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The West Marches East, Part 2: Georgia Starts a War, Russia Draws a Line
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at The Hampton Institute
19 June 2014
In Part 1 of this series – ‘The West Marches East’ – I examined the circumstance that while Russia has received the majority of the blame for the more than six-month-crisis in Ukraine, these events did not take place in a vacuum, and, in fact, the Western powers and institutions – notably the United States, NATO and the European Union – have broke promises made at the end of the Cold War to expand NATO – a Western military alliance that was created in opposition to the Soviet Union – to Russia’s borders. Simultaneously, the European Union has expanded eastwards, bringing Eastern and Central European countries within its orbit and in adherence to its economic orthodoxy. Further, many NATO powers had worked together to promote ‘colour revolutions’ across much of Eastern Europe over the previous decade or so, helping to overthrow pro-Russian leaders and replace them with pro-Western leaders.
After nearly a quarter-century of Western expansion – militarily, politically, economically – to Russia’s borders, Russia has had enough. But Ukraine was not the first instance in which Russia has been provoked by the West into a response that the West subsequently declared as an act of imperial “aggression.” In 2008, the small Caucasus nation and former Soviet republic of Georgia started a war with Russia, leading to Russia’s invasion of the tiny country, effectively ending nearly two decades of NATO and Western expansion. This report examines the 2008 war in Georgia and the roles played by Russia and the NATO powers.
Setting the Stage
As documented in part 1, Georgia was – in 2003 – subjected to a NATO sponsored ‘Colour Revolution’ which removed the previous leader and replaced him with a pro-Western (and Western-educated) politician, Mikeil Saakashvili. In December of 2003, Georgian defense officials met with the U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to discuss enhancing military cooperation between the two countries. The US had sent roughly 60 military trainers to Georgia in 2002, but the Georgians had been lobbying for a US military base in their country.
Instead, the Pentagon decided to ” privatize its military presence in Georgia” through a security contractor, Cubic, which signed a three-year $15 million contract with the Pentagon to support the Georgian ministry of defense. The team from Cubic would engage in training and equipping the Georgian military, as well as protection for the oil pipeline that was to take oil from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Turkey through Georgia. Western diplomats suggested that the country could become a “forward operations area” for the US military, “similar to support structures in the Gulf.” In return for the program, Georgia agreed to send 500 soldiers to Iraq.
As the BBC reported in 2006, Georgia was discarding its ties with Moscow and instead, leading “westwards – towards NATO, and perhaps eventually the European Union.” US military instructors were in the country “to drive that change,” training Georgian soldiers to manage checkpoints in US-occupied Iraq. Georgia was largely uneasy with Russia due to the fact that Moscow provided – since the early 1990s – moral and material support to the country’s two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A Georgian corporal deployed in Iraq was quoted in the New York Times in 2007 saying, “As soldiers here [in Iraq], we help the American soldiers… Then America as a country will help our country.” This reflected the implicit thinking within Georgia up until the 2008 war.
In early April of 2008, U.S. President George W. Bush said he “strongly supported” Ukraine and Georgia’s bids to join NATO, despite the enormous objections from Russia, which would then see NATO powers located directly on its borders. Bush made the comments following a NATO meeting, where France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg all opposed the U.S. position of fast-tracking Georgian and Ukrainian membership into NATO, seeing it as ” an unnecessary offense to Russia.” Shortly after Bush made his announcement, a former Russian armed forces chief of staff said that Russia would ” take military and other steps along its borders if ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia join NATO,” claiming that “such a move would pose a direct threat to its security and endanger the fragile balance of forces in Europe.”
Within Georgia and its separatist regions, which were home to Russian soldiers, tensions were increasingly flaring over the summer months of 2008. With both sides undertaking provocative measures, there was a growing awareness that war could break out. In July of 2008, following her visit to the Czech Republic where she signed an agreement to base part of a new U.S. missile defense system in the country, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Georgia to meet with the country’s leadership. At that time, U.S. military forces in the region had begun joint exercises with soldiers from Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. The exercises were taking place less than 100km from Russia’s border, with roughly 1,000 U.S. soldiers and an equal number of Georgian troops. As Rice arrived in Georgia, the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement accusing Georgia “of pushing the region towards war through actions openly supported by the United States.”
Then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev later explained that as tensions escalated into July of 2008, he was in contact with his Georgian counterparts. However, following Secretary Rice’s July 2008 visit to Georgia, he claimed, “my Georgian colleague simply dropped all communication with us. He simply stopped talking to us, he stopped writing letters and making phone calls. It was apparent that he had new plans now. And those plans were implemented later.”
Indeed, as the New York Times noted, when Rice went to Georgia, she had two different goals, one private, and one public. Privately, she reportedly told the Georgians “not to get into a military conflict with Russia that Georgia could not win.” However, in public, standing alongside the Georgian president, Rice spoke defiantly against Russia and in support of Georgia and its “territorial integrity” in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Standing next to the president, Rice declared that Russia “needs to be a part of resolving the problem… and not contributing to it.” The NYT claimed that these public statements of support for Georgia – and antagonism toward Russia – not to mention the fact that the US was engaging in large-scale military exercises with Georgians, expanding military installations all across Eastern Europe and providing Georgia with military advisers, had the combined effect of sending the small country “mixed messages ” about U.S. support for a war with Russia.
No doubt contributing to these ‘mixed messages’ was when – at the very same news conference with President Saakashvili – Rice was asked a question about a potential conflict with Iran, to which she replied that, “We will defend our interests and defend our allies… We take very, very strongly our obligations to defend our allies and no one should be confused of that.” Apparently, Georgia was a little confused.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and Georgia declared independence, the two regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia gained de facto independence in the early 1990s following conflict between the breakaway regions and the central state. Following this brief period of fighting, tensions were largely reduced, though Russian ‘peacekeepers’ were on the ground monitoring the fragile balance. That balance was upset when Saakashvili became president in 2004, making one of his pledges “national unification.” By 2008, when tensions were reaching a breaking point, there were over 2,000 American civilians in Georgia, according to the Pentagon, with over 130 U.S. military trainers and 30 Defense Department civilians.
Another facet to the increased tensions was the fact that Georgia was an important conduit for a major pipeline, bringing oil from Baku in Azerbaijan through Georgia and to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. When the pipeline was completed in 2006, it was the second-longest pipeline in the world, and its construction and use was specifically designed to “bypass Russia, denying Moscow leverage over a key resource and a potential source of pressure.” As Jonathan Steele wrote in the Guardian, the resulting war was about more than pipeline politics, however, as it represented “an attempt, sponsored largely by the United States but eagerly subscribed to by several of its new ex-Soviet allies, to reduce every aspect of Russian influence throughout the region, whether it be economic, political, diplomatic or military.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was built by a consortium of major Western energy corporations, and was “the first pipeline on former Soviet territory that bypasse[d] Russia,” which “was strongly backed by the US as a way of loosening Moscow’s grip on the Caspian’s oil wealth.”
When War Broke Out
On August 7, 2008, war broke out. Georgia claimed that it was responding to an attack on the country by separatists in South Ossetia and Russian aggressors. However, independent military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who were deployed in the region refuted the Georgian government’s claim, and instead reported that, “Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist [South Ossetian] capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.” While Georgian President Saakashvili presented the Georgian military actions as “defensive,” in response to separatist and Russian shelling of Georgian villages, the OSCE monitors were unable to confirm that such villages had been attacked, with no shelling heard in the villages prior to the Georgian bombardment of Tskhinvali. Two senior Western military officials who were stationed in Georgia, working with the Georgian military, told theNew York Times that, “whatever Russia’s behaviour or intentions for the enclave, once Georgia’s artillery or rockets struck Russian positions, conflict with Russia was all but inevitable.”
A year after the war, an EU-commissioned report which took nine months to compile concluded that despite much of the blame at the time of – and since – the war being directed at ‘Russian aggression,’ the conflict began “with a massive Georgian artillery attack.” The “damning indictment” of Georgia, however, blamed both Georgia and Russia for committing war crimes during the conflict, and noted that the conflict resulted from months and years of growing conflict. However, the report flatly stated: ” There was no ongoing armed attack by Russia before the start of the Georgian operation… Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive could not be substantiated… It could also not be verified that Russia was on the verge of such a major attack.” However, Vladimir Putin stated in 2012 that Russia had drawn up plans to counter a Georgian attack as far back as 2006 and 2007, when he was president. Still, while the Russians were clearly aware – and preparing – for a war, it was ultimately Georgia that fired the first shots.
Months before the war broke out, according to documents and interviews obtained by the Financial Times, senior U.S. military officials and U.S. military contractors were inside Georgia training special forces commandos. The two contractors, MPRI and American Systems, both of which are based in Virginia, were responsible for training the Georgian special forces as part of a program run by the Pentagon. The Pentagon had previously hired MPRI to train the Croatian military in 1995, just prior to the Croatian military’s invasion of the ethnically-Serbian region of Krajina, “which led to the displacement of 200,000 refugees and was one of the worst incidents of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan wars.” MPRI, of course – in both cases – denied “any wrongdoing.” The first phase of the training in Georgia took place between January and April of 2008, and the second phase was due to begin on August 11, with the trainers arriving in Georgia on August 3, four days before the war broke out.
Just prior to the outbreak of war, as U.S. diplomatic cables showed, the U.S. Embassy in Georgia knew and reported about the fact that Georgian forces were concentrating their forces near South Ossetia, “either as part of a show of force or readiness, or both.” The U.S. ambassador reportedly told Georgian officials “to remain calm, not overreact, and to de-escalate the situation.” As the diplomatic cables from Georgia revealed, unlike in neighboring countries, U.S. diplomats in Georgia “relied heavily on the Saakashvili government’s accounts of its own behavior” and embraced the “Georgian versions of important and disputed events.” Whereas in other regional countries, U.S. diplomats would report to Washington on their “private misgivings” about their host countries’ claims, in Georgia, the Saakashvili government’s “versions of events were passed to Washington largely unchallenged.”
The five-day war between Russia and Georgia lasted from August 7 – 12, leading to a decisive Russian victory and a humiliating defeat for the US-puppet regime in Georgia. Months of ‘mixed messages’ and indecision and divisions within the Bush administration directly led to the conflict, inflaming internal confrontations within the Bush administration itself. A New York Times article tells this brief story based upon interviews with diplomats and senior officials in the US, EU, Russia and Georgia. Five months before Georgia started the war – in March of 2008 – President Saakashvili had gone to Washington to lobby for NATO membership at Congress, the State Department and the Pentagon. Bush promised the Georgian president ” to push hard for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO.”
In early April, President Bush flew to the Russian resort city of Sochi where he met with President Putin. Putin delivered Bush a message: “the push to offer Ukraine and Georgia NATO membership was crossing Russia’s ‘red lines’.” The United States, however, clearly underestimated Russia and Putin’s determination to adhere to those ‘red lines’. Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney saw Georgia as a “model” for the administration’s “democracy promotion campaign,” and continued to push for selling Georgia more arms and military equipment “so that it could defend itself against possible Russian aggression.” Opposing Cheney were Secretary of State Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns, who were arguing that ” such a sale would provoke Russia, which would see it as arrogant meddling in its turf.”
While the official line of the Bush administration after the war broke out was to blame Russia, quietly and internally, top U.S. officials noted that Georgia was largely to blame, and that U.S. officials had contributed to that process by sending confused messages. Indeed, as some administration officials reported, the Georgian military had created a “concept of operations” plan for a military operation in South Ossetia which “called for its army units to sweep across the region and rapidly establish such firm control that a Russian response could be pre-empted.” As early as January of 2008, Georgia’s Ministry of Defense laid out plans in a “strategic defense review” which “set out goals for the Georgian armed forces and refers specifically to the threat of conflict in the separatist regions.” U.S. officials had reportedly warned the Georgians that, ” the plan had little chance of success.”
Indeed, as the war was under way, debates were raging within the Bush administration regarding the possible US response. In particular, tensions started to erupt between Bush and Cheney, as Cheney’s office felt that when Bush had previously met Putin in April, his silent response to Putin’s warning “inadvertently gave Russia the all-clear to attack.” There was discussion within the administration (from Cheney’s side of the debate) of launching air strikes to halt the Russian invasion. After four days of talks with the National Security Council (NSC), George Bush “cut off the discussion,” siding with his somewhat more rational advisers, as there was “a clear sense around the table that any military steps could lead to a confrontation with Moscow.”
Putin had also spoken with Georgian president Saakashvili in February of 2008, where he warned the Georgian president: “You think you can trust the Americans, and they will rush to assist you?” Putin then reportedly claimed that, ” Nobody can be trusted! Except me.” Interestingly, in this respect, Putin happened to be correct.
European governments were not big fans of Saakashvili, either, seeing him as “an American-backed hothead who spelled trouble.” During the five-day war, French President Nicolas Sarkozy shuttled between Russia and Georgia attempting to negotiate a ceasefire. Sarkozy reportedly told the Georgians: “Where is Bush? Where are the Americans?… They are not coming to save you. No Europeans are coming, either. You are alone. If you don’t sign [the ceasefire], the Russian tanks will be here soon.”
The day after the war began, the Russians called an emergency session at the United Nations to find a resolution to the conflict. The Russian’s proposed a short, three-paragraph draft resolution calling on all parties to “renounce the use of force.” This phrase ran into opposition from the United States, France and Britain, who claimed the phrase was “unbalanced” because it “would have undermined Georgia’s ability to defend itself.” The US, British and French opposition to “renounce the use of force” led to a collapse of diplomatic attempts at the UN to end the fighting, according to the New York Times. When the French President eventually negotiated a ceasefire on August 12, at least one senior U.S. official (presumably Cheney) was reportedly ” appalled” by the ceasefire text.
Erosi Kitsmarishvili, a former Georgian diplomat and ambassador to Moscow (and confidante of President Saakashvili) caused controversy within Georgia when he testified at a parliamentary hearing in Georgia in November of 2008 that Georgian officials were responsible for starting the war. He said that he was told by Georgian officials in April of 2008 that they had “planned to start a war in Abkhazia,” saying that they “had received a green light from the United States government to do so.” However, he added, the officials later decided to start the war in South Ossetia instead, believing that ” United States officials had given their approval.” He discussed the July 2008 meeting between Georgian officials and Secretary of State Rice, saying, “Some people who attended the meeting between Condoleezza Rice and Saakashvili were saying that Condoleezza Rice gave them the green light for military action,” though U.S. and Georgian officials “categorically denied this information.”
When the war broke out, the United States military airlifted Georgian troops from Iraq back to Georgia to participate in the fighting against Russia. In the Pentagon, a 28-year-old junior staffer, Mark Simakovsky, “almost overnight… became a key policy adviser” to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other top administration officials. Serving as the Pentagon’s country director for Georgia, he “used his expert knowledge and contacts throughout the government and in Georgia to quickly gather information about developments on the ground.” He was pivotal in shaping the Pentagon’s response to the crisis, including the coordination of airlifting 2,000 Georgian soldiers from Iraq back to Georgia.
Within a week of the Georgian war ending on August 12, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared that the United States “would not push for Georgia to be allowed into NATO” during an upcoming emergency meeting of the NATO countries in Brussels, in what the New York Times reported as, “a tacit admission that America and its European allies lack the stomach for a military fight with Russia.”
However, NATO foreign ministers were expected to reaffirm that they would eventually like to see both Georgia and Ukraine join NATO, but not to fast-track the process through the Membership Action Plan (MAP), for which Georgia and the US had previously been lobbying. In November of 2008, Rice affirmed that the US was no longer attempting to fast-track Georgian and Ukrainian membership into NATO, largely due to opposition from France and Germany . In 2011, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev stated that if Russia hadn’t invaded Georgia in 2008, NATO would have expanded already to include Georgia as a member.
In late August, Russian commanders were reportedly “growing alarmed at the number of NATO warships sailing into the Black Sea.” The U.S. said it was delivering “humanitarian aid on military transport planes and ships,” though the Russians suspected that the Pentagon was shipping in weapons and military equipment “under the guise” of humanitarian assistance.
Weeks following Georgia’s defeat, officials at the White House, Pentagon and State Department were “examining what would be required to rebuild Georgia’s military.” The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, stated during a news conference that Georgia was ” a very important country to us” and that the U.S. would continue to pursue a “military-to-military relationship.” Both Democrats and Republicans proclaimed their unyielding support for Georgia, as both the John McCain and Barack Obama presidential campaigns had “cultivated close ties” to President Saakashvili. John McCain’s wife and Senator Joe Biden (who would become Obama’s Vice President) had gone to visit Georgia in August of 2008, just following the end of the war.
In early September, President Bush promised $1 billion in ” humanitarian and economic assistance” to help rebuild the country following the war, making Georgia one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, after Israel, Egypt and Iraq. Comparatively, in the previous 17 years, the United States had provided a total of $1.8 billion in aid to the country. The European Union also pledged to contribute funds to Georgia, as did the International Monetary Fund (IMF), declaring its intention to provide the country with a $750 million loan.
In September of 2008, Vice President Dick Cheney flew to Georgia “to deliver a forceful American pledge to rebuild Georgia and its economy, to preserve its sovereignty and its territory and to bring it into the NATO alliance in defiance of Russia.” Cheney, who arrived in Georgia a day after the U.S. announced a $1 billion rescue package to help the country, then flew to Ukraine to deliver a similar message. Russia, meanwhile, was entrenching its control over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, recognizing their independence from Georgia and keeping military units stationed within them.
Cheney’s visit, which began in Azerbaijan, then to Georgia and Ukraine, was orchestrated to confirm that the U.S. had “a deep and abiding interest” in the region, and notably in terms of ensuring that these and neighboring countries remained “free from a new era of Russian domination.” Cheney was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Azerbaijan since it gained independence in 1991. Underscoring the importance of the BP-led pipeline transporting oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey, Cheney’s first meetings in Azerbaijan were not with political officials, but with representatives from BP and Chevron.
In the last weeks of the Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice and the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs signed the U.S.-Georgian Charter on Strategic Partnership. This was followed up by the Obama administration, holding the first meeting of the Strategic Partnership Commission meeting in Washington on June 22, 2009, marking the launch of four bilateral working groups on “democracy, defense and security, economic, trade and energy issues, and people-to-people cultural exchanges.” The Strategic Partnership reflected U.S. commitment “to deepening Georgia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions and enhancing security cooperation,” including eventual membership into NATO.
The Obama administration sent Vice President Joe Biden to Georgia in July of 2009, with Saakashvili lobbying for the U.S. to sell the country weapons, which Russia strongly opposed, considering the rearmament of Georgia to be ” more serious than whether Georgia enters NATO.”
In 2010, Georgia began a “serious push” to lobby the U.S. for “defensive weapons,” notably air defense and anti-tank systems. To help achieve this objective, Georgia spent roughly $1.5 million at four top Washington, D.C. lobbying firms over the course of the year. Meanwhile, Russia had been “intimidating” many of Georgia’s past arms suppliers, including Israel and other Eastern European nations, not to resume arms sales to the country.
In 2010, the United States also resumed its military training exercises in Georgia, which have continued in recent years, much to Russia’s displeasure. However, Saakashvili lost the 2012 elections and was replaced with a billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who had made his fortune in Russia, leading to slightly improved relations with Putin. In 2013, Russia accused the U.S. of ” putting peace at risk” by holding joint military exercises in Georgia.
Bidzina Ivanishvili was the Georgian Prime Minister from 2012 to 2013, during which time Saakashvili was still president. As the Economist reported in October of 2013, weeks before the Georgian presidential elections to replace him, Saakashvili, who came to power through the U.S.-sponsored ‘Rose Revolution’ in 2003, had, in the following decade, “fought and lost a war with Russia, cracked down on the opposition, dominated the media, interfered with justice and monopolized power .” No wonder Cheney saw him as an ideal representation of America’s “democracy promotion” project.
The billionaire oligarch prime minister, Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man, had put his weight behind a presidential candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, who subsequently won the October 2013 elections. Under reforms implemented by Saakashvili, the role of president would become “largely ceremonial, with the bulk of power resting with the prime minister.” Ivanishvili proclaimed his intention to turn Georgia into a ” perfect European democracy.”
In May of 2014, months into the Ukrainian conflict, NATO announced its intentions to find ways of bringing Georgia ” even closer” to the military alliance. Just days earlier, both France and Germany “assured Georgia that a deal bringing it closer to the European Union would be sealed soon.”
Georgian officials were holding “extensive discussions” with US and German and other NATO members seeking ways to accelerate the country’s membership into NATO. Whereas previously, the US and NATO powers had decided to put Georgia’s NATO membership on the backburner, the conflict in Ukraine had changed the situation. Georgia’s Defense Minister stated: “Clearly, what’s happening in Ukraine impacts the thinking in Europe… Now it’s very different.” The Defense Minister went to Washington in May 2014 to visit with Vice President Biden and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
And so, in the more than ten years since Georgia’s U.S. and NATO-supported colour revolution, the West – particularly the United States – have increased Georgia’s military capabilities, armed and trained its forces, all the while aggravating Russia as NATO and Western military, political and economic influence spread ever-closer to its borders. This ultimately resulted in a war. Though, since then – and with the recent conflict in Ukraine – it is clear that rearming Georgia and further aggravating Russia is back on the agenda.
The hypocrisy and imperious expansionism of the West in Georgia is but a minor reflection of a similar process which has been taking place across much of Eastern Europe, and most especially in Ukraine. Thus, despite the never-ending proclamations of “Russian aggression,” it is once again the Western powers, NATO, the EU, the IMF and especially the United States that are the most to blame for the current conflict in Ukraine.
The 2008 war in Georgia had seemingly put an end – or a halt – on NATO’s eastward expansion. Russia had – after 18 years of NATO expansion – finally drawn a line in the sand over how much it was willing to put up with. It was clear, then, that a similar process with Ukraine, a much larger and more strategically significant country than Georgia, was sure to incur a military response from Russia. If anything, the only surprise is that Russia’s military response has been so minimal, comparatively speaking; at least, for the time being. But as this process continues in response to Ukraine’s crisis, and as NATO and the U.S. military, the EU and the IMF accelerate their advance eastward, future conflict is seemingly all but inevitable.
No doubt, when that conflict comes, we will once again hear the amnesic proclamations of “Russian aggression” and Western benevolence.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
The West Marches East, Part 1: The U.S.-NATO Strategy to Isolate Russia
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
17 April 2014
Originally posted at The Hampton Institute
In early March of 2014, following Russia’s invasion of Crimea in Ukraine, the New York Times editorial board declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “stepped far outside the bounds of civilized behavior,” suggesting that Russia should be isolated politically and economically in the face of “continued aggression.”
John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, lashed out at Russia’s ” incredible act of aggression,” stating that: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on [a] completely trumped up pre-text.” Indeed, invading foreign nations on “trumped up pre-texts” is something only the United States and its allies are allowed to do, not Russia! What audacity!
Even Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, proclaimed Russia’s actions in Ukraine to be “aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic ,” threatening “the peace and stability of the world.” This is, of course, despite the fact that Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea took place without a single shot fired, and “faced no real opposition and has been greeted with joy by many citizens in the only region of Ukraine with a clear majority of ethnic Russians.”
Indeed, Russia can only be said to be an “aggressive” and “imperial” power so long as one accepts the unrelenting hypocrisy of U.S. and Western leaders. After all, it was not Russia that invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, killing millions. It is not Putin, but rather Barack Obama, who has waged a “global terror campaign,” compiling “kill lists” and using flying killer robots to bomb countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and even the Philippines, killing thousands of people around the world. It is not Putin, but rather, Barack Obama, who has been sending highly-trained killers into over 100 countries around the world at any given time, waging a “secret war” in most of the world’s nations. It was not Russia, but rather the United States, that has supported the creation of “death squads” in Iraq, contributing to the mass violence, civil war and genocide that resulted; or that has been destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation, increasing the possibility of nuclear war.
All of these actions are considered to be a part of America’s strategy to secure ‘stability,’ to promote ‘peace’ and ‘democracy.’ It’s Russia that threatens “the peace and stability of the world,” not America or its NATO and Western allies. That is, of course, if you believe the verbal excretions from Western political leaders. The reality is that the West, with the United States as the uncontested global superpower, engages the rest of the world on the basis of ‘Mafia Principles’ of international relations: the United States is the global ‘Godfather’ of the Mafia crime family of Western industrial nations (the NATO powers). Countries like Russia and China are reasonably-sized crime families in their own right, but largely dependent upon the Godfather, with whom they both cooperate and compete for influence.
When the Mafia – and the Godfather – are disobeyed, whether by small nations (such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, et. al.), or by larger gangster states like China or Russia, the Godfather will seek to punish them. Disobedience cannot be tolerated. If a small country can defy the Godfather, then any country can. If a larger gangster state like Russia can defy the Godfather and get away with it, they might continue to challenge the authority of the Godfather.
For the U.S. and its NATO-capo Mafia allies, Ukraine and Russia have presented a complex challenge: how does one punish Russia and control Ukraine without pushing Russia too far outside the influence of the Mafia, itself? In other words, the West seeks to punish Russia for its “defiance” and “aggression,” but, if the West pushes too hard, it might find a Russia that pushes back even harder. That is, after all, how we got into this situation in the first place.
A little historical context helps elucidate the current clash of gangster states. Put aside the rhetoric of “democracy” and let’s deal with reality.
The Cold War Legacy
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991 witnessed the emergence of what was termed by President George H.W. Bush a ‘new world order’ in which the United States reigned as the world’s sole superpower, proclaiming ‘victory’ over the Soviet Union and ‘Communism': the age of ‘free markets’ and ‘democracy’ was at hand.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 prompted the negotiated withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Eastern Europe. The ‘old order’ of Europe was at an end, and a new one “needed to be established quickly,” noted Mary Elise Sarotte in the New York Times. This ‘new order’ was to begin with “the rapid reunification of Germany.” Negotiations took place in 1990 between Soviet president Gorbachev, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and President Bush’s Secretary of State, James A. Baker 3rd. The negotiations sought to have the Soviets remove their 380,000 troops from East Germany. In return, both James Baker and Helmut Kohl promised Gorbachev that the Western military alliance of NATO would not expand eastwards. West Germany’s foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, promised Gorbachev that, ” NATO will not expand itself to the East.” Gorbachev agreed, though asked – and did not receive – the promise in writing, remaining a “gentlemen’s agreement.”
The U.S. Ambassador to the USSR from 1987 to 1991, John F. Matlock Jr., later noted that the end of the Cold War was not ‘won’ by the West, but was brought about “by negotiation to the advantage of both sides.” Yet, he noted, “the United States insisted on treating Russia as the loser .” The United States almost immediately violated the agreement established in 1990, and NATO began moving eastwards, much to the dismay of the Russians. The new Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, warned that NATO’s expansion to the East threatened a ‘cold peace’ and was a violation of the ” spirit of conversations ” that took place in February of 1990 between Soviet, West German and American leaders.
In 1990, President Bush’s National Security Strategy for the United States acknowledged that, “even as East-West tensions diminish, American strategic concerns remain,” noting that previous U.S. military interventions which were justified as a response to Soviet ‘threats’, were – in actuality – “in response to threats to U.S. interests that could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door,” and that, “the necessity to defend our interests will continue.” In other words, decades of justifications for war by the United States – blaming ‘Soviet imperialism’ and ‘Communism’ – were lies, and now that the Soviet Union no longer existed as a threat, American imperialism will still have to continue.
Former National Security Adviser – and arch-imperial strategist – Zbigniew Brzezinski noted in 1992 that the Cold War strategy of the United States in advocating “liberation” against the USSR and Communism (thus justifying military interventions all over the world), ” was a strategic sham, designed to a significant degree for domestic political reasons… the policy was basically rhetorical, at most tactical.”
The Pentagon drafted a strategy in 1992 for the United States to manage the post-Cold War world, where the primary mission of the U.S. was “to ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territories of the former Soviet Union.” As the New York Times noted, the document – largely drafted by Pentagon officials Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney – “makes the case fora world dominated by one superpower whose position can be perpetuated by constructive behavior and sufficient military might to deter any nation or group of nations from challenging American primacy.”
This strategy was further enshrined with the Clinton administration, whose National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, articulated the ‘Clinton doctrine’ in 1993 when he stated that: “The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement – enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies,” which “must combine our broad goals of fostering democracy and marketswith our more traditional geostrategic interests.”
Under Bill Clinton’s imperial presidency, the United States and NATO went to war against Serbia, ultimately tore Yugoslavia to pieces (itself representative of a ‘third way’ of organizing society, different than both the West and the USSR), and NATO commenced its Eastward expansion . In the late 1990s, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic entered the NATO alliance, and in 2004, seven former Soviet republics joined the alliance.
In 1991, roughly 80% of Russians had a ‘favorable’ view of the United States; by 1999, roughly 80% had an unfavorable view of America. Vladimir Putin, who was elected in 2000, initially followed a pro-Western strategy for Russia, supporting NATO’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, receiving only praise from President George W. Bush, who then proceeded to expand NATO further east .
The Color Revolutions
Throughout the 2000s, the United States and other NATO powers, allied with billionaires like George Soros and his foundations scattered throughout the world, worked together to fund and organize opposition groups in multiple countries across Eastern and Central Europe, promoting ‘democratic regime change’ which would ultimately bring to power more pro-Western leaders. It began in 2000 in Serbia with the removal of Slobodan Milosevic.
The United States had undertaken a $41 million “democracy-building campaign” in Serbia to remove Milosevic from power, which included funding polls, training thousands of opposition activists, which the Washington Post referred to as “the first poll-driven, focus group-tested revolution,” which was “a carefully researched strategy put together by Serbian democracy activists with the active assistance of Western advisers and pollsters.” Utilizing U.S.-government funded organizations aligned with major political parties, like the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) channeled money, assistance and training to activists (Michael Dobbs, Washington Post, 11 December 2000).
Mark Almond wrote in the Guardian in 2004 that, “throughout the 1980s, in the build-up to 1989’s velvet revolutions, a small army of volunteers – and, let’s be frank, spies – co-operated to promote what became People Power.” This was represented by “a network of interlocking foundations and charities [which] mushroomed to organize the logistics of transferring millions of dollars to dissidents.” The money itself ” came overwhelmingly from NATO states and covert allies such as ‘neutral’ Sweden,” as well as through the billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. Almond noted that these “modern market revolutionaries” would bring people into office “with the power to privatize.” Activists and populations are mobilized with “a multimedia vision of Euro-Atlantic prosperity by Western-funded ‘independent’ media to get them on the streets.” After successful Western-backed ‘revolutions’ comes the usual economic ‘shock therapy’ which brings with it “mass unemployment, rampant insider dealing, growth of organized crime, prostitution and soaring death rates.” Ah, democracy!
Following Serbia in 2000, the activists, Western ‘aid agencies’, foundations and funders moved their resources to the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where in 2003, the ‘Rose Revolution’ replaced the president with a more pro-Western (and Western-educated) leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, a protégé of George Soros, who played a significant role in funding so-called ‘pro-democracy’ groups in Georgia that the country has often been referred to as ‘Sorosistan’. In 2004, Ukraine became the next target of Western-backed ‘democratic’ regime change in what became known as the ‘Orange Revolution’. Russia viewed these ‘color revolutions’ as “U.S.-sponsored plots using local dupes to overthrow governments unfriendly to Washington and install American vassals.”
Mark MacKinnon, who was the Globe and Mail‘s Moscow bureau chief between 2002 and 2005, covered these Western-funded protests and has since written extensively on the subject of the ‘color revolutions.’ Reviewing a book of his on the subject, the Montreal Gazette noted that these so-called revolutions were not “spontaneous popular uprisings, but in fact were planned and financed either directly by American diplomats or through a collection of NGOs acting as fronts for the United States government,” and that while there was a great deal of dissatisfaction with the ruling, corrupt elites in each country, the ‘democratic opposition’ within these countries received their “marching orders and cash from American and European officials, whose intentions often had to do more with securing access to energy resources and pipeline routes than genuine interest in democracy.”
The ‘Orange Revolution’ in Ukraine in 2004 was – as Ian Traynor wrote in the Guardian – ” an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing,” with funding and organizing from the U.S. government, “deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-governmental organizations.”
In Ukraine, the contested elections which spurred the ‘Orange Revolution’ saw accusations of election fraud leveled against Viktor Yanukovich by his main opponent, Viktor Yuschenko. Despite claims of upholding democracy, Yuschenko had ties to the previous regime, having served as Prime Minister in the government of Leonid Kuchma, and with that, had close ties to the oligarchs who led and profited from the mass privatizations of the post-Soviet era. Yuschenko, however, “got the western nod, and floods of money poured into groups which support[ed] him.” As Jonathan Steele noted in the Guardian, “Ukraine has been turned into a geostrategic matter not by Moscow but by the US, which refuses to abandon its cold war policy of encircling Russia and seeking to pull every former Soviet republic to its side.”
As Mark McKinnon wrote in the Globe and Mail some years later, the uprisings in both Georgia and Ukraine “had many things in common, among them the fall of autocrats who ran semi-independent governments that deferred to Moscow when the chips were down,” as well as being “spurred by organizations that received funding from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy,” reflecting a view held by Western governments that “promoting democracy” in places like the Middle East and Eastern Europe was in fact “a code word for supporting pro-Western politicians .” These Western-sponsored uprisings erupted alongside the ever-expanding march of NATO to Russia’s borders.
The following year – in 2005 – the Western-supported ‘colour revolutions’ hit the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan in what was known as the ‘Tulip Revolution’. Once again, contested elections saw the mobilization of Western-backed civil society groups, “independent” media, and NGOs – drawing in the usual funding sources of the National Endowment for Democracy, the NDI, IRI, Freedom House, and George Soros, among others. The New York Times reported that the “democratically inspired revolution” western governments were praising began to look ” more like a garden-variety coup .” Efforts not only by the U.S., but also Britain, Norway and the Netherlands were pivotal in preparing the way for the 2005 uprising in Kyrgyzstan. The then-President of Kyrgyzstan blamed the West for the unrest experienced in his country.
The U.S. NGOs that sponsored the ‘color revolutions’ were run by former top government and national security officials, including Freedom House, which was chaired by former CIA Director James Woolsey, and other “pro-democracy” groups funding these revolts were led by figures such as Senator John McCain or Bill Clinton’s former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, who had articulated the national security strategy of the Clinton administration as being one of “enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies.” These organizations effectively act as an extension of the U.S. government apparatus, advancing U.S. imperial interests under the veneer of “pro-democracy” work and institutionalized in purportedly “non”-governmental groups.
By 2010, however, most of the gains of the ‘color revolutions’ that spread across Eastern Europe and Central Asia had taken several steps back. While the “political center of gravity was tilting towards the West,” noted Time Magazine in April of 2010, “now that tend has reversed,” with the pro-Western leadership of both Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan both having once again been replaced with leaders ” far friendlier to Russia.” The “good guys” that the West supported in these countries, “proved to be as power hungry and greedy as their predecessors, disregarding democratic principles… in order to cling to power, and exploiting American diplomatic and economic support as part of [an] effort to contain domestic and outside threats and win financial assistance.” Typical behavior for vassal states to any empire.
The ‘Enlargement’ of the European Union: An Empire of Economics
The process of European integration and growth of the European Union has – over the past three decades – been largely driven by powerful European corporate and financial interests, notably by the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), an influential group of roughly 50 of Europe’s top CEOs who lobby and work directly with Europe’s political elites to design the goals and methods of European integration and enlargement of the EU, advancing the EU to promote and institutionalize neoliberal economic reforms: austerity, privatizations, liberalization of markets and the destruction of labour power.
The enlargement of the European Union into Eastern Europe reflected a process of Eastern European nations having to implement neoliberal reforms in order to join the EU, including mass privatizations, deregulation, liberalization of markets and harsh austerity measures. The enlargement of the EU into Central and Eastern Europe advanced in 2004 and 2007, when new states were admitted into EU membership, including Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
These new EU members were hit hard by the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, and subsequently forced to impose harsh austerity measures. They have been slower to ‘recover’ than other nations, increasingly having to deal with “political instability and mass unemployment and human suffering.” The exception to this is Poland, which did not implement austerity measures, which has left the Polish economy in a better position than the rest of the new EU members. The financial publication Forbeswarned in 2013 that “the prospect of endless economic stagnation in the newest EU members… will, sooner or later, bring extremely deleterious political consequences .”
In the words of a senior British diplomat, Robert Cooper, the European Union represents a type of “cooperative empire.” The expansion of the EU into Central and Eastern Europe brought increased corporate profits, with new investments and cheap labour to exploit. Further, the newer EU members were more explicitly pro-market than the older EU members that continued to promote a different social market economy than those promoted by the Americans and British. With these states joining the EU, noted the Financial Times in 2008, “the new member states have reinforced the ranks of the free marketeers and free traders,” as they increasingly “team up with northern states to vote for deregulation and liberalization of the market.”
The West Marches East
For the past quarter-century, Russia has stood and watched as the United States, NATO, and the European Union have advanced their borders and sphere of influence eastwards to Russia’s borders. As the West has marched East, Russia has consistently complained of encroachment and its views of this process as being a direct threat to Russia. The protests of the former superpower have largely gone ignored or dismissed. After all, in the view of the Americans, they “won” the Cold War, and therefore, Russia has no say in the post-Cold War global order being shaped by the West.
The West’s continued march East to Russia’s borders will continue to be examined in future parts of this series. For Russia, the problem is clear: the Godfather and its NATO-Mafia partners are ever-expanding to its borders, viewed (rightly so) as a threat to the Russian gangster state itself. Russia’s invasion of Crimea – much like its 2008 invasion of Georgia – are the first examples of Russia’s push back against the Western imperial expansion Eastwards. This, then, is not a case of “Russian aggression,” but rather, Russian reaction to the West’s ever-expanding imperialism and global aggression.
The West may think that it has domesticated and beaten down the bear, chained it up, make it dance and whip it into obedience. But every once in a while, the bear will take a swipe back at the one holding the whip. This is inevitable. And so long as the West continued with its current strategy, the reactions will only get worse in time.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Counterinsurgency, Death Squads, and the Population as the Target: Empire Under Obama, Part 4
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at The Hampton Institute
While the American Empire – and much of the policies being pursued – did not begin under President Obama, the focus of “Empire Under Obama” is to bring awareness about the nature of empire to those who may have – or continue – to support Barack Obama and who may believe in the empty promises of “hope” and “change.” Empire is institutional, not individual. My focus on the imperial structure during the Obama administration is not to suggest that it does not predate Obama, but rather, that Obama represents ‘continuity’ in imperialism, not “change.” This part examines the concept of ‘counterinsurgency’ as a war against the populations of Iraq, Afghanistan and spreading into Pakistan.
Continuity in the imperialistic policies of the United States is especially evident when it comes to the strategy of ‘counterinsurgency,’ notably in Afghanistan. As examined in Part 1 of this series, language plays a powerful role in the extension and justification of empire. George Orwell noted that political language was “largely the defense of the indefensible,” where horrific acts and policies – such as maintaining colonial domination, dropping atomic bombs on cities – can only be defended “by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face.” Thus, political language is employed, consisting “largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” One specific example was provided by Orwell in his essay – Politics and the English Language - which holds particular relevance for the present essay: “Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.” Virtually the same process or strategy is today employed using words like counterinsurgency or counterterrorism. These military strategies are frequently employed, and the words are carelessly thrown around by military officials, politicians, intellectuals and media talking heads, yet little – if any – discussion is given to what they actually mean.
Near the end of the Bush administration in 2008, General David Petraeus was appointed as the Commander of CENTCOM (Central Command), the Pentagon’s military command structure over the Middle East and Central Asia, overseeing the two major ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, Obama had appointed Petraeus as commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, and in 2011, he was appointed as CIA Director. Petraeus is a good starting point for the discussion on counterinsurgency.
Petraeus was previously commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, having quickly risen through the ranks to lead Bush’s “surge” in 2007. Prior to the surge, Petraeus was initially sent to Iraq in 2004 given the responsibility of training “a new Iraqi police force with an emphasis on counterinsurgency.” While in Iraq, Petraeus worked with a retired Colonel named Jim Steele, who was sent to Iraq as a personal envoy of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Steele acquired a name for himself in ‘counterinsurgency’ circles having led the U.S. Special Forces training of paramilitary units in El Salvador in the 1980s, where he turned them into efficient and highly effective death squads waging a massive terror war against the leftist insurgency and the population which supported them, resulting in the deaths of roughly 70,000 people.
Jim Steele had to leave a promising military career after his involvement with the Iran-Contra scandal – trading arms to the Iranians for their war against Iraq to finance the death squads in Central America – and so he naturally turned to the private sector. But he had so impressed a Congressman named Dick Cheney, that when Cheney was Vice President, he and Rumsfeld maintained a cozy relationship with Steele who was then sent to Iraq in 2003 to help train the Iraqi paramilitary forces. Steele, working with David Petraeus and others, helped establish “a fearsome paramilitary force” which was designed to counter the Sunni insurgency which had developed in reaction to the U.S. invasion and occupation, running ruthless death squads which helped plunge the country into a deep civil war. Petraeus’ role in helping to create some of Iraq’s most feared death squads was revealed in a 2013 Guardian investigation.
However, in 2005, the Pentagon had openly acknowledged that it was considering employing “the Salvador option” in Iraq in order “to take the offensive against the insurgents.” John Negroponte, who had been the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras when the U.S. was running death squads out of Honduras in Central America was, in 2005, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. The Pentagon and the CIA were considering what roles they could play, possibly using U.S. Special Forces, to help train Iraqi “death squads” to hunt down and kill “insurgents.”
Within the first three years of the Iraq war and occupation, the British medical journal, The Lancet, published research indicating that between 2003 and 2006, an estimated 650,000 – 940,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war. A survey from 2008 indicated that there had been more than one million deaths in Iraq caused by the war.
This is referred to as a “counterinsurgency” strategy. In 2006, General Petraeus wrote the foreward to the Department of the Army’s Field Manual on Counterinsurgency, in which he noted that, “all insurgencies, even today’s highly adaptable strains, remain wars amongst the people.” A 1962 U.S. counterinsurgency guide for the U.S. war in Vietnam said it even more bluntly when it noted that, “The ultimate and decisive target is the people… Society itself is at war and the resources, motives, and targets of the struggle are found almost wholly within the local population.”
At the risk of being redundant, let me put it even more simply: counterinsurgency implies a war against the population. An insurgency is an armed rebellion by a significant portion – or sector – of a population against an institutional authority or power structure (usually a state or imperial power). Thus, for the American Empire – adhering to its rigid ‘Mafia Principles’ of international relations – an ‘insurgency’ is always a threat to imperial domination: if people are able to resist domestic power structures (say, a specific U.S. ally/client state), then other people around the world may try the same. The United States will seek to counter insurgencies for several reasons: to maintain the stability of their ally, to maintain the confidence of other allies, to maintain its reputation as the global hegemon, and to counter more direct threats to U.S./Western interests, such as the loss of access to resources or key strategic points, or in the case of U.S. military occupations, to crush any and all resistance.
In Part 1 of this series, I briefly summarized some major strategic reports written by key U.S. imperial planners, such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft. A 1988 National Security Council-Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy was co-chaired by Kissinger and Brzezinski, and directly acknowledged that most conflicts across the world were “insurgencies, organized terrorism, [and] paramilitary crime,” including “guerilla forces” and “armed subversives.” The report stated that the U.S. would have to intervene in these “low intensity conflicts” in which the “enemy” was “omnipresent” (or, in other words, in which the target was the population), because if the U.S. did not wage war against armed rebellions or uprisings around the world, “we will surely lose the support of many Third World countries that want to believe the United States can protect its friends, not to mention its own interests.”
This is a key example of ‘Mafia Principles.’ The Mafia is able to expand its influence not simply through coercion, but through offering ‘protection.’ Thus, businessmen, politicians or other individuals who pay dues to the Mafia are in turn given protection by the Mafia. If they are confronted with a problem – competition, threats to their position, etc. – the Mafia will use threats or force in order to protect their patrons.
Take, for example, a corrupt politician (I know, how redundant!) who is in the pocket of the Mafia. A mob boss may ask for a favour – to pass (or block) a particular law – and in turn, the politician gets protection from the mob. Suddenly, an up-and-coming young politician gains in popularity in opposition to the corrupted political figure. The politician asks the mob for some help (after all, the mob doesn’t want to lose the person in their pocket for the one who appears to be a wild card), and so the mob attempts to bribe or makes some threats to the aspiring political figure. If the bribes and/or threats don’t work, then force may be used. Suddenly, the aspiring political figure was found washed ashore along the city’s riverbanks.
This has served several purposes: the politician is kept in the pocket of the Mafia (always easier than trying to find a new point man), the mob maintains its reputation as an organization not to be challenged or disobeyed (fear plays a essential part in maintaining power), and the politician is more indebted than ever to the mob. Interests are secured, reputations are maintained, and power is strengthened.
An ‘insurgency’ in a client state or against a Western occupation poses such a threat to the local and international power structures of imperialism. Thus, the Empire must counter the insurgency in order to undermine the immediate threat to its forces (or those of its allies/clients), to maintain its reputation as what Obama recently referred to as “the anchor of global security,” and thus, to maintain the confidence of other allies around the world, and to pose a powerful threatening force to other populations which may attempt resistance. Interests are secured, reputations are maintained, and power is strengthened.
The notion that a counterinsurgency campaign is targeting a population resisting some form of authority – whether justified or not – and that such a strategy leads to enormous human tragedy, civilian casualties, suffering, chaos, destruction and human social devastation simply is of little significance to those who advocate for such doctrines. If the interest is in maintaining ‘power,’ the suffering of people is irrelevant. For the Empire, power and profit are what matters, people are incidental, and most often, in the way.
In the midst of the massive civil war in Iraq that Petraeus helped to bring about (with his ‘counterinsurgency’ operations of building death squads), Bush appointed Petraeus to head the planned “surge” of 20,000 U.S. troops into the country in 2007, which was hailed in the media and by the political class and their intellectual sycophants as a profound success.
By 2008, violence in Iraq was down, and this was of course interpreted as a success of the counterinsurgency/surge strategy. The reality was, as several commentators and analysts have pointed out, that the violence decreased because most of the ethnic cleansing in Iraq had taken place by then, and the Shia had won. One academic study noted that just prior to the surge, there was a massive ethnic cleansing that took place within Iraq, and so by the time the surge began, noted one researcher, “many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country,” and that, “violence has declined in Baghdad because of inter-communal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning.” The effect of the surge was not to reduce violence, but rather, noted the report: “it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved.”
Even General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO who led the NATO war against Yugoslavia in the 1990s, wrote in 2007 that as the surge was taking place, “vicious ethnic cleansing is under way right under the noses of our troops.” Upon the disgraced resignation of Petraeus from the position of CIA Director (due to some insignificant political sex scandal) in 2012, the Washington Post reflected on the “surge” strategy back in 2007 which propelled Petraeus “to the top,” writing that the surge strategy was “about helping Iraqis.” Naturally, such a notion – in the Western media – is a given ‘fact’ without the need for qualification: we did it, therefore it is ‘good'; we did it in Iraq, therefore it was for the benefit of Iraq; we did it to Iraqis, therefore it was for Iraqis.
Counterinsurgency strategy – or ‘COIN’ as it is referred to in military parlance – shares a great deal with terrorist strategy, namely that, “the target is the people.” The difference, however, is that one is employed by a massive state-military power structure while the other is used by small networks of individuals (often) operating outside of state structures. Both, however, are typically driven by relatively small groups of violent extremists.
Obama briefly appointed General Stanley McChrystal – former commander of the JSOC forces running secret wars around the world – as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2009, who was a strong advocate of “counterinsurgency tactics.” In March of 2009, Obama announced his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan as a dual ‘AfPak’ strategy, expanding the Afghan war theatre directly into Pakistan, a nation of some 180 million people and armed with nuclear weapons.
The strategy in Afghanistan was expected to drive militants into neighboring Pakistan, likely destabilizing the country. As the Obama administration began its “surge” into Afghanistan in March of 2009, under the leadership of General McChrystal, who formerly ran Cheney’s “executive assassination ring,” an additional 21,000 troops were sent to the country. The Pakistani military warned the Americans that they were worried that U.S. actions in Afghanistan would not only send an increased level of militants, including the Taliban, into Pakistan’s lawless areas, but that it could also “prompt an exodus of refugees from southern Afghanistan.” In May of 2009, under U.S. pressure, the Pakistani military launched an offensive against the stateless North West Frontier Province (NWFP), displacing over 2 million people.
This offensive was urged by State Department official Richard Holbrooke, as well as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus. The Independent referred to the displacement which resulted as “an exodus that is beyond biblical,” creating roughly 2.4 million internal refugees within the span of a month. Across the world, only Sudan, Iraq and Colombia had larger internal refugee populations. The speed of the “displacement” reached up to 85,000 per day, matched only by the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The refugee crisis had subsequently “inflamed murderous ethnic rivalries” across Pakistan, noted the Wall Street Journal. However, by late August, Pakistan had returned roughly 1.3 million of the refugees to the areas from which they were displaced.
In October, Obama sent an addition 13,000 troops to Afghanistan. The Pakistani Prime Minister warned that this would “destabilize his country.” In December, Obama announced an intention to send an additional 30,000 U.S. forces to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. troops in the country to roughly 100,000.
In a 2009 State Department cable from Pakistan, Anne Patterson reported that U.S. policy and actions in Pakistan “risks destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis in Pakistan without finally achieving the goal.” However, Patterson, seemingly without paradox, wrote that the U.S. strategy was “an important component of dealing with the overall threat” of terrorism.
Further, noted Patterson, the U.S. strategy in relation to Afghanistan, which included supporting an increased role for India, Pakistan’s long-standing state-enemy, was pushing the Pakistanis “to embrace Taliban groups all the more closely,” and that U.S. arms deals with India “feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them close to both Afghan and Kashmir-focused terrorist groups while reinforcing doubts about U.S. intentions.”
Another 2009 diplomatic cable from Patterson in Pakistan noted that nuclear proliferations was “a bigger threat than terrorism,” while Pakistan had been building nuclear weapons “at a faster rate than any other country in the world,” according to a U.S. national intelligence official in 2008. U.S. support for India’s nuclear program (which is not a signatory to the NPT), has continued to cause Pakistan to refuse to sign the NPT, and had encouraged Pakistan to instead develop more nuclear weapons. Patterson described the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. as one of “mutual distrust,” explaining that, “the relationship is one of co-dependency we grudgingly admit – Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows Pakistan cannot survive without our support.”
Patterson noted in a 2009 cable that most Pakistanis view America with “suspicion,” and that the Pakistani government was worried about the influx of militants and refugees from the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan, and that they would prefer to implement a strategy of “dialogue, deterrence and development” (instead of military operations) in regards to the country’s own troubled regions which were becoming hot-beds for the growth of extremist groups. Patterson recommended that the U.S. government instruct the Pakistanis that, “it will be difficult for international donors to support a government that is not prepared to go all-out to defend its own territory.” In other words: if Pakistan wants military and economic aid and IMF ‘assistance,’ it will have to continue military operations.
Fred Branfman, who examined in detail Wikileaks cables related to Pakistan, summarized their findings as thus: “A disastrously bungled U.S. policy toward Pakistan has led a majority of the Pakistani people to see the U.S. as their ‘enemy’ and strengthened jihadi forces in both the northwest territories and Punjab heartland and thus made it more likely that anti-American forces could obtain Pakistani nuclear materials.” As America continues its war in Afghanistan, it will “continue to destabilize the Pakistani state,” not to mention, so too will undertaking a ‘secret war’ inside Pakistan itself.
Since General Petraeus had so much “success” with creating death squads in Iraq, plunging the country into a deeper civil war, supporting the massive ethnic cleansing and undertaking a war against the population (“counterinsurgency” campaign), he was naturally the right choice for Obama to appoint in 2010 when it came to leading the “counterinsurgency” and “surge” into Afghanistan, replacing General McChrystal.
As revealed by Bob Woodward in 2010, under the Obama administration, the CIA was “running and paying for a secret 3,000-strong army of Afghan paramilitaries whose main aim is assassinating Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives not just in Afghanistan but across the border in neighboring Pakistan’s tribal areas,” likely working “in close tandem” with U.S. Special Forces undertaking “kill-or-capture” missions, all of which is approved by the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.
The Afghan “surge” of the Obama administration was a profound failure. Following the first year of the surge, 2010 was recorded as the “deadliest year” for Afghan civilians since the war and occupation began in 2001, with over 2,700 civilians killed, up 15% from the previous year, according to the UN. In 2011, the death toll reached another record high, with more than 3,000 civilians killed, according to the UN, an 8% increase from the previous year, and the number of deaths caused by suicide bombings increased by 80% from the previous year.
The U.S. troops presence was to be reduced significantly following the formal “withdrawal” in 2014, after which time Obama pledged to keep a “small troops presence” in the country. The remaining force would largely be geared toward “counterterrorism” operations in the country. In June of 2013, the “formal” handing over of security operations from U.S.-NATO forces to Afghan forces was initiated, with a 350,000-strong military and police force trained by NATO and the US to manage internal ‘security’ against the continued ‘insurgency’ in the country.
In other words, nearly thirteen years after a U.S.-NATO war and occupation began in Afghanistan, the war will continue indefinitely, and the “target” will remain as the population. In our media, we hear about deaths of “militants” or “Taliban” as if these are easily confirmed card-carrying or uniform-wearing groups and individuals (just as we report in regards to Obama’s global drone bombing terror campaign). Yet, these reports often go unquestioned, much like during the massive counterinsurgency war the U.S. waged in Vietnam, where the majority of the population was largely opposed to the imperial presence of the United States, and where those whom the U.S. killed were given the all-encompassing label of ‘Viet Cong’ – the “enemy.” So long as those who we murder in our foreign occupations are given the correct ‘label’ (whether Viet Cong, Taliban, al-Qaeda, or the ever-bland ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’), our continued slaughtering is continuously justified.
Few comments are made about the notion of the right of populations to resist foreign military occupations. Regardless as to whether or not we – as individuals – approve of particular militant groups in places like Afghanistan or Pakistan, we do not have the ‘right’ to dictate who rules those nations. And, in fact, our presence strengthens the more extremist, militant, violent and deplorable groups precisely because they are those which are best equipped to resist another – far more – violent, extremist, militant and deplorable group: namely, Western military occupation forces.
Here is a hypothetical: imagine you live in the United States, and the government collapses amid disarray and disagreement (I know, I’m being redundant again!), but then, China suddenly decides to send in its army of 2.2 million forces to occupy the United States in order to act as an “anchor of security” for the world. Imagine Chinese forces installed a puppet government, maintained an occupation for over a decade, and ultimately ruled the country by force. Surely, in the United States, armed resistance would emerge. Yet, who – in the U.S. – are those most likely to resort to armed resistance?
Chances are, such groups would emerge among the militant right-wing Christian groups spread out across much of the country, holding extremist ideologies which much of the population finds deplorable, but also being among the best armed members of the domestic American population. Other gangs and criminal groups would likely flourish, war lords and drug lords would rise to high places (as they have in Afghanistan, Mexico, and Colombia), and then the Chinese would resort to a ‘counterinsurgency’ strategy, in which the whole population is punished. This would ultimately increase support for the domestic militants, despite their deplorable ideologies, and a subsequent cycle of violence and destruction would likely ensue.
Surely, such a scenario is not desired – at least not by the many Americans I know and consider friends and family – but such is the scenario we impose upon countries and people all across the planet. This insanity must stop. There must be – in the West and most especially within the United States itself – the development of an anti-imperial/anti-empire social movement. It is not only a requirement out of some uncomfortable argument about the ‘economic costs’ of extending an empire around the world, but it is a moral necessity. As Obama himself stated in September of 2013, “for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security.” That is seven decades of American imperialism on a truly global scale, for which the populations of the West must now make amends, and that can only be done by ending the empire. Nothing less than the absolute abolishment of imperialism – in all its modern forms – is of the utmost human necessity.
We can have destruction, or we can have dignity. We can have hypocrisy, or we can have honesty. We can have fascism, or we can have a future. We can have hatred, or we can have humility. We can have repression, or we can have possibility. We can have war, or we can have no more. We can have Empire, or we can have Humanity. We cannot have both. Clearly, those in power are not equipped with the principles or possible threat of having a ‘moral moment’ in order to make such decisions: Barack Obama is no exception. Obama is merely the latest political personification of imperial phlegm spewed forth from the charred chest of the American oligarchy as their chief representative, diligently applying Mafia principles to international relations.
The future of humanity – and the ending of empire – can only exist in hands of humanity itself, not a single human being with concentrated power, but rather, with the actualization – the decentralization – of power among the population.
When Hitler’s second in command – Hermann Goering – was asked at the Nuremberg trials about Nazi Germany plunging the world into war, he replied: “Why, of course, the people don’t want war… Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship… voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
It would seem, then, that the only ones qualified to determine foreign policy are those it affects the most – those who are sent off to kill, and those who are targeted to be killed – in short: the population. Peace is possible, if people are empowered. Otherwise, imperialism is inevitable, and extinction is nearly ensured. There is a choice: we can passively accept imperialism and internalize a sense of insignificance and apathy; or, we can acknowledge that the whole global imperial system and structures of domination were established and are maintained precisely because those few in power – the tiny minority of global oligarchs – who rule the world are very well aware that when people work together, locally and globally, change is inevitable. If people were so easily controllable, so automatically apathetic, or inherently insignificant, why are there so many institutions, ideologies, techniques, structures and systems designed to keep people that way?
We can have Empire, or we can have Humanity. The choice is yours.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
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 Scott Wilson, Obama: U.S. security is still at stake. The Washington Post: December 2, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/01/AR2009120101231.html
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Interview with Devon D.B.
The Progressive Playbook, 9 September 2011
This is the transcript of an interview I had with Andrew Gavin Marshall, an independent researcher and writer. His work can be seen here. In the following interview, we discuss the US-NATO “intervention” in Libya and its effects on the African continent, as well as whether or not a Western intervention of Syria is possible. For more information on Libya, read Mr. Marshall’s article entitled Lies, War, and Empire: NATO’s “Humanitarian Imperialism” in Libya.
Devon DB: Seeing as how the rebels are split into factions, do you think this will come back to haunt the US and NATO in the formation of the new Libyan government?
Mr. Marshall: The fact that the rebels are split into factions is not a surprise to the West. From the beginning of the TNC (Transitional National Council), the organization was factionalized, and with the recent assassination of one of the military commanders (several weeks prior to the storming of Tripoli), these factions were known to be in competition. Thus, it is likely that this potential was taken into consideration by Western strategists. Whomever may become supreme within the TNC in a power struggle, it would be likely that the country could descend into a more chaotic system or civil war. If the al-Qaeda rebel factions (those with the most military training and experience) were to get a strong foothold in the country, this could even provide the West with a pretext for an occupation of Libya in order to “secure” the “transition” of the country into a liberal democratic structure.
It seems unlikely that the West would support a new dictatorship in Libya. In 2005, the Council on Foriegn Relations (the premier strategic policy planning institution in the United States – the “imperial brain trust” as some theorists have referred to them) produced a document, “In Support of Arab Democracy” (http://www.cfr.org/democracy-promotion/support-arab-democracy/p8166). One of its chief authors was Madeleine Albright, a protégé of the most influential strategic thinker in the American Empire, Zbigniew Brzezinski. The ultimate conclusion laid out in the report was that the United States needed to undertake a strategy of “democracy promotion” in the Arab world, replacing once-plient dictatorships with more stable, secure liberal democratic states. The report stated quite emphatically, that democracy should be promoted through “Evolution, not revolution.” However, it also emphasized the need to employ different strategies in different countries, and not resort to a “one-size fits all” strategy. With the ‘Arab Spring’, the democracy promotion agenda was forced to the forefront and had to act, pre-empt, and co-opt at a rate in which it was perhaps not prepared. Thus, we have seen the co-optation (or attempted co-optation, since these events have not yet subsided) of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
A true revolution is a threat to Western domination of the region, its resources and population. Thus, evolution into liberal democratic states is preferable to a true people’s revolution. True democracy, however, is not desired by Western strategists. True democracy (where the people would rule) is anathema to American imperial interests for a very clear reason: the public opinion of the Arab world.
In 2010, a major Western polling agency conducted a survery of popular opinion in the Arab world. Among the findings were that a vast majority felt that Iran had a right to a nuclear program (as high as 97% agreed with that in Egypt), that a majority felt Iran obtaining nuclear weapons would be good for the stability of the Middle East, and that the two countries which were perceived as the “biggest threat” to the Middle East were Israel and the United States, respectively (with 88% and 77%) while Iran was perceived as a major threat by only 10%, China by 3%, and Syria by 1%. [Download document at: http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2010/0805_arab_opinion_poll_telhami.aspx]
Thus, we must see the current upheavals in the Arab world as part of a larger, global strategy. Following the collapse of the USSR, Western liberal capitalist democracy was promoted as the “winner” of the Cold War, and the only system worthy of upholding. Thus, Yugoslavia, a socialist state, had to be dismantled so that no “alternatives” to the Western dominated system may persevere. The Latin American dictatorships, so strongly supported for decades (and indeed much longer), were no longer sustainable. The neoliberal reforms of the age of ‘structural adjustment’ (promoted and implemented by the IMF and World Bank from the 1980s onward) had thoroughly discredited the states that implemented them, both in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.
As poverty spread, and social destruction accelerated, we saw the proliferation of NGOs as modern missionaries, seeking to treat the symptoms of our system of ‘global apartheid’ (seeking to releive poverty, address health care, education, etc), while refusing to challenge the system that created these conditions. It was also in this context that we saw the emergence of the “democratization” agenda of Western powers. The “failure” of the ‘structural adjustment programs’ was framed as being the responsibility of the governments that implemented them, largely dictatorships, and thus, it was perceived as a “governance” issue, not a failure of the economic conditions imposed upon those nations.Thus, democracy promotion became part of future “adjustment” programs. Yet, this version of democracy is very specific, not populist: build a liberal democratic state with multi-party elections, civil society, and a constitution. The aim and result, however, was to create factions of elites which would compete for power in elections (often taking the form of ethno-centric parties, further dividing subject populations among ethnic lines); civil society would seek to promote and implement the contours of a liberal democratic Western-oriented capitalist state, institutionalizing this Western ideology into the construction of the state system, promoting “human rights”, accountability, poverty-reduction, etc., all which while often providing some minimal relief and constructive support to people in need, ultimately provide the hegemonic system (imperial in nature) with an aspect of consent. Hegemony, as defined by Antonio Gramsci, is of a dual nature: coercion and consent.
While the coercive apparatus of the state (police, military, etc) is essential in creating and maintaining hegemony (as the dozens of IMF riots where people rose up and protested against ‘structural adjustment’ in the 80s and 90s were often violently repressed by the state). However, consent to the system creates a more stable, lasting hegemony. Consent is engineered largely through civil society, which seeks to make ‘reforms’ to the system, which lessen the symptoms of imperialist oppression and domination, but thereby enhance the stability of that very system by acting as a pressure valve against revolution. This system was promoted in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Thus, dictatorships were slowly replaced with liberal democratic states, which were not only more effective in terms of securing consent to the global apartheid system, but were also more subservient to Western domination, as instead of having to deal with entrenched local dictatorships, which could (and have often) challenged Western domination over their country (Saddam Hussein is a good example), they would simply be able to “promote democracy” through funding opposition parties, and just as in the United States itself, you change the parties, but the system remains the same, the same interests are served, and the people are divided into “party politics” instead of united against their true challenge: empire. In Latin America, this system became largely discredited, and thus we saw the emergence of populist democracies, with Jean-Bertrande Aristide in Haiti (who was twice overthrown by the West), and Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, et. al. These populist leaders have challenged (to various degrees) Western domination over their nations and peoples.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, the wave of populist democracies has yet to emerge, if at all. Yet, the liberal democratic states have already been largely discredited in the eyes of the majority of people. The Arab world, long dominated by pliant Western dictatorships (and a few anti-Western dictatorships), is now experiencing its wave of “democratization.” The true question then, is whether we will see the emergence of pliant liberal democratic capitalist states (as is preferred by the West in order to maintain hegemony over the region, an absolute imperial necessity), or if we will see the development of populist democracies. It should be noted that populist revolutions and democracies would be ardently opposed by the Western nations. So, just as in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and elsewhere, we will see different strategies and methods all seeking to achieve roughly similar goals: “democratization” of the state in order to secure Western regional hegemony.
As we have seen with Libya, one strategy that will not be shied away from is war (or “humanitarian intervention”). We must also not rule out the possibility of an occupation, presumably under the auspices of securing the “transition to democracy”, which I think is a very likely scenario in Libya. Support for radical, militant elements in the Libyan rebels (specifically those linked to al-Qaeda) was a specific strategy which achieved its objective: change of government. This strategy may be employed elsewhere, such as in Syria, Yemen, et. al. However, from an imperial-strategic standpoint, it is not favourable to have a radical Islamist government in power, as the threat of popular revolution would remain. We may see some form of radicalized dictatorships being established for short periods of time, but these would ultimately be harder to control; thus, the ulitmate objective is totally dependent, and pliant regimes. In such a situation, I believe the West will prefer to see the faction in which the leader of the TNC, Jabril, takes control of the country, as he has made it quite clear that he favours neoliberal reforms and Western “investment” in Libya. Documents released by Wikileaks revealed in a 2009 diplomatic cable from the US Ambassador to Libya referring to Jabril as someone who “gets the US persepctive” on investment, and suggested supporting him further. Just as has been done from the very origins of al-Qaeda, the United States has covertly supported the organization in order to achieve strategic objectives, largely in terms of overthrowing or waging war against unfavourable regimes. However, another popular strategic aim of supporting al-Qaeda affiliated organizations lies in using them as a pretext to invade and occupy particular countries. We have seen the former strategy already used in Libya, the question is: will we see the latter?
Devon DB: How will other nations react now that the West has a foothold in Africa? Do you think that they will obey the West for fear of “humanitarian invervention?”
Mr. Marshall: The reactions from other nations will vary. Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, many nations were scared into cooperating with the West, including Gaddafi and Libya itself. It was in 2004 that the sanctions were ended and economic cooperation and investment began. The United States and NATO, having displayed their willingness to use force in achieving objectives in Africa, will likely create a more compliant atmosphere among several states in the Arab and African world. However, the populations would likely be more opposed to Western domination over their own nations, so the political leaders will have to play a dangerous game of attempting to secure their own position vis a vis, meeting the demands of the West while placating the demands of their own people. In the current ‘Age of Awakening’ (the Arab Spring), domestic leaders are increasingly fearful of their own populations, and must take popular opinion into account more than they previously have. An occupation of Libya would also give the West the opportunity to enhance its military presence on the continent, establish military bases, and possibly even establish a continental headquaretrs for the Pentagon’s newest strategic command, AFRICOM (which is currently based out of Germany, due to no African nations being willing to host it). This would be a strong indication of maintaining a military presence on the continent and thus, resembles a geopolitical threat to all other nations.
Devon DB: Would you say that the African Union truly stood up to the US and NATO? Do you think they could have done more?
Mr Marshall: No, the African Union did not truly stand up to NATO. Certainly, their rhetoric of opposition revealed that the only ones who were not buying the line of “humanitarian intervention” in Africa were Africans themselves. This was the most important aspect of the AU’s opposition to such an operation. However, ultimately, South Africa was pressured into releasing its frozen Libyan assets for the new government, and the AU is falling into line. In terms of whether or not they could have “done more,” their abilities are highly limited. They did, early on, attempt to land in Libya (prior to the intervention, but immediately following the no-fly zone) in order to attempt to negotiate a seize fire and come to a peaceful solution. Yet, as a result of the no-fly zone, the dominant Western powers (in particular, the US, France, and UK) refused to allow the AU’s plane to land in Libya and pursue a peaceful resolution. Ultimately, the AU, like the Palestinian Authority in the occupied territories, is not a separate power from that of the greater institution. It is an organization whose power is derived from that which is given to it. The PA is able to employ the authority which it is given to it by Israel. The AU is able to use the authority which is granted to it by the UN, US and the “international community.”
The AU takes part in “peacekeeping operations” which are rhetorical covers for occupations, such as in Sudan and Somalia and elsewhere. In such cases, the more Western-complaint nations (such as Uganda and Rwanda in Central Africa) send in their military forces (heavily trained, armed, and subsidized by American “aid”) to nations such as Somalia (whose government the US overthrew in 2007) as “AU peacekeepers”, thus creating a sense of legitimacy, as it is Africans policing Africans, not white Westerners. In short, the AU is not able to be an effective counter to Western domination because it has been allowed to be built up only so much as it can be integrated into a system of global domination (or “global governance”).
A new part for the AU which could potentially challenge Western domination would be to pursue a more overt non-aligned movement type of institution, anti-imperialist and pro-African, bringing Africa together not to allow for more effective co-optation of the continent, but to allow for more effective opposition to Western domination. My hopes for such an organization to achieve that objective are minimal however; I have little to no faith in the ‘nation-state’ or supra-national institutions in countering the system of domination, as they are institutionally and ideologically a product and part of that very system.
Devon DB: How likely is it that the West will intervene in Syria? If the West does intervene, do you think that the intervention will be in the style of Egypt, with the co-opting of the protest movement or will they decide to militarily intervene, as in the situation with Libya?
Mr. Marshall: I think a Western intervention in Syria is very likely. This is a dictator who has not been a stalwart puppet of the Western nations. This, in what we refer to as “international politics” is among the greatest sins a nation can commit. Any and all means could be undertaken in order to replace this regime. As the situation is already one mired in violence, it would appear likely that a violent “solution” would be undertaken. Thus far, in the Arab Spring, we have seen very different strategies taking place in very different countries: civil society co-optation in Tunisia, support for the military in creating a new government in Egypt, violent and brutal repression in Bahrain, war and “intervention” in Libya, etc. I think it is premature to declare which strategy will be used in Syria, as I think it will ultimately become the “Syria strategy.”
The imperialist powers are not analyzing and implementing strategies in a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all method, so outside analyists and observers should not view the situation as such. In order to understand imperialism and contemplate imperial strategies, one must allow themselves to think like an imperialist. What is the aim in Syria? Put simply: a change of government. What are external forces which could likely step into an internal conflict in Syria? Iran, for one; but also Israel. Israel will simply not tolerate a radical and populist government coming to power in Syria. Iran does not want to lose a regional ally. Thus, the costs and consequences of a foreign intervention in Syria are far different from those of Libya.
A foreign military intervention in the country (which I think is a likely possibility), has an enormous potential to result in a rapid and exponentially accelerated descent into chaos for the entire region. One must not rule out the possibility of a major regional war and destabilization campaign being on the table of imperial strategists. If all else fails, plunge a region into absolute war, and you will, in time, be able to re-shape its political structures through violence and destruction, and “reconstruction”. It was, after all, World War I that brought an end to the Ottoman Empire, where at the Paris Peace talks of 1919, the nations of the Middle East were drawn up by French and British imperialists who implanted pliant leaders and consuls. War is a highly effective strategic tool for the aim of total reorganization. For decades now, there have been discussions in various strategic circles about the “re-making of the Middle East”, re-drawing the borders, etc. To undertake such a task, if that is the current desired strategy, destabilization and war is the most effective means.
Devon DB: If the West does intervene in Syria, what will be the consequences for Iran and the great Middle East region? How do you think Iran and its allies will react?
Mr. Marshall: I think Iran would attempt to counter an intervention in Syria through support to counter-revolutionary forces in Syria, supporting such organizations like Hezbollah or Hamas as they do in Palestine and Lebanon. Iran must be careful of being drawn into a more direct conflict by the West, (which could be a strategic aim of a Syrian intervention), as it could likely incur a Western reaction directly against Iran. If Iran becomes involved, militarily, in Syria, it is unlikely that Israel would remain uninvolved. This would lead to a rapid acceleration of conflict: Israel and Iran would likely go to war, and the entire region would become engulfed in conflict. We must remember that Israel has upwards of 200 nuclear weapons, the only regional nuclear superpower. Israel, also, would not hesitate to use those weapons. In such a situation, I think it would be likely that we could begin using the term, “World War Three” to describe the global context of such a conflict, which would surely draw in Russia, China, India, and Pakistan, all of which are also nuclear powers.
Lies, War, and Empire: NATO’s “Humanitarian Imperialism” in Libya
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
In this report I seek to examine the war against Libya in a more critical and comprehensive manner than that of the story we have been told. We hear a grand fairy tale about powerful Western nations working together to save innocent civilians in a far-off country who simply want the freedoms and rights we already have. Here we are, our nations and governments – whose officials we elect (generally) – are bombing and killing people on the other side of the world. Is it not our responsibility, as citizens of these very Western nations, to examine and critique the claims of our governments? They are, after all, killing people around the world in our name. Should we not seek to discover if they are lying?
It has been said, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” Libya is no exception. From the lies that started the war, to the rebels linked to al-Qaeda, ethnically cleansing black Libyans, killing civilians, propaganda, PR firms, intelligence agents, and possible occupation; Libya is a more complex story than the fairy tale we have been sold. Reality always is.
What Were the ‘Reasons’ for ‘Intervention’?
We were sold the case for war in Libya as a “humanitarian intervention.” We were told, of course, that we “needed” to intervene in Libya because Muammar Gaddafi was killing his own people in large numbers; those people, on the same token, were presented as peaceful protesters resisting the 40-plus year reign of a brutal dictator.
In early March of 2011, news headlines in Western nations reported that Gaddafi would kill half a million people. On March 18, as the UN agreed to launch air strikes on Libya, it was reported that Gaddafi had begun an assault against the rebel-held town of Benghazi. The Daily Mail reported that Gaddafi had threatened to send in his African mercenaries to crush the rebellion. Reports of Libyan government tanks sitting outside Benghazi poised for an invasion were propagated in the Western media. In the lead-up to the United Nations imposing a no-fly zone, reports spread rapidly through the media of Libyan government jets bombing the rebels. Even in February, the New York Times – the sacred temple for the ‘stenographers of power’ we call “journalists” – reported that Gaddafi was amassing “thousands of mercenaries” to defend Tripoli and crush the rebels. Italy’s Foreign Minister declared that over 1,000 people were killed in the fighting in February, citing the number as “credible.” Even a top official with Human Rights Watch declared the rebels to be “peaceful protesters” who “are nice, sincere people who want a better future for Libya.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights declared that “thousands” of people were likely killed by Gaddafi, “and called for international intervention to protect civilians.” In April, reports spread near and far at lightning speed of Gaddafi’s forces using rape as a weapon of war, with the first sentence in a Daily Mail article declaring, “Children as young as eight are being raped in front of their families by Gaddafi’s forces in Libya,” with Gaddafi handing out Viagra to his troops in a planned and organized effort to promote rape.
As it turned out, these claims – as posterity notes – turned out to be largely false and contrived. Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International both investigated the claims of rape, and “have found no first-hand evidence in Libya that rapes are systematic and being used as part of war strategy,” and their investigations in Eastern Libya “have not turned up significant hard evidence supporting allegations of rapes by Qaddafi’s forces.” Yet, just as these reports came out, Hillary Clinton declared that the U.S. is “deeply concerned by reports of wide-scale rape” in Libya. Even U.S. military and intelligence officials had to admit that, “there is no evidence that Libyan military forces are being given Viagra and engaging in systematic rape against women in rebel areas”; at the same time Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, “told a closed-door meeting of officials at the UN that the Libyan military is using rape as a weapon in the war with the rebels and some had been issued the anti-impotency drug. She reportedly offered no evidence to backup the claim.”
An investigation by Amnesty International, released in June, attempted to assess the on-the-ground (as opposed to ‘in-the-newspapers’) reality of the claims made which led to Western “intervention” in Libya. Among the stories of mass rapes were the use, by Gaddafi, of “foreign mercenaries” and using helicopters and jets to attack rebel forces and protesters. As the Independent reported in June:
An investigation by Amnesty International has failed to find evidence for these human rights violations and in many cases has discredited or cast doubt on them. It also found indications that on several occasions the rebels in Benghazi appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence.
Hillary Clinton stated, “Rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and even so-called ‘virginity tests’ have taken place in countries throughout the region,” and at the same time, the senior crisis responder for Amnesty International who was in Libya for three months following the uprising stated, “we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped.” Human Rights Watch reported, “We have not been able to find evidence.” The rebels had been very active, in fact, in manufacturing and propagating lies that supported intervention and war, as the Amnesty representative explained, “rebels dealing with the foreign media in Benghazi started showing journalists packets of Viagra, claiming they came from burned-out tanks, though it is unclear why the packets were not charred.” Further, in regards to the use of foreign mercenaries, for which many black Africans were killed and imprisoned by the rebels, Amnesty reported, “there was no evidence for this.” The Amnesty rep in Libya declared: “Those shown to journalists as foreign mercenaries were later quietly released… Most were sub-Saharan migrants working in Libya without documents.” Others, Amnesty reported, “were not so lucky and were lynched or executed,” as “the politicians kept talking about mercenaries, which inflamed public opinion and the myth has continued because they were released without publicity.”
Those migrants who were shown to foreign media were not represented in that media in a friendly or even falsely unbiased manner. As the Daily Mail reported at the time, publishing photos of the “savage mercenaries” who later turned out to be migrant workers, “they were a pretty sorry bunch,” and that, “you could smell their fear.” The article then went on to declare, “these men are alleged to have been among several thousand foreign thugs and gunmen that Muammar Gaddafi sent against his own people, to kill and destroy and quell the uprising in eastern Libya.” Now, claimed the Daily Mail, “they are the prisoners of the people.” However, the article continued to – several paragraphs below, mind you – quote some of the “savage mercenaries” who made statements to the reporter such as: “We did not do anything… We are all construction workers from Ghana. We harmed no one… they are lying about us. We were taken from our house at night when we were sleeping.” The reporter assessed the situation with: “Still complaining, they were led away. It was hard to judge their guilt.”
Further, with the “credible” reports – as the Italian Foreign Minister referred to them – of “thousands” of civilians killed by Gaddafi in the early weeks of rebellion, the Amnesty International investigation found that, “there is no proof of mass killing of civilians.” During the first days of the uprising, most of the fighting was in Benghazi, “where 100 to 110 people were killed, and the city of Baida to the east, where 59 to 64 were killed.” However, there were indications that some of these deaths were also pro-Gaddafi forces, and that some “protesters” had weapons, indicating that it may have been a fight as opposed to a massacre. Further, reported Amnesty: “There is no evidence that aircraft or heavy anti-aircraft machine guns were used against crowds. Spent cartridges picked up after protesters were shot at came from Kalashnikovs or similar calibre weapons.” The Amnesty report further criticized Western media coverage of the war:
Much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no security challenge.
As for the notion that NATO was bombing Gaddafi troops poised for an invasion, even the New York Times quoted a Libyan official who claimed, “that Western powers were now attacking the Libyan Army in retreat, a far cry from the United Nations mandate to establish a no-fly zone to protect civilians.” This is an important point, because the reason for the UN no-fly zone was purportedly to “protect civilians,” not to “take sides” in the civil conflict between the government and the rebels. As a Libyan official stated, some Libyan forces “were attacked as they were clearly moving westbound,” as in, away from Benghazi and the rebels in the east. He further stated, “Clearly NATO is taking sides in this civil conflict. It is illegal. It is not allowed by the Security Council resolution. And it is immoral, of course.” At the same time, the NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, declared that, “NATO will implement all aspects of the U.N. resolution. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Days before the Libyan government official claimed that Libyan forces were in retreat as they were bombed (something which would no doubt be immediately cast aside as Libyan propaganda by Western media sources), the New York Times, within days of NATO strikes beginning, reported on 20 March 2011 that, “with brutal efficiency, allied warplanes bombed tanks, missile launchers and civilian cars, leaving a smoldering trail of wreckage that stretched for miles,” and further, outside of Benghazi, “many of the tanks seemed to have been retreating, or at least facing the other way. And others were simply abandoned.”
Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most prestigious and influential think tank in the United States, was also a former Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. Department of State, former National Security Council Senior Director, who has also been a key figure within the Brookings Institution, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In short, it is a hard thing to be a more institutionalized imperial strategist than Haas; however, even he wrote in early April that, “I did not support the U.S. decision to intervene with military force in Libya. The evidence was not persuasive that a large-scale massacre or genocide was either likely or imminent.” However, he of course went on to support NATO’s efforts, as – he explained – “we are where we are.”
Long before the UN resolution 1973 and the NATO air strikes began, the Russian military, who had been monitoring events in Libya from satellites, said that Libya never launched attacks from helicopters or jets against its own civilians, and that, “as far as they are concerned, the attacks some media were reporting have never occurred.” Of course, this was later confirmed by an independent investigation, however the war had already been sold on the basis of such dubious reporting. Indeed, far more journalists are “stenographers of power” rather than ‘investigators of truth.’
On March 1, the same day that the Russian military reported that there had been no jets used in attacks by Gaddafi against his own civilians, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, gave a press conference at the Pentagon where one reporter posed the question: “Do you see any evidence that he actually has fired on his own people from the air? There were reports of it, but do you have independent confirmation? If so, to what extent?” Secretary Gates responded: “We’ve seen the press reports, but we have no confirmation of that,” and Admiral Mullen added, “That’s correct. We’ve seen no confirmation whatsoever.” So even the Pentagon itself admitted that it had absolutely “no confirmation whatsoever” that jets and helicopters had been used to attack civilians, yet the whole Western world took this as de facto truth. In this, we can see the power of the media in making a case for war, where their propaganda is more absurd and manufactured than that of the Pentagon’s.
Stenographers of Power?
Glenn Greenwald, an American constitutional and civil rights lawyer who writes for Salon.com wrote an article about the notion of reporters as “stenographers of power.” He quoted an article entitled, “How to be a stenographer,” in which it was written:
If you are considering a career as a stenographer, one of the most important things that you should consider is what type of job duties stenographers have. They transcribe, or type, material which they are dictated. This can include orders, memos, correspondence, reports and various other types of information.
Greenwald, in describing his own personal experience with courtroom stenographers, wrote:
Their defining trait is that they have a fierce devotion to transcribing accurately everything that is said and doing nothing else. It’s not uncommon for lawyers, in the heat of some dispute, to attempt to recruit the stenographer into the controversy in order to say who is right… Stenographers will never do that. They will emphasize that they are only there to write down what is said, not to resolve disputes or say what actually happened… But there’s a fundamental difference: stenographers are far better at their job, since they give equal weight to what all parties say. But Time and friends exist principally to trumpet government claims and minimize and belittle anything to the contrary, and they pretend to “balance” it all only when they’re caught mindlessly transcribing these one-sided claims and are forced to write down what the other side says, too. The bulk of our establishment journalists aren’t merely stenographers. They’re bad stenographers.
Following the beginning of the Iraq war, many newspapers had to publish small pieces outlining their role as “[bad] stenographers of power” in presenting the case for war in the first place. Of course, at the time that the New York Times, the Washington Post and others were selling the war to the American people, dissenters and critics were unabashedly seeking truth and were able to assess the claims made as “false” long before the war, let alone before these news publications had “discovered” the falsities they reported. Of course, claims will always be made that “hindsight is 20/20” and “we didn’t know,” but such claims don’t stand to scrutiny when the dissenters whose voices were never heard in the Times or Post were far ahead of the media in assessing the validity of the government’s assertions. In 2004, the New York Times had to publish a brief report on its own pre-Iraq war coverage, stating:
We have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged.
The Washington Post ran a similar story, detailing the attitude its editors and journalists took in the run up to the war in Iraq. It was reported that any article questioning the validity of claims made by the administration, such as the notion that there were WMDs in Iraq, wouldn’t make the front page. Bob Woodward, Assistant Managing Editor at the Post stated, “We should have warned readers we had information that the basis for this was shakier.” The article further explained:
Some reporters who were lobbying for greater prominence for stories that questioned the administration’s evidence complained to senior editors who, in the view of those reporters, were unenthusiastic about such pieces. The result was coverage that, despite flashes of groundbreaking reporting, in hindsight looks strikingly one-sided at times… Administration assertions were on the front page. Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday. There was an attitude among editors: Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?..
Across the country, “the voices raising questions about the war were lonely ones,” [Washington Post Executive Editor] Downie said. “We didn’t pay enough attention to the minority.”…
From August 2002 through the March 19, 2003, launch of the war, The Post ran more than 140 front-page stories that focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq. Some examples: “Cheney Says Iraqi Strike Is Justified”; “War Cabinet Argues for Iraq Attack”; “Bush Tells United Nations It Must Stand Up to Hussein or U.S. Will”; “Bush Cites Urgent Iraqi Threat”; “Bush Tells Troops: Prepare for War.”
One story that was submitted to the Post for publication, which threw into doubt all the claims made by the U.S. administration, and which largely quoted retired military officials and outside experts, “was killed by Matthew Vita, then the national security editor and now a deputy assistant managing editor” of the Post. Karen DeYoung, a former assistant managing editor who covered the prewar diplomacy, said quite bluntly that, “Bush, Vice President Cheney and other administration officials had no problem commanding prime real estate in the paper, even when their warnings were repetitive”:
“We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power,” DeYoung said. “If the president stands up and says something, we report what the president said.” And if contrary arguments are put “in the eighth paragraph, where they’re not on the front page, a lot of people don’t read that far.”
There you have it, a former assistant managing editor of the Washington Post herself admitted that, “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power.” If there had ever been a clearer admission of being stenographers of power, I have yet to hear it.
No doubt, then, that upon the militaristic adventurism of yet another war, the media is again doing what it does best: being a “mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power.” Yet, with Libya it is even more profound; sold as a “humanitarian intervention,” this war must be presented in the media as a type of “rescue” operation as opposed to an imperial adventure. This task requires all the more deception on the part of both official statements and media “mouthpieces.”
As the saying goes, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” Indeed, it was so in Libya, and continues to be assaulted day-in day-out so long as this unjustified war continues.
Who are the Rebels?
We have been told a great many things about the rebels in Libya. We were told that they were “peaceful protesters,” that they were “nice guys,” and represented a popular uprising. From the flurry of reports about the rebels, the general ‘presentation’ given by Western governments and media was that the rebels are average Libyan civilians seeking to liberate themselves from a brutal tyrant who was indiscriminately killing them. Invariably and incessantly, the media in the West, such as the Financial Times, frame the forces as “pro-democracy rebels.” Naturally, such assertions must be more diligently questioned and investigated. So who are the rebels? Who makes up Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC), largely recognized by the Western nations as the “legitimate” government in Libya?
The protests in Libya began in Benghazi on February 15, 2011. Fighting broke out between protesters and government forces, though it was naturally framed by Western media as a massacre, which ultimately turned out to be false. On 27 February, the National Transition Council (NTC) (also referred to as the Transitional National Council – TNC) was formed as a consolidated effort on the part of rebel groups to form an opposition ‘government.’ The TNC immediately called for a no-fly zone to be imposed by the U.N. and for air strikes against Gaddafi forces, which the TNC claimed were committing air strikes against them, which also turned out to be false. The rebels, however, were composed of a wide array of different groups. Among them, as Political Scientist and Sociologist Mahmood Mamdani explained, are “four different political trends: radical Islamists, royalists, tribalists, and secular middle class activists produced by a Western-oriented educational system.” Further, “of these, only the radical Islamists, especially those linked organisationally to Al Qaeda, have battle experience.”
While many Western media outlets initially tried to frame the rebels as simply, “lawyers, academics, businessmen and youths,” trying to sidetrack the Islamist elements within the rebel groups, eventually the story started to slowly break, though still largely downplayed. The TNC includes many former Libyan government officials who defected to the rebel camp at the start of the fighting. As the Wall Street Journal reported at the time, “some of the officials are known in Washington and European capitals as secular, pro-Western and pro-business,” and that, “Islamists among the rebels have been largely kept out of the public spotlight, though they are believed to have support in eastern Libya and have assumed key functions in the rebel efforts.” The head of the TNC is a man named Mahmoud Jibril, a Western-educated political scientist and economist who previously headed Libya’s National Economic Development Board, “with the mandate to boost foreign investment and economic growth in country.” By putting Jibril at the head of the TNC, the Council is “sending a message to foreign companies that the future Libyan government is interested in foreign investment and privatization.” According to a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks from 2009, the U.S. ambassador to Libya wrote that Jibril “gets the U.S. perspective,” as in a meeting with Jibril, he had “highlighted the need to replace the country’s decrepit infrastructure and train Libyans,” and “requested American public and private assistance to do so.” Jibril, in his pitch to the ambassador, stated that Libya “has a stable regime and is ‘virgin country’ for investors,” leading the ambassador to conclude: “we should take him up on his offer.”
Jibril and the TNC released, in late March, a document entitled, “A Vision of a Democratic Libya,” as a type of blueprint for building a ‘new’ Libya. Among the many points in the blueprint were to: “Draft a national constitution”, “Form political organisations and civil institutions including the formation of political parties, popular organisations, unions, societies and other civil and peaceful associations”, “Maintain a constitutional civil and free state by upholding intellectual and political pluralism and the peaceful transfer of power, opening the way for genuine political participation, without discrimination”, “Guarantee every Libyan citizen, of statutory age, the right to vote in free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections”, “Guarantee and respect the freedom of expression”, and a firm commitment to “political democracy.” The ‘vision’ further states that it seeks, “the development of genuine economic partnerships between a strong and productive public sector, a free private sector and a supportive and effective civil society.”
Well, that all sounds well and good, but just how truly “democratic” or “respectful” of ‘human rights’ are the rebels and the TNC? How does their purported statements of support for Libyans “without discrimination” stand up to scrutiny? How truly democratic and peaceful are these groups?
Western Intelligence and the Rebels
The rebel groups are not simply disparate, localized, and grassroots individuals rising up in support of democracy and against a brutal tyrant. In fact, from the very beginning of the fighting, many rebels have been actively supported by Western and NATO intelligence agencies and special forces, including the CIA.
In March it was reported that the CIA had been authorized by President Obama to begin operations in Libya. The CIA was reportedly sent to Libya to gather intelligence for air strikes and “to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels.” As Obama said no U.S. forces were on the ground in Libya, which itself is a direct violation of the UN resolution 1973 which authorized a no-fly zone in Libya (but directly forbade foreign troops on the ground), “small groups of C.I.A. operatives [had] been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military,” reported the New York Times. As they had been in Libya “for several weeks,” they had arrived prior to even the passing of UN resolution 1973 and the imposition of a no-fly zone, indicating directly that there were no plans for peace, and war was the favoured option. Further, in the same report, it was revealed that British special forces and MI6 intelligence agents were also active in Libya. Prior to the UN resolution, which was implemented to only “protect civilians” and not to take sides in the conflict, President Obama signed a secret finding “authorizing the C.I.A. to provide arms and other support to Libyan rebels.”
The CIA officers in Libya, reported the Los Angeles Times, are “coordinating with rebels and sharing intelligence,” and that, “the CIA has been in rebel-held areas of Libya since shortly after the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Tripoli, was evacuated in February.” As the article pointed out, in a clear indication of where the war might be headed:
In the early days of the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, teams of CIA officers and U.S. special operations troops entered secretly, coordinated with opposition groups and used handheld equipment to call in and aim airstrikes against the government armies.
However, at the time, in late March, Obama and the White House were declaring that, “no decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya.” Before the UN resolution was even passed in early March, a report broke in the Independent which revealed a secret plan by the U.S. to arm the Libyan rebels through Saudi Arabia. Also before the U.N. resolution was passed, the Wall Street Journal revealed that, “Egypt’s military has begun shipping arms over the border to Libyan rebels with Washington’s knowledge.” The Egyptian military is largely subsidized and supported by the United States, thus what it does with U.S. “knowledge” is also done with U.S. ‘consent.’
The leader of the Libyan rebel’s military command is a man named Khalifa Hifter. As McClatchy Newspapers revealed in March, he had “spent the past two decades in suburban Virginia but felt compelled — even in his late-60s — to return to the battlefield in his homeland,” and explained that he had maintained, over those 20 years in Virginia, strong ties to anti-Gaddafi groups without any ‘known’ financial support, while living a mere 20 miles from CIA headquarters. There is a significant amount of investigative research, largely not undertaken by the mainstream media, who largely kept Hifter’s name out of the press, that he is, in fact, an asset of the CIA, and has been for a great many years. However, the Guardian, in April of 2011, reported that Hifter had, in the early 1980s, “joined a CIA-run anti-Gaddafi force.”
Gaddafi, al-Qaeda, and … Charlie Sheen?
In late February and early March, Gaddafi was claiming that the rebel groups were linked to al-Qaeda, a claim which was largely ridiculed by Western media. Apparently, it is only the Western nations and media who have the ability to claim that all their ‘enemies’ are linked to al-Qaeda. As the Guardian reported on 1 March, “Muammar Gaddafi’s insistent claim that al-Qaida is behind the Libyan uprising – made in all his public appearances since the crisis began – has been dismissed at home and abroad as propaganda.” The group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an affiliate of al-Qaeda, have long been in Libya, and have been long-opposed to Gaddafi’s rule. Established in Afghanistan in the 1990s, the group has been responsible for assassinating dozens of Libyan soldiers and policemen. At the time, MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency, was accused of supporting the LIFG in Britain’s vehement campaign to rid Libya of Gaddafi.
The Western media attempted to ridicule Gaddafi for making such claims, as MSNBC reported Gaddafi’s denouncement as a “rambling phone call to Libyan state TV.” The media kept up its campaign, with a Guardian headline in early March asking readers to participate in an online questionnaire entitled, “Charlie Sheen v Muammar Gaddafi: whose line is it anyway?” Or how about Vanity Fair, which ‘challenged’ their readers with a hard-bitten ‘journalistic’ quiz, asking, “The Two and a Half Men star and the Libyan dictator delivered rambling rants this week. Can you tell who said what?” As the National Post – Canada’s vociferously imperial national newspaper – wrote in early March:
It’s rare that the news stories that would usually be relegated to the “bizarre news” section make it onto the front pages, but over the last few days the fantasies of two famous men have forced their way into the public consciousness. Muammar Gaddafi and Charlie Sheen have probably never met (though given the proclivity for Hollywood stars to dabble in foreign policy, you never know), but they share a number of qualities, such as a slipping grip on reality and easy access to TV interviewers through which to share their musings.
This line of ridicule comparing Gaddafi to Charlie Sheen was repeated all over Western news media, as a simple Google search of both of their names will indicate, with several publications engaging in the rank-and-file self-assured ridicule, including the Mirror, MSNBC, New York Magazine, The First Post, the Chicago Tribune, Life, Reuters, Salon, the Telegraph, the Atlantic, ABC News, and comedy pundits like Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central, among many others. So this is what our ‘news’ media has come to, in a situation of impending war and devastation, the destruction of human life and invasion of foreign countries and occupation of foreign peoples, sending our young, largely poor domestic populations to go kill or be killed, turning their guns on other poor, forgotten peoples for the benefit of those who send them. Instead of taking an issue like “humanitarian intervention” in the proper context of a war, which like all wars, would kill inordinate amounts of innocent civilians, our media chose to engage in the disgraceful frenzy of a group joke.
As the claims of Gaddafi were increasingly ridiculed as the crazy rants of a beleaguered psychopathic dictator (note: I am not casting doubt on the fact that he IS a dictator), several intermittent reports slipped through the cracks which in fact validated many of Gaddafi’s “crazy” claims.
The Wall Street Journal reported in early April that ex-Mujahideen (CIA-trained) fighters from the Afghan-Soviet war are in Libya aiding the rebels. The ex-Mujahideen fighters that the West trained, armed and supported in Afghanistan in the 1980s are now referred to in common parlance as “al-Qaeda,” unless of course we are supporting them. Then, just as Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s, we call them “freedom fighters” or “pro-democracy protesters” in Obama’s case. In fact, the actual term “al-Qaeda”, as explained by former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, literally means “the database,” which “was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.” In short, al-Qaeda is a “database” of Western intelligence assets used to expand Western imperial interests around the world. They provide an excuse for intervention in countries whose governments you want to overthrow or whose people you want to prevent from ushering in a popular liberation struggle. Or, conversely, you can support them covertly in engaging in warfare against a hated regime, but invariably you would not want to refer to them as ‘al-Qaeda’ in such an instance, as it would conflict with the propagated concept of a worldwide “war on terror”, instead of what it actually is: a “war of terror.”
However, as the WSJ reported from Beghazi, “Sufyan Ben Qumu, a Libyan army veteran who worked for Osama bin Laden’s holding company in Sudan and later for an al Qaeda-linked charity in Afghanistan, is training many of the city’s rebel recruits.” Many other officials within the rebel command come from similar backgrounds, as they make up the experienced elements of the rebel army, which is incidentally led by a CIA asset (as explained above). Even a rebel leader admitted that his fighters have al-Qaeda links, as reported by the Telegraph. Further, a senior American Admiral, and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander (leading the attack on Libya), admitted that al-Qaeda was among the rebels.
Yet, while these admissions surfaced in the mainstream media, once reported, in true Orwellian fashion, they were cast into the “memory hole,” all but forgotten. Thus, when any reference or indeed dissenter continues to refer to the rebel’s links to al-Qaeda, they are cast aside as a “crackpot” or a “conspiracy theorist.” It may have even been the very news outlet which is denouncing such claims that actually reported them as fact in the first place. The National Post recently engaged in a hit-piece against independent journalists who were based in Tripoli covering events and views unwanted by the NATO powers. In ridiculing these reports of NATO involvement with al-Qaeda linked rebels, the National Post journalist stated, cynically, “No massive popular uprising, no victorious rebels flooding into Tripoli greeted by throngs of well-wishers among the city’s populace. It was a NATO – Al Qaida job.”
The writer went on to denounce my former employers and colleagues at the Centre for Research on Globalization as “a Canadian clubhouse for crackpots of the anti-war, 911-truth, anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist variety. The Centre would not normally be worth noticing except for a laugh.” Seemingly, in the eyes of Terry Glavin and the National Post, “anti-war” and “anti-imperialist” sentiments are the intellectual bastion of “crackpots.” What, might I ask, does that say about the National Post? Personally, the label of “anti-war” and “anti-imperialist” is not an insult to me, nor to my former colleagues; it is a badge of honour, a source of pride and a directive for action. The framing of such anti-war and anti-imperialist sentiments as a ‘negative’ label, indeed says more about the National Post than it does about Global Research and its writers.
Is this a Popular Democratic Uprising?
The National Post refers to the rebels as a “massive popular uprising” of “victorious rebels” who entered Tripoli “greeted by throngs of well-wishers among the city’s populace,” perhaps we should ask if this is indeed the case. Scott Taylor, a Canadian journalist writing for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald in late August, observed (and it is worth quoting at some length):
The rebellion in Libya has been more of a media war than a full-scale armed clash… To prevent Gaddafi from inflicting reprisals on the rebels, the UN authorized a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Libya to protect unarmed civilians from being bombed. That, of course, did not apply to civilians living in Gadhafi-controlled sectors, as the Canadian-led NATO coalition soon began mounting airstrikes against government targets.
For more than five months now NATO planes have supported the rebels, and NATO warships have enforced a one-sided arms embargo against Gadhafi’s forces. And all foreign-held Libyan financial assets have been frozen, making it virtually impossible for Libya to purchase any war materiel, or even basic necessities such as fuel…
On a fact-finding trip into Tripoli last week, I saw first-hand that Gaddafi has solidified his control over the capital and most of western Libya. Foreign diplomats still based in Tripoli confirmed to me that, since NATO started bombing, Gaddafi support and approval ratings have actually soared to about 85 per cent.
Of the 2,335 tribes in Libya, over 2,000 are still pledging their allegiance to the embattled president. At present, it is the gasoline shortage due to the embargo and lack of electricity from NATO’s bombing that are causing the most hardship to Libyans inside Gadhafi-controlled sectors.
However, at present, the people still blame NATO — not Gaddafi — for the shortages. In an effort to combat that sentiment and to encourage a popular uprising against Gadhafi, NATO planes have taken to dropping leaflets in canisters over the streets of Tripoli. Unfortunately for the NATO planning staff, the canisters are heavy enough to cause injury and damage roofs when they plummet to the ground…
It is possible that the continued embargo, shortage of fuel and downgrading of Libyan utilities will create a humanitarian crisis inside Gadhafi’s Libya so severe that his followers have no choice but to turn on him for their own survival. However, if that indeed transpires it will be impossible for the West to justify this as being a humanitarian intervention.
It is no surprise that Gaddafi’s support has risen to such extreme levels, as this tends to be the case whenever a country is bombed and attacked by an outside imperial power. It is also no wonder that Gaddafi has such strong support among his people when one considers the human toll of fighting. Reports vary on the amount of deaths, both combatant and civilian, but in early June, the U.N. Human Rights Council mission to Tripoli reported that between 10-15,000 people have been killed in the fighting thus far. Reports of NATO strikes killing civilians do not help “win the hearts and minds” of Libyans, especially when one such strike killed over 85 innocent civilians, including 33 children. Also in June, the Italian Foreign Minister, following a NATO bombing of a house in Tripoli, declared, “NATO is endangering its credibility,” and in an extrapolation of how the West is losing the ‘propaganda war’, he stated, “We cannot continue our shortcomings in the way we communicate with the public, which doesn’t keep up with the daily propaganda of Gaddafi.”
‘Worthy’ vs. ‘Unworthy’ Victims: Are the Rebels Committing ‘Ethnic Cleansing’?
A typical propaganda tactic used by Western media, throughout the entire Cold War (and arguably much longer) is the notion of “worthy” and “unworthy” victims. In any conflict in which the Western world engages and seeks a particular outcome, the presentation to the public – (i.e., propaganda) – determines, by the very way in which it reports the conflict, who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys.” It is important for conflicts to be framed – from the view of the propagandist – in a black and white, simplified manner. Effective propaganda tends to play to the lowest common denominator. If everything is geared towards a very base, simplified audience, with minimal critical thinking and contemplation required, it tends to manifest those very sensibilities in the audience who consumes it. In short, by the very method of reporting, they create the audience they seek.
Make it simple to create a simple audience. Then, that which is contrary to the saturated and filtered version of ‘reality’ is simply rejected outright as lunacy, fantasy, conspiracy theory, or worse. It is rejected almost instinctively because it requires more effort to determine accuracy, to investigate claims, to understand much broader concepts and employ far more contemplation and thinking than is required by the propaganda system. It is not simply that the ‘truth’ itself is more complicated, which makes lies so appealing to the masses, but it is exactly because the method of investigating truth is far more complicated. Thus, setting back into the comforts of ‘simplicity’ (“let the TV tell me what to think”), is far more attractive an option than taking painstaking efforts to investigate and understand an issue.
Thus, in conflicts we come to the nomenclature of ‘worthy’ versus ‘unworthy’ victims. This allows the West – and the public especially – to “take sides” in a conflict before understanding the realities of the conflict itself. That way, intervention can be justified and assured. Strategy, more today than ever before, requires the need of an efficient, organized, and effective propaganda machine. In Israel-Palestine, Israeli citizens and even soldiers (within the Occupied Territories) are deemed as ‘worthy victims’, while Palestinians are deemed ‘unworthy’ victims. When an Israeli dies, whether a civilian or soldier, the media ensures that the ‘consumer’ knows the names, is exposed to the families, learns the ambitions and dreams of the victims. When Palestinians die, however, they become – if at all even reported – mere statistics, and more often than not, they are blamed for their own deaths, vilified and generally dehumanized. The Palestinians are the ‘unworthy’ victims.
In Libya, it is apparent that the rebels are ‘worthy victims’, while the majority of civilians, (as roughly 85% support Gaddafi) are deemed ‘unworthy’ victims. The deaths of rebels are often hyped and exaggerated; others are denied, underplayed, justified, or simply not covered at all.
The best example of this in the current conflict is the rebels themselves committing atrocities, particularly against black African migrants in Libya. In this scenario, rebels remain the ‘worthy’ victims, and the black Africans ‘unworthy.’ This disparity is increased in that the deaths of black Africans were not only largely ignored, but they were first demonized, and thus their deaths became justified. This was the basis for the propaganda rhetoric regarding Gaddafi’s “African mercenaries.” These stories proliferated through the Western media ad nauseum and largely unquestioned; they were accepted at face value. As an Amnesty International investigation revealed, the stories of African mercenaries massacring rebels for Gaddafi emerged largely from the rebels themselves, and as it turned out, was false.
A Google search of “African mercenaries” and “Libya” from February 15 (when the rebellion began) to March 30, less than two weeks following the NATO ‘intervention’, turned up over 86,000 matches. As it turned out, the “mercenaries” were in fact African migrants working in Libya. A Google search over the same period (Feb. 15 – March 30), but with the terms “African migrants” and “Libya” revealed just under 48,000 results. Yet, from as early as February, African migrants reported that, “they’ve become targets for Libyans who are enraged that African mercenaries are fighting on behalf of the regime.” The migrants work in Libya’s oil industry and certain other sectors. It was the reports of African mercenaries – which later turned out to be false – that induced the violence against African migrants, instead of simply justifying them. The Deputy Director of the North Africa Center at Cambridge University stated in late February, in an interview with NPR, “I tell you, these people, because of their skin, they will be slaughtered in Libya. There is so much anger there against those mercenaries, which suddenly sprung up. I think it is urgent to do something about it now, otherwise, a genocide [could occur] against anyone who has black skin and who doesn’t speak perfect Arabic.”
Al-Jazeera reported in late February that dozens of black Africans were killed, with hundreds more in hiding, as “anti-government protesters” (read: ‘worthy victims’) “hunt down” the “black African mercenaries” (read: ‘unworthy victims’). Migrants fleeing the violence who returned to their home countries were interviewed, and reported that, “We were being attacked by local people who said that we were mercenaries killing people. Let me say that they did not want to see black people.” Further, one witness reported, “Our camp was burnt down, and we were assisted by the Kenyan embassy and our company to get to the airport.” A Senior Fellow with the International Migration Institute posed the question:
But why is nobody concerned about the plight of sub-Saharan African migrants in Libya? As victims of racism and ruthless exploitation, they are Libya’s most vulnerable immigrant population, and their home country governments do not give them any support.
These cases were rarely reported in Western media, however, African media sources reported much more diligently on these events, as they were more directly effecting their own citizens; thus, the victims are those who may deemed – in the African media – as ‘worthy victims.’ Thus, the coverage was much more extensive. One African media outlet reported in early March, that “rebel fighters and their supporters in eastern Libya are detaining, beating and intimidating African immigrants and black Libyans, accusing them of being African mercenaries.” In some instances, “rebels have executed suspected mercenaries captured in battle, according to Human Rights Watch and local Libyans.” Even the rebel-led government “concedes it is rounding up suspects and detaining them for questioning.” Not only is it African migrants who were in danger, but regular black Libyans as well, as in some cases rebels had lynched black Africans, claiming they were mercenaries. Human Rights Watch referred to the assault against black Libyans as “widespread and systematic attacks… by rebels and their supporters.” A Human Rights Watch official explained, “thousands of Africans have come under attack and lost their homes and possessions during the recent fighting,” and referred to the rebels (who are, in our media mostly referred to as ‘pro-democracy’ protesters) as “ad hoc military and security forces.”
Another report explained that the assaults against blacks have “revived a deep-rooted racism between Arabs and black Africans” in Libya, as “discrimination is common not only against migrant Black Africans, but also against darker-skinned Libyans, especially from the south of the country.” The Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre in South Africa told IPS in late March, “Against this background, one needs to be a little wary of the accusations of ‘African mercenaries’ or even ‘Black African mercenaries’ that have been bandied around.” Further, he reported that, “about one and a half million Sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees, out of a population of nearly two to two and a half million migrants, work as cheap labour in Libya’s oil industry, agriculture, construction and other service sectors.” As it turned out, “this is not the first time Libya’s most vulnerable immigrant population has fallen victim to racist attack,” as in 2000, “dozens of migrant workers from Ghana, Cameroon, Sudan, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Nigeria were targeted during street killings in the wake of government officials blaming them for rising crime, disease and drug trafficking.”
One apparent victim of these assaults told media that, “I bet you many Ghanaians and Nigerians and other nationals of south of the Sahara have been killed and murdered,” and further, “they put the dead bodies in mass graves, while they still pursued others. Sometimes we had to dig deep and wide holes to hide ourselves for fear of being identified by the opposition forces.” By early March, there were reports of hundreds of black Africans from over a dozen countries who landed at Nairobi Airport after fleeing Libya by plane, and were arriving “with horrific tales of violence.” Even in early March, Human Rights Watch told the Sydney-Morning Herald that they were “yet to confirm a single case of a mercenary being used in the conflict.” Even as reports spread out regarding Gaddafi’s “African mercenaries,” Human Rights Watch stated that, “of the hundreds of suspected mercenaries detained in the east, all had turned out to be innocent workers or Libyans in the regular army.”
The most high-profile coverage in the West perhaps came from the Los Angeles Times, in which the reporter had been led by the rebels to view some of their captured “mercenaries,” and the reporter wrote that the so-called mercenaries told the media, “We are construction workers,” as they pleaded their innocence, and then “the interview was abruptly ended and the group of Africans were led away to detention by Muhammed Bala, who described himself as a security officer for the rebel government.” Bala added, “We’re out looking for mercenaries every day.”
Some reports in late March suggested that black Africans had been “slaughtered in the thousands in the ongoing civil war in Libya.” As the rebels claimed that Gaddafi’s forces were engaging in mass rape, other reports (otherwise unconfirmed) reported that the rebels were themselves, were starting “to detain, insult, rape and even executing black immigrants, students and refugees,” stating that more than 100 Africans were killed by early March, and “some of them were led into the desert and stabbed to death,” while other “black Libyan men receiving medical care in hospitals in Benghazi were reportedly abducted by armed rebels.” Further, there were “more than 200 African immigrants held in secret locations by the rebels.” As the Somaliland Press reported in early March, the attacks reflect racist and xenophobic attitudes among many Arabs in Libya (specifically the east, where the rebels were largely based), some of which was a result of Gaddafi’s ‘pan-Africanist’ views, which many Arabs felt betrayed by:
In many situations, Gaddafi and his inner circle preferred black Africans and Libyans from the south over Libyans from the east. Now the angry mobs using the revolutionary movement across Arabia and North Africa are hunting down black people.
Mohamed Abdillahi, Somaliland, 25, was sleeping at his home in Zouara, when the mobs arrived. “They knocked on the door around 1 o’clock in the morning. They said get out, we’ll kill you, you are blacks, foreigners, clear.”
The testimonials are very similar among the thousands of Africans that saw the ugly side of Libya in the past weeks. “They have attacked us, they took everything from us,” said Ali Farah, Somali labourer 29 years…
Many of the fleeing Africans are terrified to tell their stories. At the checkpoint, they do not mingle with others. When asked about their ordeal, they just freeze, “they stopped us many times and said not tell what has happened here, say there are no problems,” Elias Nour from Ethiopia said.
Of all the publications, the Wall Street Journal reported in late June that within the rebel-held city of Misrata, black Libyans were being targeted by the rebels who were ethnically cleansing Misrata of its black population. Espousing the lies that the black Libyans from Tawergha, a small mostly black town 25 miles south of Misrata, were being used as mercenaries, this galvanized the rebels and their supporters against them, referring to them as “traitors.” Prior to the siege of Misrata, roughly four-fifths of the population in the poor housing project of Misrata’s Ghoushi neighbourhood were black Tawergha natives. Now, reported the WSJ, “they are gone or in hiding, fearing revenge attacks by Misratans, amid reports of bounties for their capture.” The rebel leadership in Benghazi reportedly stated that they were working on a “post-Gadhafi reconciliation plan,” yet claim that, “Libya is one tribe.” Some were calling for the expulsion of the Tawerghans from the area, and one rebel commander said, “They should pack up… Tawergha no longer exists, only Misrata.” As further evidence of the increasingly ethnically focused rebel leadership, some “rebel leaders are also calling for drastic measures like banning Tawergha natives from ever working, living or sending their children to schools in Misrata.” One rebel slogan that has appeared on the road between Misrata and Tawergha refers to the rebels as “the brigade for purging slaves, black skin.”
It is thus a very legitimate concern that if the rebels take power in Libya, they may undertake an “ethnic cleansing” of Libya in order to eliminate threats to their power (as the black Libyans by and large are supportive of Gaddafi), as well as to have a convenient scapegoat target population upon whom they can place blame for all the ills that a post-Gaddafi Libya would surely face. Scapegoats are always necessary for leaders that seek to centralize their power and brutally enforce their rule. Totalitarian leaders throughout history have always employed such a tactic. The possibility of a rebel-led government committing ethnic cleansing in Libya is, I think, an imminent and extremely likely possibility.
By mid-March, the United Nations reported that black migrants were fleeing Libya at a rate of about 6,000 a day, while “some 280,000 have already escaped to neighboring states.” As one report in Uganda articulated, a major concern for European nations (who are actively engaged in the NATO assault) was in the possible exodus of black Africans into Europe, as Libya is one of the main routes for African immigrants into Western Europe, a major source of internal social stratification, xenophobia, racism, and political pressure. Thus, if Libya collapsed into a “state of lawlessness,” it could become a major problem for Western Europe. As one BBC reporter stated, “The fear with Libya is that sub-Saharan Africans will try to leave and there are more of them.” The Ugandan Independent reported that following the stories in the Western press about the “African immigrant” came the stories about the “African mercenary.”
In fact, the West European media did prominently feature stories about the impending ‘threat’ of a wave of African immigrants into their countries. An article in the major German publication, Der Spiegel, in late February reported that, “Moammar Gadhafi, in recent years, has enjoyed a cynical role as Europe’s border guard against African immigrants. Italian ministers now warn that if his Libyan government collapses, people will flow across the Mediterranean.” Italy’s Interior Minister, ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, warned that, “hundreds of thousands of immigrants could head for Europe” which would create a “catastrophic humanitarian emergency.” While immediately fearing a wave of immigrants due to “violence that Moammar Gadhafi’s regime has reportedly visited on its own people.” But, according to some observers, “if Libya collapses into anarchy… it could become an immigration route for far more people from sub-Saharan Africa.” Der Spiegel reported:
Gadhafi in recent years has played up his role as a bulwark against African immigrants to Europe. Italy and Libya began joint naval patrols in 2008 to stop boatloads of illegal or trafficked immigrants from crossing the Mediterranean, and last year Libya signed a 50 billion euro deal with the European Union to manage its borders as a “transit country” for sub-Saharan Africans.
Italian Foreign Minister Frattini said that some 2.5 million people in Libya — about a third of the population — are non-Libyan immigrants who would flee if the government fell.
Gadhafi himself has enjoyed stoking these fears. “Europe will become black,” he said last December, if European leaders failed to cooperate with him on immigration controls.
The fear of a wave of African immigrants into Europe was a major topic of discussion at the EU summit in Brussels in February, according to the Financial Times. EU ministers heard that, “the collapse of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime could result in a tidal wave of refugees and illegal immigrants pouring into Europe,” as roughly 1-2 million refugees “could attempt to make their way across the Mediterranean into southern Europe if the Gaddafi regime collapses.” The Italian Foreign Minister told the members at the EU summit:
We are following very closely the situation. Italy as you know is the closest neighbour, both of Tunisia and Libya, so we are extremely concerned about the repercussions on the migratory situation in the southern Mediterranean… We need a European comprehensive action plan. We should support all peaceful transitional processes that are ongoing in the Middle East while avoiding a patronising position.
The Minister further warned that, the collapse of the regime would lead to the “self proclamation of the so-called Islamic emirate of Benghazi.” He added: “I’m very concerned about the idea of dividing Libya in two, in Cyrenaica and in Tripoli. That would be really dangerous. Can you imagine having an Islamic Arab emirate on the borders of Europe? This would be a really serious threat.” The Czech Foreign Minister echoed this fear, warning that the fall of Gadhaffi could pave the way for “bigger catastrophes.”
The rebels are aided in their war – which is largely a “propaganda war” – by an American public relations firm “to help them earn recognition from the U.S. government.” The firm – the Harbour Group – in early April “signed a pro-bono contract with the National Transitional Council.” Pro-bono? Since when do public relations firms do charity work? In an article in the Hill, it was reported that Harbour Group “will be working with the council’s U.S. representative, Ali Aujali, who resigned as Libya’s ambassador to the U.S. in protest in February as the revolution began to hold.” The Harbour Group’s Managing Director Richard Mintz “will help manage the PR effort on behalf of the council.” Mintz told The Hill, “It’s the right thing to do. They need help and we are pleased that we are able to do that. It is in the U.S.’s interest, in the world’s interest.” Part of the firm’s work was to be aimed at gaining U.S. recognition of the TNC as the “legitimate” government in Libya, while “other goals for the Harbour Group are to encourage U.S. humanitarian aid to Libya and to push for the release of Gadhafi’s assets frozen by U.S. financial institutions to help pay for that aid.” The article went on:
To achieve those goals, the firm will help prepare speeches, press releases and op-eds, contact reporters and think tanks and develop a website and social media for the council.
According to the contract, the firm “will provide all of its professional services free of charge to the council,” though the council will be “directly responsible” for “major expenses,” such as Web design and travel.
The Harbour Group is plugged in politically — Mintz is a former director of public affairs for the Clinton administration’s Transportation Department — and is already familiar with the Middle East. The firm is helping to implement “a public diplomacy program” on behalf of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, according to Justice records.
In early July, Patton Boggs, the number one lobby firm in the United States, was hired by the rebels to promote their cause in the U.S., to get America to recognize the TNC as the “legitimate government” in Libya, as well as to unfreeze Libya’s assets in order to provide funds for them. One outside counsel at Patton Boggs stated, “We care about the cause… We want the Transitional National Council to succeed on behalf of all the Libyan people… We are proud that they selected us in assisting them and we hope that we can continue being effective for them.” According to an article in The Hill, a Washington-D.C. paper, “Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., a partner at the firm who is one of Washington’s top lobbyists, will be leading the Libya account.” Boggs wrote that, “We understand that at this time the [Transitional National] Council may not have sufficient funds to pay our fees for these important services… We will charge the Council on an hourly basis for our work, according to our customary hourly billable rates… [and] will not seek payment for these funds and costs until the Council obtains sufficient funds to pay for them.” Further:
Two lobbyists at Patton Boggs, Stephen McHale and Vincent Frillici, have filed so far to lobby on behalf of the council. Frillici previously served as the director of operations at NATO for the 50th Anniversary Host Committee and was deputy director of finance operations for the Democratic National Convention in 1996. McHale served as the first deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration and helped merge the administration into the Homeland Security Department.
Robert Kapla, who has represented foreign governments in the past, and Matthew Oresman, formerly a law clerk within the State Department and the Senate Judiciary Committee, will also work for the council…
Announcing recognition of the Libyan council would cut Gadhafi off from any legal legitimacy, allow the rebels access to funding to help the Libyan people and announce to the international community that only the rebels have the right to “transfer the country’s natural resources,” [Patton Boggs counsel David]Tafuri wrote in a Washington Post editorial.
The notion that a rag-tag group of rebels fighting a war in a far-off foreign nation know exactly who the best lobbying firm and one of the best PR firms in Washington, D.C. are is hard to believe. The decision to contact these firms, then, was likely suggested by an American voice. As reported, the point man of contact between both firms and the rebels is Ali Aujali, the former Libyan Ambassador to the United States, who clearly still maintains his close ties to Washington.
Sure enough, in July the United States recognized the rebels as the “legitimate” government in Libya. And now in August, there are major pushes for Libya’s frozen assets to be unfrozen for the new rebel government.
Could Libya Collapse?
Naturally, to prevent such a “catastrophe” as a “tidal wave” of African immigrants, the Europeans – who are now fully involved in the Libyan war – will need to push for an occupation of Libya. While most ad-hoc coalitions try to maintain some vestiges of unity until their initial objectives (overthrowing the state) are achieved, the Libyan rebels have already descended into infighting and murder. In late July, members of the rebel armed forces killed the commander of the armed forces, Abdel Fatah Younis, who was a former Libyan government official who defected to the rebels in the early days of protests.
This event “triggered fears that opposition fighters battling to oust Col Muammar Gaddafi could instead turn their weapons on each other.” When news spread, many units who were loyal to Younis abandoned their front line posts at the oil town of Brega, and poured into Benghazi “to avenge their commander’s death.” The TNC attempted to blame the murder on pro-Gaddafi loyalists, but his supporters believed he was killed by “his rivals within the rebel leadership.” Some of the supporters even fired on the hotel in Benghazi which the TNC leader and a favourite of the U.S., Abdul-Jalil, earlier gave a press conference. The General, when he was killed, was headed to defend himself in front of four rebel judges who were questioning “illicit contacts he may have had with the Gaddafi regime,” which were instigated when the Daily Telegraph reported that he was “the regime’s main point of contact with the rebels.” As another Telegraph article revealed, “Gen Younes was also engaged in a very public feud with the rebels’ most celebrated battlefield commander, Khalifa Hifter,” which “was seen as an important factor in the pervasive chaos along the front line as the two frequently countermanded one another’s orders.” Thus, the elimination of the General could possibly allow for “greater cohesion” among the rebels on the front lines. Unreported in that article, however, was the previously revealed fact that Khalifa Hifter, the man who profits most from the assassination, also has a long history of working with the CIA.
Yet, it would still appear inevitable, with remaining divisions among the rebels and competing and contradictory ideas of what a post-Gaddafi Libya would be like, infighting will continue and likely accelerate. There is the possibility of a scenario in which one faction, and most likely the most militant and well-quipped faction (being the Islamist, al-Qaeda-linked faction run by a CIA-operative), simply purges the rebels entirely of competing visions. This assassination could have been the start of that effort already, and even a warning to potential challengers. Regardless of the specifics, the Libyan war is likely to plunge into a total civil war, so the Western nations would perhaps be most interested in having a united, militant, and ruthless proxy army under one leadership and vision, not many. With such enormous support for Gaddafi remaining in the country, and in fact, accelerating as the NATO bombings and rebel attacks continue, a rapid overthrowing of the Gaddafi government would certainly spark major national unrest far more severe than at present. In such a power vacuum, the Western powers certainly want to ensure the group they backed will be the winning horse on the way to fill the empty seat of power.
Western government have recognized the TNC as the “legitimate” government of the Libyan people, while the Libyan people – to the tune of 85% – largely support Gaddafi. So, in the face of such enormous opposition, this ‘horse’ in the race would by necessity have to be brutal, exacting, precise, and ruthless. If they do not seize power instantly, and establish a firm control over the country, it would be likely that the nation would plunge into a vicious civil war. Further, if Gaddafi supporters quickly regain the seat of power, Western powers may seek to stoke and actively create the conditions for civil war. It is arguable that they are attempting to do this already. In such a case, it would – from the imperial perspective – be better to ‘divide’ the people among each other, and ‘rule’ over them as a justification for maintaining ‘order.’ In this instance, using recent precedents of the past decades – two conflicts which Western powers claim they “don’t” want Libya to turn into – Rwanda and Iraq, became likely outcomes. Either a situation in which a Western-supported rebel army rushes to power amid a massive wave of carnage and establishes a strong dictatorship, ultimately resulting in the ‘cleansing’ of opponents to the potential of genocide (such as with U.S. support for the RPF in Rwanda). Or, there could be an attempt to establish a liberal democratic government, with a mix of rebels and former government officials, yet dividing power among ethnic or tribal lines, further inflaming those very divisions, and possibly resulting in a total civil war (such as in Iraq). Further, if pro-Gaddafi supporters re-take power quickly and effectively, the rebels would likely go underground and attempt a more insurgent war, attempting to plunge the country into a civil war. The dismantling of Yugoslavia also presents a telling example. In this case, ethnic or tribal rivalries are inflamed, al-Qaeda-linked radical sects are actively armed and aided; these groups engage in ethnic cleansing and a territorial war, with the country ultimately breaking up into several small and easily manageable parts. In whichever case, the potential for Western troops on the ground in Libya is a stark reality.
The Occupation of Libya
In late August, Libyan rebels rapidly advanced on Tripoli, preceded by a massive NATO bombardment of the city. The operation – Mermaid Dawn – was planned weeks in advance by the rebels and NATO. As the Guardian reported: “British military and civilian advisers, including special forces troops, along with those from France, Italy and Qatar, have spent months with rebel fighters, giving them key, up-to-date intelligence,” though the article then claimed that they were also “watching out for any al-Qaida elements trying to infiltrate the rebellion,” ignoring, of course, that we have long been supporting the ‘infiltrated’ elements. One of the rebel organizers of the operation said, “Honestly, Nato played a very big role in liberating Tripoli. They bombed all the main locations that we couldn’t handle with our light weapons.” While “sleeper cells rose up and rebel soldiers advanced on the city, Nato launched targeted bombings,” and American hunter-killer drones were also used in the attacks. According to a NATO diplomat, “Covert special forces teams from Qatar, France, Britain and some east European states provided critical assistance, such as logisticians, forward air controllers for the rebel army, as well as damage-assessment analysts and other experts.” Foreign military advisers were on the ground providing “real-time intelligence to the rebels,” or in other words, ‘directing’ the rebels. Apparently, Gaddafi aides attempted to communicate with Obama administration officials, including the Ambassador and Jeffrey Feltman, the Assistant Secretary of State, in order to “broker a truce.” Yet, reported the Guardian, “the calls were not taken seriously.” NATO warplanes bombed convoys of Libyan troops as they sought to re-take rebel advances within Tripoli and elsewhere, and further, NATO undertook “bombing raids on bunkers set up in civilian buildings in Tripoli.” The article continued:
The western advisers are expected to remain in Libya, advising on how to maintain law and order on the streets, and on civil administration, following Gaddafi’s downfall. They have learned the lessons of Iraq, when the US got rid of all prominent officials who had been members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party and dissolved the Iraqi army and security forces.
The rebels who helped in planning the operation had hoped that an invasion of Tripoli would have sparked an uprising among the people, joining with the rebels against Gaddafi, clearly indicating their own ignorance of the support for Gaddafi within Libya and especially Tripoli. The New York Times, explaining why the mass popular uprising never took place, claimed that it was a result of “a bloody crackdown on protesters in February by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces [which] had served as a grim deterrent to those inside Tripoli who might try to challenge the government’s authority.” Naturally, the New York Times failed to report, as Amnesty International confirmed, that those reports were largely exaggerated, and there were deaths on both sides, indicating that the “peaceful protesters” had – at least a few – fighters among them.
With British and French Special Forces troops on the ground alongside CIA operatives, NATO was integral in launching this “pincer” campaign in Libya, often bombing government troops in retreat. Britain played a strong role with both military and intelligence officials – Special Forces and MI6 – in planning and coordinating the assault on Tripoli. As the Telegraph reported, “MI6 officers based in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi had honed battle plans drawn up by Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) which were agreed 10 weeks ago,” while “the RAF stepped up raids on Tripoli on Saturday morning [August 20] in a pre-arranged plan to pave the way for the rebel advance.” Before the official rebel attack even began, the RAF bombed a key communications facility in Tripoli “as part of the agreed battle plan.” It is likely that in a rebel government, two prominent factions, that which is composed of the former Libyan National Army, founded and now currently run by Khalifa Hafter, a CIA asset; and the Islamist al-Qaeda linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), both of which are currently supported through the TNC by the CIA, MI6, and NATO military structures.
So while it is clear that not only are NATO forces already in Libya, but they are in fact directing the operations of rebel forces, far beyond the mandate from the United Nations to simply “protect civilians.” But then, that wasn’t the point of the war.
Even as the rebels continue to fight in Tripoli, Western media has jubilantly and prematurely declared a victory for the rebels and for NATO. The Washington Post reported that the ‘lesson of Libya’ was that, “limited intervention can work.” But then, this is no surprise from the Post, considering that one of their editors had previously said, “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power.” As the rebels were far from victorious – though victory had already been declared – the media engaged in a ‘discussion’ of “post-Gaddafi Libya.” Meanwhile, fighting continued in the streets of Tripoli, as one resident told the Independent, “The rebels are attacking our homes. This should not be happening,” and further:
The rebels are saying they are fighting government troops here, but all those getting hurt are ordinary people, the only buildings being damaged are those of local people. There has also been looting by the rebels, they have gone into houses to search for people and taken away things. Why are they doing this? They should be looking for Gaddafi, he is not here.
While British SAS Special Forces were on the ground in Libya helping to hunt down Gaddafi, the British Foreign Secretary declared that, “Gaddafi must accept defeat,” and President Sarkozy of France said, “Gaddafi’s time has run out.” Average Libyans in Tripoli were nervous with the celebratory rebels, claiming, “The situation here reminds me of Iraq in 2003,” and that, “We don’t know who has entered the city. We don’t know anything about the people who will rule this country, about their mentality.” As one resident explained to the Independent:
The past 42 years we knew everything about the country: our people, our politics, everything. Now we don’t know anything about the future. We are afraid of the end of this, that Gaddafi will use chemical weapons, that there will be a massacre. I am afraid of both sides – of the rebels and of Gaddafi… We have no safety in this city. Now most of the people in this area have left. There are no families in the building now, just the young men.
Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent, drew several parallels between Libya and Iraq, such as the fact when the Americans took Baghdad, Saddam fled underground promising to fight to the death, as Gaddafi just did. Further, as the U.S. was faced with the birth of the Iraqi insurgency in 2003, officials and media pundits alike claimed that the insurgents were “die-hards” who apparently “didn’t realise that the war was over.” As Fisk observed, already a pundit on SkyNews in Britain had claimed the remaining fighters were “die-hards.” Fisk repudiates the notion, as repeated throughout the media and by Western officials, that it is now “up to the Libyans,” as amidst “the massive presence of Western diplomats, oil-mogul representatives, highly paid Western mercenaries and shady British and French servicemen – all pretending to be ‘advisers’ rather than participants – is the Benghazi Green Zone.” Fisk explained:
Of course, this war is not the same as our perverted invasion of Iraq. Saddam’s capture only provoked the resistance to infinitely more attacks on Western troops – because those who had declined to take part in the insurgency for fear that the Americans would put Saddam back in charge of Iraq now had no such inhibitions. But Gaddafi’s arrest along with Saif’s would undoubtedly hasten the end of pro-Gaddafi resistance to the rebels. The West’s real fear – right now, and this could change overnight – should be the possibility that the author of the Green Book [Gaddafi] has made it safely through to his old stomping ground in Sirte, where tribal loyalty might prove stronger than fear of a Nato-backed Libyan force.
Sirte, Fisk elaborated, is an oil rich region with a strongly pro-Gaddafi populace. It was in Sirte where the rebels were defeated by the loyalists in the current war. However, as Fisk opined, “we shall soon, no doubt, have to swap these preposterous labels – when those who support the pro-Western Transitional National Council will have to be called loyalists, and pro-Gaddafi rebels turn into the ‘terrorists’ who may attack our new Western-friendly Libyan administration.”
NATO officials stated that the alliance “will not put troops on the ground,” ignoring the fact that already there are special forces and intelligence operatives on the ground who have been there for several months since even before the war broke out. Though, NATO officials claimed that if any organization sends in troops, it would be the UN, with one official commenting, “It is a classic case for blue helmets,” and that, “Nato will help the UN if asked.” The Western “advisers,” according to NATO officials, “are expected to remain in Libya, advising on how to maintain law and order on the streets, and on civil administration, following Gaddafi’s downfall.”
The Telegraph reported that, “Britain is preparing to send a team to Tripoli to help with a key plan to stabilise Libya after the fall of the Gaddafi regime and prevent any repeat of the chaos seen in post-war Iraq.” Thus, the Western nations are engaging in double-speak, whereby they claim that no boots will be put on the ground, yet simultaneously send boots onto the ground. The trick, however, is in calling these boots “advisers.” This has been a common tactic for decades, as even before the escalation of the Vietnam War, President Kennedy, and Eisenhower before him, had sent “advisers” to Vietnam, which slowly, and inevitably became a massive occupying force. The British plan, which has already begun in effect, “included contacting officials in ministries in Libya by mobile phone to try to persuade them not to abandon their posts.” The British “stabilisation response team” has been sent to Libya by the Foreign Office, Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence. The Development Secretary stated, “It has been clear that we needed to learn the lessons of Iraq and plan for stabilisation and that that needed to take place in an organised and timely way.” Yet, in the same breath – and in the usual double-speak – he claimed, “It was equally clear that the process had to be Libyan led and owned.” The EU also offered to send “experts” to Tripoli “at any minute.” Libyan government officials have been and continue to be contacted “to let them let them know that they could stay in place under the new regime,” which Western officials proclaim is a lesson they learned from Iraq, where they had simply purged the former Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein and dismantled the army, adding to the chaos and crisis of post-Saddam Iraq. Commenting on this, the Development Secretary stated, “if you can get hold of the chief of police and tell him, ‘You’ve got a job, don’t take to the hills, and you will get paid,’ we can avoid that.” Another aspect of the plan includes unfreezing Libya’s assets around the world to give them to the new provisional government of the TNC.
The plans for the latest assault were organized far in advance. As Debkafile, an Israeli publication, revealed, they were established back in July between the US and France, as they were organizing plans for managing the Israel-Palestine issue:
According to the US-French plan, [an agreement] will take place shortly after the Libyan war is brought to a close – ideally by a four-way accord between the US, France, Muammar Qaddafi and the Libyan rebels or, failing agreement, by a crushing NATO military blow in which the United States will also take part. The proposed accord would be based on Muammar Qaddafi’s departure and the establishment of a power-sharing transitional administration in Tripoli between the incumbent government and rebel leaders.
As recently as April, the EU said that they had a ‘ready’ force of 1,000 soldiers poised to be sent in to Libya in case they were needed. The Guardian reported that the EU “has drawn up a ‘concept of operations’ for the deployment of military forces in Libya, but needs UN approval for what would be the riskiest and most controversial mission undertaken by Brussels.” Purportedly, the combat troops would not be engaged in a combat role but would be authorised to fight if they or their humanitarian wards were threatened.” As one EU official stated, “It would be to secure sea and land corridors inside the country.” Another EU official declared, “The operation is agreed. It’s ready to go when we get the nod from the UN.”
How to Get NATO Support: Die and Lie
However, if the EU, NATO, or the UN were to deploy troops into Libya, it would need to be under the guise of providing “peacekeeping” or other “aid” support. Thus, it would only be possible to do so in the event that Libya collapses into chaos, whether there be mass killings, genocide, or civil war. In such a situation, one is reminded of the events surrounding the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ in Bosnia in 1995.
The official account was that roughly 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed by Serb aggressors, thus justifying a NATO intervention. The reality, however, was that the Bosnian Muslims had been struggling for years to “persuade the NATO powers to intervene more forcibly on their behalf,” writes Edward Herman. In fact: “Bosnian Muslim officials have claimed that their leader, Alija Izetbegovic, told them that [Bill] Clinton had advised him that U.S. intervention would only occur if the Serbs killed at least 5000 at Srebrenica.” As a result of Clinton’s statement, the town was sacrificed by the Bosnian Muslims, and the propagated claim was that the Serbs had gone in and killed 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, thus justifying the NATO intervention in Bosnia. However, not only did the Bosnians sacrifice the town, but the numbers themselves were subject to much manipulation, and the facts of the circumstances surrounding the event were ignored by the media. The Croatians, along with Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton, were delighted at the reporting of the ‘massacre,’ as for the Croats, explained Herman:
this deflected attention from their prior devastating ethnic cleansing of Serbs and Bosnian Muslims in Western Bosnia (almost entirely ignored by the Western media), and it provided a cover for their already planned removal of several hundred thousand Serbs from the Krajina area in Croatia. This massive ethnic cleansing operation was carried out with U.S. approval and logistical support within a month of the Srebrenica events, and it may well have involved the killing of more Serbian civilians than Bosnian Muslim civilians killed in the Srebrenica area in July: most of the Bosnian Muslim victims were fighters, not civilians, as the Bosnian Serbs bused the Srebrenica women and children to safety.
In short, NATO (and Bill Clinton in particular) told the Bosnian Muslims that at least 5,000 Muslims needed to die at the hands of the Serbs in order to justify an intervention and the continuing war against Serbs all across the former Yugoslavia. The fact that a number of 8,000 Muslims having been killed was (and remains) widely propagated, though widely inflated and unsubstantiated (save for the investigations into the manipulation of those numbers), was a ‘convenient’ event for NATO and the Bosnians. Also significant is the fact that such an event took place in the midst of massive ethnic cleansing of Serbs, largely ignored by the Western media, as it was committed by those who NATO were claiming to “save” from “Serbian aggression”; in particular, the Bosnian Muslims and Croatians. Some years later, Madeleine Albright, upon being told of another massacre which was good for U.S. interests, stated that, “spring has come early this year.” Of course, this is also the same woman who said that 500,000 dead Iraqi children (killed by the UN sanctions Albright helped impose and enforce during the Clinton administration) was “worth it.” So, it is safe to say that we can dispense with any claims of “humanitarian” concerns on the part of NATO leaders. Their interests are imperial. Their propaganda is humanitarian.
The same must be kept in mind about Libya, where we were told we went to “intervene” in order to “protect civilians.” Yet, immediately we began supporting what turned out to be a ruthless military outfit, including al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, who have concocted lies to justify their cause and foreign intervention, and who have been committing ethnic cleansing of black migrants and citizens in Libya. We call these people “pro-democracy” and claim that they represent a “popular uprising.”
The British government stated on 22 August that, “hundreds of British soldiers could be sent to Libya to serve as peacekeepers if the country descends into chaos,” with two hundred troops on standby since the start of July, as well as 600 Royal Marines who “are also deployed in the Mediterranean and would be available to support humanitarian operations.”
The possibility of an invasion seems imminent, as even if the rebels take Tripoli and overthrow Gaddafi, since thereafter the real struggle would begin, and the rebel TNC would likely struggle to maintain unity and possibly engage in attempts to purge various factions from the leadership, as the assassination of the former army commander in late July indicated is already taking place. Uniting these factions remains one of the greatest challenges the rebels will face.
Military sources revealed to some alternative media the plans for the U.S. to occupy Libya with upwards of 30,000 soldiers by October. A Debkafile report from July indicates that Western leaders were actively planning for a military invasion and occupation of Libya, starting with the French and British and followed by American troops. In early July, the Russian envoy to NATO stated that, “I think that now we are witnessing the preparation stage of a ground operation which NATO, or at least some of its members… are ready to begin.”
The Barons of ‘Humanitarian Imperialism’
As the rebels entered the capital, the true nature and purpose of the war and “intervention” in Libya was made known, as Western oil companies made their intentions and interests public, and the rebel TNC established themselves as subservient to those very interests.
Gaddafi may have signed his own death warrant back in 2009, when his government gathered 15 executives from global oil and energy corporations and demanded that they foot the bill – to the tune of $1.5 billion – for Libya’s settlement with victims of the downed Pan Am Flight 103 (itself a very mysterious terrorist attack possibly tracing back to the CIA itself). Libya had been subjected to UN sanctions from 1992-2003 as punishment for the terrorist attack, though it has never been conclusively proven that Libya had any involvement. Gaddafi, for his part, was seeking to make those who profited off of his country’s wealth (foreign oil conglomerates) pay for the costs of their punishment, as the sanctions had largely affected the nation’s economy. Libyan officials warned the oil companies that if they did not comply, there would be “serious consequences” for their oil leases. In 2004, when trade restrictions were lifted with Libya, Gaddafi gave in to Western interests in the aftermath of the Iraq war, fearing that Libya would be next. As the trade barriers broke down, the U.S. Department of Commerce “began to serve as self-described matchmakers for American businesses,” as companies like Halliburton, Boeing, Raytheon, ConocoPhillips, Occidental, and Caterpillar tried to “gain footholds” in the country. However, there were several problems and corporate plundering was increasingly stalled. The Gaddafis often demanded the corporations plunder the nation in joint partnerships with state-owned (and Gaddafi family run) companies, which the foreign conglomerates resisted, in which the State Department tried to intervene (according to diplomatic cables), but often failed to come to an agreement. However, some companies such as Occidental Petroleum, Petro-Canada, and Canadian arms manufacturer, SNC-Lavalin made inroads into Libya.
In January of 2009, Gaddafi threatened that Libyan oil “maybe should be owned by national companies or the public sector at this point, in order to control the oil prices, the oil production or maybe to stop it.” Forbes magazine asked: “Is Libya about to take the lead of its friends in Venezuela and Russia and launch a new round of energy-sector nationalism?” Postulating on the answer, Forbes wrote: “The thought sends a shiver through the collective spines of ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Amerada Hess, and Royal Dutch Shell. All have made massive new investments in Libya.” Libyan papers had all been discussing the possibility of nationalization.
Libya, as Africa’s largest oil producer, even far surpassing the proven reserves of Nigeria, would be an enormous loss to Western interests. In March of 2009, Libya was trying to convince three American oil companies operating in the country “to sign revised contracts giving the North African nation a greater share of its oil production.” Libya had already revised its contracts with Petro-Canada, ENI of Italy, and Repsol of Spain, as well as Occidental Petroleum in the U.S. It was seeking to revise its contracts with ConcocoPhillips, Amerada Hess, and Marathon Oil, all U.S. companies.
In March of 2010, Middle Eastern press reported that, “Libya is an economic force to be reckoned with,” as it challenged both Europe and America, and gave “a warning to US oil firms that their contracts are in danger.” Oil companies were finding it increasingly difficult to do business in Libya. As one oil industry expert reported, many companies are seeking an exit, “That’s partly because Libyan authorities have, over the past year, taken a very hard line on contract negotiations and renegotiations. A lot of companies developing oilfields are finding it incredibly difficult to make money.” Libya also expelled Swiss companies and even detained two Swiss businessmen after police in Geneva arrested one of Gaddafi’s sons. U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley publicly derided Gaddafi, “which in turn provoked a warning from Libya that failure to apologise could hurt US oil companies.” Crowley, in a not-so-subtle display of who the State Department really works for, apologized. As one commentator from an American think tank explained, Libya’s use of oil as political leverage represents a new turn in the country’s leadership: “After decades in isolation, Libya’s oil reserves and a sovereign wealth fund worth around US$60 billion (Dh220bn) have given it unprecedented leverage with western governments.” Italy received roughly a quarter of its energy supplies from Libya, and many other Europeans hoped that Libya’s natural gas fields would free them from dependence upon Russia. One industry analyst explained, “Libya mostly gets its way because people are prepared to pay the price,” and that, “the future of new discoveries really boils down to a small number of companies – such as BP, Shell, ExxonMobil – which have massive exploration programmes going on for the next few years, and which could open new frontiers.” However, “for time being, oil companies are leaving rather than entering.” There was even a diplomatic row in November of 2010 when Libya expelled an American diplomat from the country “for breaching diplomatic rules.”
In October of 2010, U.S. oil companies Chevron and Occidental Petroleum did not extend their 5-year licenses with Libya, and instead left the country. The companies, among the first to rush to Libya following the lifting of international sanctions and formation of bilateral relations with the U.S. in 2004, established 5-year contracts with Libya in 2005. Libya, while home to Africa’s largest proven oil reserves, remained largely ‘under-explored’, and thus, unexploited.
Gaddafi’s Libya had many shady dealings with foreign (primarily British, but also French, Italian, and American) companies and individuals. Prime Minister Tony Blair had especially facilitated the emergence of prominent British industrial and financial interests into Libya, setting up meetings with top executives and Libyan officials, both while in office and after leaving. Blair and a former top MI6 official who joined BP, helped the oil conglomerate establish itself in Libya. Business and social relationships were also established between top British elites and Gaddafi’s family. Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, had a cozy relationship with British Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, and in 2009, both men were guests of Lord Jacob Rothschild’s at his villa in Corfu. Until 2009, Lord Rothschild was an adviser to the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA). Tony Blair, who after leaving office, took up a job at JP Morgan, continued to go to Libya as a representative of the bank, and Gaddafi’s son referred to Tony Blair as “a personal family friend.”
JP Morgan Chase reportedly, as of late January 2011, “handles much of the Libyan Investment Authority’s [LIA’s] cash, and some of the Libyan central bank’s reserves.” According to one Libyan financier, by the summer of 2008, “a great percentage of the L.I.A.’s funds were in the interbank money markets, channelled through the central bank. They have given mandates to some of the international banks to manage this liquidity,” such as JP Morgan Chase.
Within ten days of Britain’s sanctions on Libya having been lifted in 2004, a secret delegation of British officials had rushed to Libya to open the way for British business interests. Among the officials were Lord Foster of Thames Bank; Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, the former Army Chief of Staff; and the financier Lord Rothschild, who brought his son Nathaniel, “and the party was accompanied by four executives from a public relations firm run by Lord Bell.” As reported by the Times, “At stake was access to oil and gas reserves and the opportunity to profit from the country’s $90 billion sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority.” Lord Rothschild became an adviser to the Libyan Investment Authority, until 2009.
As Tony Blair and his secret delegation went to Libya in 2004, their meeting with Gaddafi “led to lucrative Libyan oil contracts for Shell,” and “a month before stepping down as PM, Mr Blair visited-Colonel Gaddafi in Tripoli again at the same time that BP signed a $900million deal with the Libyan National Oil Company.” On behalf of JP Morgan, Blair helped develop banking opportunities in Libya. As the fighting broke out in February of 2011, Gaddafi’s “friends” in the West immediately turned their backs on him. A statement from Tony Blair’s office stated: “Tony Blair does not and has never had any sort of commercial relationship or any sort of advisory role with any member of the Gaddafi family, the government of Libya, the Libyan Investment Authority nor any Libyan companies.”
In early March, Britain (and several other nations, including the United States and Canada) froze Libya’s foreign assets in their countries, which had been managed by the Libyan Investment Authority. Over $3.2 billion in assets were frozen in London, and over $32 billion were frozen in the U.S. As the fighting began, the major Western oil conglomerates closed down their operations and fled.
Clearly, Gaddafi, after establishing significant ties with foreign elites, from JP Morgan, to Rothschild, to Prince Andrew of the British Royals and Tony Blair, made ‘friends’ of himself and his family to the dominant foreign financial and oil interests. When he began using Libya’s newfound oil wealth as a political tool, his “new friends” quickly became “old enemies.” These Western elites had helped Gaddafi gain access to Western markets and invest in their companies, while those companies tried to plunder the resources of Libya, as soon as Gaddafi felt secure enough, he began to use his new oil and financial leverage as a political tool. As this began, the West – and in particular the banking and oil elites – found Gaddafi to be much more of a liability than an asset. Now that Gaddafi is “gone,” the jubilation of Western conglomerates can barely be contained.
This is evident in the fact that as the rebels have gone into Libya, foreign oil conglomerates quickly followed behind. On 24 August 2011, the Independent reported that, “British businesses are scrambling to return to Libya in anticipation of the end to the country’s civil war,” yet, “they are concerned that European and North American rivals are already stealing a march as a new race to turn a profit out of the war-torn nation begins.” Thus, it is a new ‘scramble for Africa’ as the Western nations and corporations rush to plunder the country’s resources and wealth. British business leaders said that, “plans are in hand to send a trade mission to Benghazi to meet leaders of the Transitional National Council (TNC).” Among the stampeding oil conglomerates, there “is also intense lobbying for the multibillion-pound reconstruction contracts that are likely to be offered once fighting ends.”
Even as the rebels had not taken Tripoli, reported the Globe and Mail, “already the leaders of France and Italy, and their national oil champions, were openly courting the top men of the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC).” As for who will get to reap the rewards of Libya’s newly “liberated” oil, “the NTC has already said it will reward the countries that bombed Col. Gadhafi’s forces.” One rebel official stated, “We don’t have a problem with Western countries like Italians, French and U.K. companies,” however, he added, “we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.” These were, of course, the countries that did not back the strong sanctions on Gaddafi’s regime.
This is what we call “humanitarian intervention.” A situation in which we go to war against a foreign nation, based upon lies; in which we support – arm, organize, and lead – a militant rebel army; an army which has been committing atrocities, ethnic cleansing, and spreading lies and misinformation; in which we call these rebels ‘pro-democracy’ protesters; in which we call a group with less than 15% of the support of the people a “popular uprising”; in which we bomb innocent civilians to allow these rebels to move forward and occupy new territory; in which our oil companies move in to plunder the wealth of the most oil-rich country in Africa. This – this! – is what we call “humanitarian intervention.”
Our leaders do not care for human life. They care about power and profits. They will tell you anything you want to hear in order to justify their imperial conquests around the world. They will send you – most especially the poor ‘you’ – off to foreign countries in order to kill poor, foreign people. They will do this in order to obtain control over resources and strategic routes. One of America’s most pre-eminent imperial strategists, Zbigniew Brzezinski, wrote in his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard, that America must maintain hegemony over the entire world, but – he wrote – “the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public’s sense of well-being.” In the same book, Brzezinski, in blunt language explained the purpose and role for America to play in the world:
To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.
Brzezinski, incidentally, supported the military intervention in Libya, which he claimed is “something between war and military intervention, to stop something that is going on, but without really trying to conquer the country,” and that, “if we didn’t act it would be worse.”
Who are we really helping? Who are we really hurting? And why?
We must not support this cynical and disastrous conquest of “humanitarian imperialism,” whether it is in Libya, or perhaps – quite soon – in Syria. Wherever we “intervene,” we make everything much worse for that vast majority of the people involved. Where our nations go, they spread chaos, war, death, destruction and genocide. When our nations speak, they speak of hypocritical morality and paradoxical ethics. They speak with twisted tongues and poison words.
We must speak truth back. We must “intervene” in the discourse of the powerful around the world, in order to promote the true interests of humanity: freedom, peace, and solidarity. Only when we seek – and speak – truth, can we ever hope to meet the true ‘humanitarian’ needs of the world’s people.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is co-editor of the book, “The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century.” His website is http://www.andrewgavinmarshall.com
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 Kim Sengupta, Terror in Tripoli as loyalists fight to the death, The Independent, 25 August 2011:
 Portia Walker, ‘We are afraid of both Gaddafi and the rebels’, The Independent, 25 August 2011:
 Robert Fisk, History repeats itself, with mistakes of Iraq rehearsed afresh, The Independent, 25 August 2011:
 Richard Norton-Taylor, Nato will not put troops on ground in Libya, The Guardian, 24 August 2011:
 Duncan Gardham, Libya: Britain prepares to send team to help with stability plan, The Telegraph, 23 August 2011:
 DEBKAfile Exclusive Report, Palestinians to apply to Security Council next week for UN membership, DEBKAfile, 7 July 2011:
 Ian Traynor, Libya conflict: EU awaits UN approval for deployment of ground troops, The Guardian, 18 April 2011:
 Edward S. Herman, “THE APPROVED NARRATIVE OF THE SREBRENICA
MASSACRE,” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law (Vol. 19, No. 4, 2006), pages 411-412.
 Ibid, page 412.
 Ibid, page 411.
 Rahul Mahajan, ‘We Think the Price Is Worth It’, FAIR, November/December 2001:
 Jason Groves, Ian Drury and Nick Fagge, British troops may act as peacekeepers if Libya descends into chaos, The Daily Mail, 23 August 2011:
 Martin Chulov, Libya rebels have won the war but biggest battle will be uniting factions, The Guardian, 22 August 2011:
 Aaron Dykes, U.S. Invasion of Libya Set for October, Infowars.com, 15 June 2011:
 US and NATO prepare final assault on Qaddafi. He threatens terror, DEBKAfile, 3 July 2011:
 NATO may be preparing ground operation in Libya – Russian envoy, RIA Novosti, 1 July 2011:
 Marcello Mega, Police chief: Lockerbie evidence was faked, The Scotsman, 28 August 2006:
Steve James, Lockerbie-Pan Am 103: Prosecution case evaporates, World Socialist Web Site, 17 October 2000:
Susan Lindauer, Libya’s Blood For Oil: The Vampire War, The Intel Hub, 28 March 2011:
 ERIC LICHTBLAU, DAVID ROHDE and JAMES RISEN, Shady Dealings Helped Qaddafi Build Fortune and Regime, The New York Times, 24 March 2011:
 Christopher Helman, Is Libya Going To Boot U.S. Oil Companies?, Forbes, 22 January 2009:
 AP, Libya Wants Greater Share of Its Oil Revenue, CNBC, 3 March 2009:
 John Thorne, Libya flexes its new oil wealth muscles, The National, 14 March 2010:
 Libya orders U.S. diplomat to leave: reports, Reuters, 7 November 2010:
 Ali Shuaib, Libya says Chevron and Oxy exit licenses, Reuters, 2 October 2010:
 David Rose, The Lockerbie Deal, Vanity Fair, 26 January 2011:
 David Robertson, Richard Kerbaj and David Brown, Secret delegation went batting for British interests in Tripoli, The Times, 29 August 2009:
 Nabila Ramdani, Tim Shipman and Peter Allen, Tony Blair our very special adviser by dictator Gaddafi’s son, The Daily Mail, 5 June 2010:
 Michael Peel, Friends in high places turn their back on Tripoli, The Financial Times, 23 February 2011:
 Roula Khalaf, James Blitz and Lina Saigol, UK freezes Libyan wealth fund assets, The Financial Times, 3 March 2011:
 Javier Blas, Oil groups prepare to close down in Libya, The Financial Times, 21 February 2011:
 Jerome Taylor, Kevin Rawlinson, Laurie Martin and Charlotte Allen, Dash for profit in post-war Libya carve-up, The Independent, 24 August 2011:
 Eric Reguly, They bombed and therefore they shall reap, The Globe and Mail, 24 August 2011:
 Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (Basic Books: New York, 1997), page 36.
 Ibid, page 40.
 Hiram Reisner, Brzezinski: Libya Action Isn’t War, But Necessary Intervention, NewsMax, 24 March 2011:
Andrew Gavin Marshall from the Centre for Research on Globalization says that a ground invasion is quite likely, and that the process is already underway.
“There have been certain Western ground forces in Libya since before the NATO bombardment,” he said. “In early March the CIA, MI6 from Britain, special forces from both the UK and US were on the ground. And in April, France, Italy and the US agreed to send military advisers into Libya. And this drew a lot of parallels to Vietnam. First military advisers were sent, later the troops followed.”
He added that according to some reports, “a full-scale ground invasion [by the West] is being discussed. It may even be launched within the next few weeks. Other military sources in the US said they are preparing for the ground.