Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Behind the Forced Regime Change in Libya

London, Paris and Washington could not allow a ceasefire because it would have involved negotiations, first about peace lines, peacekeepers and so forth, and then about fundamental political differences. And all this would have subverted the possibility of the kind of regime change that interested the Western powers. The sight of representatives of the rebellion sitting down to talks with representatives of Gaddafi’s regime, Libyans talking to Libyans, would have called the demonisation of Gaddafi into question. The moment he became once more someone people talked to and negotiated with, he would in effect have been rehabilitated. And that would have ruled out violent—revolutionary?—regime change and so denied the Western powers their chance of a major intervention in North Africa’s Spring, and the whole interventionist scheme would have flopped. The logic of the demonisation of Gaddafi in late February, crowned by the referral of his alleged crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court by Resolution 1970 and then by France’s decision on 10 March to recognise the NTC as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, meant that Gaddafi was banished for ever from the realm of international political discourse, never to be negotiated with, not even about the surrender of Tripoli when in August he offered to talk terms to spare the city further destruction, an offer once more dismissed with contempt. And this logic was preserved from start to finish, as the death toll of civilians in Tripoli and above all Sirte proves. The mission was always regime change, a truth obscured by the hullabaloo over the supposedly imminent massacre at Benghazi.

Here is Hugh Roberts' lengthy and careful case about the world's intervention in Libya being based, as so often these things are, on a series of lies.

22 Comments / Post A Comment

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Luckily for us, the US is exceptional and will never be brought low by any other nation with a containment policy. Right? Right?

lbf (#2,343)

"the supposedly imminent massacre at Benghazi"? And that's when I clicked "close tab".

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@lbf Yeah, the article is full of "alleged" and "supposed", execept when the author delivers his own opinions as if they were facts.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@Niko Bellic: Rather par for the course at the LRB, but yeah.

lbf (#2,343)

@Mr. B I hope they get a 9/11 Truther next.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

Here is one thing that as an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia I understand very well:

Gaddafi chose to hole up in Sirte (as opposed to run and hide in the south or Niger, like his son Saif did) precisely so that discussions like this ("the war against him is causing too many civilian casualties") would arise in the West.

It the best way to play the West: make the other side kill as many civilians as possible. NTC won that game early on, and Gaddafi tried to play it once he realized he is behind, but too late. In fact, as soon as Saif delivered that speech about "the sea of blood", Gaddafi got well entrenched on the losing side of it. Still, he tried to play that hand for what it's worth in the end.

So this whole massacre that happened was not instead of negotiations with Gaddafi, it was a part of them. That's how negotiations with people like him look like.

Come on, did anyone really think he was "butchering his own people"? We all knew it was cover for regime change but either we didn't care or we weren't consulted (or, more usually, both). It doesn't take a lengthy case to figure this out, it just takes eyes.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@My Number Is My Address With which eyes did you see that Gadaffi did not use civilian buildings and hospitals as if they were bunkers? With what eyes did you see that he did allow women and children to leave Sirte or Bani Walid? Enlighten me please!

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@My Number Is My Address Well but on the undermined African leader scale wouldn't he be closer to Mugabe (not to say Amin) than to Lumumba? Or do we measure him on the pan-Arab scale, one size fits all.

@dntsqzthchrmn/@niko bellic: You misread me. I have no problem with this regime change; it's just very clear that there was never any sort of Srebrenica or Rwanda situation going on here. Terrible chap, glad he's gone, sorry we opportunistically made nice with him for all those years. I wish we were more consistent with the application of force. But he's no Kim, no Mugabe.

lbf (#2,343)

@My Number Is My Address …and could that be because the West decided to intervene at the last minute before Benghazi fell?
You'll note that both your examples show clear ethnic lines. I'm ignorant of the detail of the Libyan situation (something something tribal something?) but I don't think ethnic cleansing was ever on the menu. A better comparison would be: what didn't happen in Benghazi happened in Homs.

Also: when did Mugabe exterminate his own people (other than through incompetence)? He's a despot who oppresses political opponents and gets white farmers lynched, not a genocidal maniac. What's he doing here?

@lbf I never said Mugabe was genocidal but if you'd like to excuse him his misdeeds that's your choice. I mention him because he obviously also deserves some forced regime change.

I'm pretty sure the invocation of what has happened in Homs (again) makes the point that we do not intervene simply to save civilians (does that point really need to be made? in 2011?) more than it demonstrates Gaddhafi's evil. "He might've done exactly what this other guy did while were paying more attention to him" is not exactly logic but it is a string of words so I guess, yeah, great.

jfruh (#713)

@My Number Is My Address "The invocation of Homs" does lead to what (was) different between Libya and Syria though. In Libya, the rebels quickly formed a de facto government, with identifiable leadership, a capital (Benghazi), a flag, etc. As loosely structured as they were (and in the aftermath of the fall of Tripoli it's becoming increasingly clear that many freelance militias flew the red-green-and-black flag while only nominally recognizing Benghazi's authority), the rebels were someone specific that we could help, and Qaddafi retaking control of Benghazi would have been a clear military result that could be stopped by the application of military force of the kind that Western militaries are trained to mete out.

Whereas Homs is a city in revolt, but the leaders of that revolt, if they exist, are not visible to outsiders. There was a great NYTimes article a few months back called "Sons of nobody" about the young men leading the revolution there, and about how the leadership is much more dispersed and invisible. Homs isn't under the control of an alternative Syrian government the way Benghazi was, quite; it's just a place where Assad's forces can't go in and impose themselves without meeting resistance. The road to outside intervention is less clear.

This is not to say that the Syrian rebels are chumps for not ginning up a new flag and declaring themselves an alternative government with a president and prime minister; nor is it to say that there wasn't a good deal of self-serving shadiness on the part of the West (and the Libyan rebels!) in the intervention. It's mostly to say that "intervening to save civilians," even when that's the motive or a motive in the west, can't be done the same way in every case.

Mr. B (#10,093)

Oh, wow.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Did bro say "Gaddafi was banished for ever from the realm of international political discourse" like it was a bad thing? Did I get that right?

roboloki (#1,724)

@Tulletilsynet yes, i read that too. i can't help but think this was a terribly long prank (the article, not the coup du jour).

barnhouse (#1,326)

There are so many specific and serious allegations in this thing that I would love to check. For example, Roberts says that Juan Cole, al-Jazeera et al. falsely reported aerial attacks on civilians in Tripoli back in February. He quotes Informed Comment, and he says that the link Cole used to document his allegations didn't support what he was saying. Now the link is broken at the original site, so it's not possible to judge without a lot more research.

It's very true that if Juan Cole says something, I basically don't question it a whole lot. Or even as much as I should, maybe. So this article took me aback in a lot of different ways. I really hope that Prof. Cole responds to this piece, and/or that others come forward soon to document the exact abuses of the Qaddafi regime's last days.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

Gaddafi was a politically isolated weirdo who happened to sit on a great deal of oil and gold. The Arab Spring gave US and NATO the cover to take out a world leader who does not play by their rules.

The Pentagon and NATO know that the future wars of the next few decades will likely take place in Africa. The continent is politically and ethnically discombobulated, but extremely mineral rich and its economic growth potential is high. China is way ahead of the US and EU in the Africa game, Libya is the first step in changing that.

The West saw its chance and took it. That is all you need to know. Wars are fought for assets and geopolitical advantage, not for human rights or abstract concepts like freedom.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@Lockheed Ventura Bismarck, is that you?

SeanP (#4,058)

I couldn't be bothered to read the article, but it's worth pointing out that there were other good reasons not to get involved with Qaddafi-affliated elements… this would have necessarily led to some sort of de facto partition of the country, with Qaddafi getting part and the rebels getting the other part. It's hard to see how that wouldn't make the situation worse in the short run and lead to renewed fighting in the long run, when inevitably the two sides would start fighting again to take over the whole country.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@SeanP And… let's not forget that the people left in Qaddafi's part would still want to rebel against him. I think we are forgetting that there were massive anti-Qaddafi protests in Tripoli too, before they were drowned in "the sea of blood".

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

That is a picture of Jeffery Ross as Gaddafi for Halloween right? No wait, Gaddafi put those shades on and said, "Hey look, I'm that dude from comedy central roasts".

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