in a car, that car will become a
command-and-control center, and they will strike that car, knowing
who’s in it. I think there’s no question here that there would be that
kind of a strike. The notion that the goal would be to capture Gaddafi
and bring him to trial, bring him to justice in the International
Criminal Court in The Hague, would not be on the agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s also interesting, when asked if they know where he
is, they said, "If you know, let me know. We don’t have a clue. I’m
not sure it matters. He’s not a key player anymore."

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, that’s, on the one hand, a bit optimistic.
Certainly symbolically, Gaddafi remains a very key player. Whether
he’s actually calling the shots in how his forces are conducting the
fight inside Tripoli, we certainly don’t know, but he remains a
symbolic center. This was very much a one-man operation, expanded only
slightly to his family and close allies in Libya. It was a very
different situation in that way than, say, Saddam Hussein’s government
in Iraq, to which it’s sometimes compared.

Gaddafi did not create, in his revolutionary process, when he took
power in the '60s at the very young age of only 27—he did not create
an entirely new system of governing. It was—it was odd. It was
something he called "green socialism." But it was a system that was
denied the reality of acknowledging there was a system. There were no
real institutions. There was no parliament. There was no voting.
Representational democracy was considered inherently flawed. The idea
was everybody in the country could vote by raising their hands or
something. The result was, Gaddafi never had an official title other
than Brother Leader or Colonel sometimes. He wasn't officially the
president. There was no presidency. So, the institutions of governance
never really existed.

That’s one of the things that is such a challenge and is going to be
an even greater challenge in the future for the anti-Gaddafi forces,
the opposition forces that are struggling to take power now in Libya,
even aside from the problem they will face with the dominance of NATO
and other outside military forces. They are facing a situation where
you have a country of about six-and-a-half million people with no
national structures in place. In that situation, Gaddafi, as the
centerpiece, becomes crucially important as a symbol of the nation. He
becomes Libya. And so, his role is far from over, despite what NATO
may like to believe.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, we want to thank you for being with us,
fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. We will link to your
articles at democracynow.org. Among her books, Challenging Empire: How
People, Governments, and the U.N. Defy U.S. Power.

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