Sunday, 20 March 2011

No Flying Into Oblivion

The United Nations "No Fly Zone" has today seen rather a lot of flying by the planes and missiles of the western allies, unsurprisingly bombing Libyan Government airforce and radar installations, but more controversially bombing military columns to create a defensive cordon around the rebel held city of Benghazi and last night bombing the Government compound in Tripoli in spite of the hundreds of civilians camped around its walls. For those of us who supported, tentatively, a "No Fly Zone" when it was repeatedly called for by the rebels and after increasingly bloodthirsty threats from the regime, the instant escalation to significantly greater military involvement than a "no-fly-zone" raises grave concerns as to what the endgame is going to be. This is especially the case when the rebel faction has made clear it is not willing under any circumstances to consider a negotiated settlement, which rather suggests we might be there a very long time indeed. 

Armed intervention, unless you are a pacifist, needs always to be a very final option in a handful of cases. And yet, genuinely humanitarian interventions are few and far between. The Bosnian intervention came three years too late to save tens of thousands of innocent Bosniac civilians - 90% of them Muslims; and although the Kosovan intervention did undoubtedly prevent a repeat massacre, the wide range of targets hit in civilian areas hinted at darker motives than purely protecting civilians. By contrast, the wars more enthusiastically waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the secret war against Iran, have somewhat more questionable motives. Ones rooted in self-serving business interests and where humanitarian concerns, including democracy, are very far removed from the real priorities of securing profitable energy resources for our oil-addicted world.

What then of Libya? What is the motive here? Given that we gladly did business with Libya in spite of previous bloody massacres of sometimes hundreds of opponents, humanitarian concerns have not been the top of the West's agenda in this relationship for a very long time. So what is the real driver now?

Oil again seems obvious, except for the fact that Libya's dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi has pretty happily engaged with western oil companies since the great rapprochement of 2004. If anything, the oil industry would be perfectly happy for him to stay - any new regime, especially a democratic one, would be likely to disturb their modus vivendi in a country where oil extraction is about as cheap and profitable as anywhere in the world.

Our man in Tripoli
Former British Premier, Tony Blair, has come under criticism for his visit to Qaddafi back in 2004, when Libya was allowed to open up to international trade after years of sanctions. In recent weeks, Coalition politicians in Britain have been queuing up to denounce him; yet their wisdom is somewhat one of hindsight. Take a look back at their words at the time and, while some were hesitant, nearly all of them supported Blair's move:

"The potential prize of helping Libya in from the cold makes Mr Blair's risk worth taking,"- Menzies Campbell, Lib Dem Foreign spokesman, 2004

Conservative leader at the time, Michael Howard, condemned Blair's visit only because he felt it was at too high a level. He supported the overall process of re-engagement.

Infamously, current Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, worked for p.r. firm GJW during the 1990s, when it was hired by Qaddafi to improve the Libyan regime's image.

The truth is that Qaddafi is one side of the capitalist coin that governs our world. Many on the Left have been seduced for years by his eclectic and self-serving adoption of supposedly progressive causes. Yet all the  while, he has ruled with a brutal iron fist at home and cavorted at every chance with the oil companies and international businessmen who have made him personally a very rich man indeed.

What has happened is this - Qaddafi has not been strong enough to crush the revolt quickly enough; had he suppressed the rebels in a few days then, as Bahrain is doing now, no matter how savage his retribution, after 18 months of purdah, he would have been welcomed back to his corporate family. As it is, he has taken too long to reassert himself and so has outlived his usefulness - Capital abhors a vacuum and so he must go. Hence the intervention has quickly become far more than a No Fly Zone. With the Chavez Peace Initiative ignored by the West and any and all prospects of a negotiated settlement compehensively rejected by the Libyan rebels, the agenda is clearly now one of regime change.

Strange as it may seem, but at least for the last decade, Qaddafi has been the West's creature - perhaps more obviously an untamed Frankenstein than the royals in the Gulf that Cameron gently admonishes for their civilian massacres - but our creature nevertheless. Just last year Britain sold £200 millions of "crowd control" equipment to him and the SAS trained his elite guard on surveillance techniques, while the French provided him with a wide range of military support.

That is why the West has in truth been reluctant to do what it is doing - until now. Qaddafi and Big Oil have profited very nicely from their mutual dealings. How annoying that the Libyan people have spoiled and confused things so terribly by getting in the way of this most symbiotic of relationships. They deserve better than this bastard of a twin-headed hydra that has buried itself deep in their troubled land. Sadly, whatever the outcome, just as Iraq is slipping back into dictatorship and Afghans are governed by a western-sponsored kleptocracy, it seems unlikely that they will get it.

From 2009:

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