For once a Tory has told the truth about Britain’s wars. Foreign office minister Mark Field admitted in parliament on Monday that Britain’s interventions in Libya have had “calamitous outcomes”.
He spoke as further rounds of killings swept that country.
At the beginning of the week the Libyan National Army under the command of Khalifa Haftar was advancing on the capital city of Tripoli. They were clashing with forces loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is backed by the United Nations.
The US reacted by withdrawing its troops stationed in Tripoli.
As the death toll rose and thousands of people were forced from their homes, British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke up. He said, “We’re seeking to maximise British influence, European influence.”
Libya has long been fought over by outside forces. Most recently a coalition of Western forces pummelled Libya and overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
American and British forces fired over 110 cruise missiles and this was followed up by French, British and Canadian air raids. Eventually Nato air forces flew 26,000 missions.
British prime minister David Cameron claimed it was for “humanitarian” reasons and to prevent slaughter of rebel forces. This lie was accepted by all the main media—and sections of the left.
The real reason was that, as a wave of revolutions swept the Middle East—including Libya—the big powers wanted to secure their interests in oil-rich nations.
They wanted to control more of Libya’s oil production, strengthen their influence in Africa, and improve their ability to launch further wars.
Western military intervention was initially a success in its own terms. Gaddafi was murdered and his regime destroyed. The US secretary of state at the time, Hillary Clinton, gloated, “We came, we saw, he died.”
But Gaddafi’s removal left a power vacuum that was filled by warring militias. The Libyan coast has since become the centre of a booming slavery industry.
So obvious was the failure that a parliamentary report in 2016 blamed Cameron for “political and economic collapse, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi-regime weapons across the region and the growth of [Isis] in North Africa.”
Just 13 MPs had voted against intervention in Libya, among them Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
The GNA was formed at the end of 2015, amid the usual platitudes from the Western powers about unity and peaceful development. But from the start it was unpopular and weak.
An alternative government was set up in the east of Libya. This too had little base and at one point was reduced to holding its governing assemblies on a car ferry.
Although the UN, the European Union, and the US nominally back the GNA, some Western powers—particularly France—have aided Haftar’s alternative government. This is largely because it is believed to control 80 percent of Libya’s oil production.
Haftar has also won backing from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. None of this chaos should make anyone nostalgic for Gaddafi’s dictatorship.
Before the revolutions of 2011 the myth was that only Western bombs and troops could bring down dictators. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt showed that to be false.
But those revolutions did not lead to liberation. Instead the process was killed and new repressive regimes installed.
This all happened with the support of the West.
Egypt’s butcher president, general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was welcomed to the White House by president Donald Trump this week.
Now once again the uprisings sweeping Algeria, Sudan and elsewhere are showing there is a potential alternative to both dictators and murderous imperialist intervention.
The hope is that this time they will not be captured by generals or frauds out to lift up a new section of the ruling class. Instead ordinary people must carry through the revolutions to the end.