Socialist Worker

How the West moved to hijack Libya’s revolt

The West’s involvement in Libya has been presented as a successful example of "humanitarian intervention". Socialist Worker explains why that is not the case

Issue No. 2267

Did Nato launch airstrikes to stop a massacre?

Britain, France and the US sent their bombers to Libya because the Arab Spring threatens their domination of the Middle East and North Africa. They hope their military action will allow them to control future revolts, and divert attention away from the West’s bloody history in the region.

As rebellions toppled pro-Western dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, Western rulers switched their strategy away from defending tyrants that seemed likely to fall. Instead they sought to control the revolutions.

In Libya that meant making the revolt dependent on Nato air power.

Saving civilian lives does not motivate Western powers, which is why Nato planes are not dropping food and medicines for the millions who are starving in East Africa.

Unlike Iraq, this war was backed by the United Nations (UN). Doesn’t that make a difference?

The UN is a club for the world’s elite that does not represent the ordinary people of any nation. Western powers dominate its powerful Security Council.

Global superpowers, governments, and Middle East tyrants all fear popular rebellion. Just because they voted to make the war “legal” doesn’t mean that it is any less wrong than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Did Western bombing help the revolution win?

In the early phase of the Libyan revolt the military was splitting apart and refusing to carry out orders. When the rebellion hit an impasse, Nato stepped in claiming only it could defend rebel areas from attack by Gaddafi’s forces.

But from the very beginning of its intervention Nato went further and sought to smash the Libyan armed forces.

Nato attacks allowed Gaddafi to put on a cloak of anti-imperialism and claim that the revolt against him was a Western “crusade”.

Nato’s air war slowed down the disintegration of the armed forces as many soldiers felt it was their duty to protect Libya from foreign domination.

Caught in a stalemate, and in increasing need of outside support to make a breakthrough, the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) has bent itself to Western demands to honour trade and oil contracts.

As a result, the revolt was distorted.

Nato’s airpower may have helped destroy Gaddafi’s armed forces. But by allowing foreign powers and big energy companies to play this role the TNC has betrayed the struggle that so many rebels sacrificed their lives for.

Will toppling Gaddafi lead to more Western intervention?

Our leaders hope that their “success” in Libya will help shake off public anger at the disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq. They want the freedom to use their military muscle as they see fit—and that could mean more conflicts.

But the revolt in Libya is far from complete. If the country were to degenerate into fighting among rival tribes and rebels, few in the West would welcome fresh intervention elsewhere.

The ousting of Gaddafi could cause the West new problems if it inspires the Arab Spring to spread.

If that were to happen, Nato’s strategy of seeking to control the revolutions through military action could backfire.


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