Imperialist Hands off Libya

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 220 April/May 2011

An immense revolt has risen up across North Africa and the Middle East. Millions of people have taken to the streets to challenge corrupt dictatorships. They are fighting not only rotten local ruling classes, but the entire hold of capitalism and imperialism over their lives. Revolt is the people’s answer to the international capitalist crisis. From Tunis to Bahrain, from Cairo to Sana’a the shout has gone up ‘Enough!’ Their revolt places imperialism in peril. We see in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain how the British ruling class will connive and fight to keep its hold on the region – a region crucial to its power for over 150 years. Workers in Britain are under attack from the same class that wields its armies against the people of North Africa and the Middle East. We must join the revolt against capitalism and imperialism. The risen Arab people are changing the world!

British Prime Minister Cameron announced the start of Operation Odyssey Dawn on 19 March 2011 with the words, ‘We are doing what is necessary, legal and right.’ 112 cruise missiles were fired at Libya from US and British naval vessels. French and British RAF fighter airplanes flew from bases in their home countries to bomb Libya. This is the 46th separate British military operation in the Middle East and North Africa since the Second World War and it was sanctioned by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 proposing ‘all necessary measures’ to stop the Libyan government attacking its opponents. Trevor Rayne reports.

Cameron continued: ‘our thoughts should be with those in our armed services who are putting their lives at risk in order to save the lives of others. They are the bravest of the brave.’ Since 1991 Britain and the US have been constantly at war. The RAF has flown thousands of missions since 1991, bombing Iraq, former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. In that time only one or two British air crews have been hit or downed. They fly over people, bomb them and return to base, at practically no risk to themselves. This is not bravery. Unleashing missiles against which people have no defence and no means of retaliating is not bravery: it is murder – murder perpetrated by the British government with the blessing of the Labour Party opposition. These are not ‘precision’ weapons; civilians are killed as they were in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Where was the no-fly zone over Gaza when the Israeli Defence Force killed over 1,400 Palestinians in 2008-2009? Where are the British soldiers saving the lives of people in Bahrain and Yemen as they are gunned down on the streets with weapons that British, US and French companies sold to brutal dictatorships now waging counter-revolution? Barbarism dressed in the garb of ‘humanitarianism’ barely conceals naked self-interest.

This war on Libya comes at a time when the British government faces growing opposition to its spending cuts. ConDem government politicians will wring all the chauvinistic support they can get from this war. In 1982 the Thatcher-led Conservative government trailed Labour and the SDP/Liberal alliance in opinion polls. It launched the Falklands/Malvinas war that year, implemented economic measures that pushed unemployment to a post-Second World War record of over three million people – and was re-elected in 1983 with a landslide majority. This was made possible by the chauvinism generated by the war. Workers in Britain have every reason to oppose this imperialist attack on Libya; failure to do so will enfeeble our own attempts to defend ourselves. Just 15 MPs voted against the attack on Libya in the House of Commons vote on 21 March. Every Liberal Democrat voted for the war.

Rank hypocrisy

The hypocrisy with which the imperialists turned on Gaddafi and the Libyan government is striking: the Gaddafi family, including Colonel Gaddafi, met Prince Andrew five times between October 2007 and February 2009. Former Labour Prime Minister Blair, who visited Gaddafi in 2004, paving the way for deals with Royal Dutch Shell, BP and other oil multinationals, said of the UN vote that it ‘comes not a moment too soon’. Now he rediscovers that Gaddafi is a ‘despot’. British special forces trained Libya’s special forces; British police trained Libya’s police; the London School of Economics accepted £1.5m of Libya’s money after awarding Saif Gaddafi a doctorate and then accepted £2.2 million to train Libyan civil servants. British arms sales to Libya in 2010 exceeded £212 million. How content they all were with the Libyan government as long as the oil revenues flowed their way. Italy’s largest oil multinational Eni said that the European Union should not impose oil and gas sanctions on Libya for to do so would be ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’. Eni is the biggest foreign operator in Libya. Libya supplies about 25% of Italy’s oil and 10% of its gas.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and socialist bloc (1989-1991) accelerated the essential characteristics of imperialist capitalism: its drive for profits, its tendency towards crises and its aggressive, militaristic nature. This takes place in a context of the fight by the US ruling class to sustain global hegemony. The British ruling class allies with the US to strengthen its own position relative to those of other capitalist powers. Oil and gas reserves and control over distribution of fuel are critical to imperialist power. The Middle East and North Africa contain two-thirds of the world’s oil and gas reserves and Libya has Africa’s largest reserves. Libya is adjacent to both Tunisia and Egypt where mass revolts have removed the political figureheads, Ben Ali and Mubarak, allies of imperialism. The US, British and rest of the European Union’s ruling classes are threatened by the rising revolt of the region’s masses. If they can remove the Libyan government and install a pliant leadership, it will be a reassertion of their regional power. For the imperialists, the move to overthrow the Libyan government offers an opportunity to co-ordinate the Arab bourgeoisie and especially to mobilise regional armies at a time when imperialism needs them to crush the Arab revolt. They have used the rebellion in Libya to seize this opportunity.

As with the ‘shock and awe’ unleashed on Baghdad in 2003, the sheer scale of the assault is intended to demonstrate to any future revolutionary government in the region what it would face if it dared to defy imperialism. In the 24 hours to 6am local time on 23 March, the coalition forces flew 175 sorties against Libya.

The US ruling class was divided over whether to attack Libya. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, with experiences of Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan in his mind, and the US economically and militarily overstretched, said that any Secretary of State that advises the US to send troops into Asia and Africa ‘must have his head examined’. The German government said it did not want ‘to get involved in a civil war in North Africa’. Turkey said it opposed the UN resolution and Egypt said it would not be party to intervention. However, the vote by the Arab League on 12 March for a no-fly zone, followed by Britain, France and Lebanon drafting the UN motion and successfully lobbying for it, forced the US’s hand to join the attack. Neither Russia nor China used their veto power; China said it abstained because of the Arab League’s decision. The Arab League’s decision offered a cloak of legitimacy and, with Russia and China declining to use their veto, the US calculated that it had to side with Britain and France. The imperialists will have congratulated themselves on mobilising the 22 members (excluding Libya) of the Arab League to vote for a no-fly zone. Five of the Arab League’s heads of state trained at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in Britain: they are still loyal.

The African Union voted against ‘any form of intervention’ in Libya. Brazil, India and Germany abstained in the UN vote. The Resolution states: ‘for all necessary measures short of an occupation force to protect civilians under threat of attack’. However, Cameron was explicit in his intentions for regime change in Libya, ‘It is not in our national interests for this man [Gaddafi] to lead a pariah state on the southern borders of Europe with all the problems that could entail.’ US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Gaddafi as ‘a ruthless dictator…If he does not go he will just make trouble’. These are not the words of powers that will abide by the apparent limitations of Resolution 1973, which excludes ‘a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory’. On 20 March a British submarine fired a missile into the Gaddafi family compound in Tripoli. British government ministers have no compunction about killing foreign heads of state.

To those in Benghazi and in the British press like The Guardian and The Independent and all the right wing media, who applauded the UN decision, let them recall Amiriya, Baghdad, on 13 February 1991. In the name of the no-fly zone the US fired missiles on a bomb shelter, incinerating over 400 people, many of them children. The US said they thought that the shelter was a military command site. It had been used as a bomb shelter for years previously during the Iraq-Iran war. NATO planes enforced a no-fly zone on the former Yugoslavia. Civilians were killed by cluster bombs – ‘anti-personnel devices’, as they were called – dropped on Serbia and Kosovo. In July 1995 in Srebenica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, over 8,000 Bosnians were massacred under the cover of a NATO no-fly zone. Over 100,000 Serbs were ‘ethnically cleansed’ from Croatia and Bosnia under the cover of the NATO no-fly zone. In Afghanistan wedding parties, funeral processions, even children gathering wood on a hillside, are all targets for US and NATO war planes. What of the enduring tragedies inflicted by depleted uranium weapons? A former British ambassador to Libya remarked that NATO and other forces attacking Libya will be unable to distinguish between government and opposition forces; they use the same equipment.

Libya’s future

Ministers, judges, ambassadors and military officers defected from the government to support the opposition Provisional National Transitional Council (NTC). They are part of Libya’s bourgeoisie. The NTC is headed by former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil who worked with the British special forces when they trained their Libyan counter-parts. The NTC reassured the imperialists that oil contracts with multinational corporations will be honoured. It rejected talks with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who proposed a ‘committee of peace’ to mediate between the contending forces. Some 6,000 Libyan troops defected at the end of February to side with the opposition, but they have hardly featured in the fighting. Iman Bugaighis, spokesperson for the NTC, said, ‘We need more than diplomacy. We need a no-fly zone. We need air strikes. I think they know where to bomb if they want to bomb.’ However, in Benghazi, centre of opposition forces, posters declared, ‘No to foreign intervention – Libyans can do it by themselves.’ Opposition to the Gaddafi government is divided. It flies the flag of King Idriss, drawn from the Senoussi clan of eastern Libya – it is a clan flag.

The weakness of the NTC is primarily political and then military. In the light of their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan this will strike doubt into the imperialists’ minds. Within days of the launch of the assault the coalition was divided over who should lead it and what should be the limitations on its methods and aims. The US, British, French and Italian ruling classes wrangle over rival claims to the spoils, should they get rid of the Libyan government.

From being North Africa’s poorest country under King Idriss, Libya achieved the highest Human Development Index ranking in Africa in 2010, with free health care and education up to graduate level. Its infant mortality rate at 25 per 1,000 live births compares with a Middle East and North African average of 52. Imperialism favours a weakened and pliant Libyan state, even the partition of the country between east and west, as long as it strengthens its grip on the region.

The ruling class media in Britain bangs the chauvinist drum. The cost to the coalition of just those 175 sorties flown in 24 hours will exceed £120 million in weapons and fuel alone. The cost to Libya will be in scores of lives lost.

We ask: what of the millions of poor and oppressed people throughout the region and the world who are rising up to save their lives and the planet – their enemies reside in Washington, London and Paris as do the enemies of the Libyan people. What of the millions of people in Britain who are being driven into unemployment and poverty by the same forces that would dictate the fate of Libya? As Lenin foresaw, we are living in an era of wars and revolutions.


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