Tuesday 29 March 2011

How western powers blackmailed the Libyan revolution

The western military assault on Muammar Gaddafi has been welcomed by millions of people horrified by the cruelty he is unleashing on the Libyan people. This war is being sold as a “humanitarian intervention” with strict guarantees that there will be no ground invasion.

The case for this intervention is very powerful, and has the tacit support from organisations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, that have been, and remain targets for western imperialism. There can been no question that Gaddafi is deeply hated among Arab peoples, and that he is a cruel despot.

His attacks on civilians, the arial bombardment of demonstrations, the mass round-up and executions, has left the people in despair. The uprising that began on 17 February took place under the most difficult conditions, and the bravery and sacrifice of the revolution remains an inspiration to all.

The US and its allies, we are told, have been dragged into this war against their will. But the west is not innocent, nor is it impartial. Its interests are not those of the Libyan revolution, but aimed at guaranteeing a series of deals made by Gaddafi to the west.

It is ironic that among the heavy weapons destroyed by western warplanes outside Benghazi were artillery pieces supplied to the regime by the US, or that Gaddafi's airforce was recently refitted by France, or that UK supplied his security forces with some £40 billion in arms, including crowd control equipment.

Western powers have from the beginning made it difficult for the revolution to succeed on its own terms. Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC), the body that grew out of the revolution, made a series on simple demands in the first days of the uprising. Western governments refused to accept these until certain “guarantees” were in place.

The rebels asked for the recognition of the Transitional National Council; they demanded access to the billions in sequestrated regime funds in order to buy weapons and other crucial supplies; and they demanded an immediate halt to the “mercenary flights” that provided the regime with its foot soldiers.

The answer they received was an unequivocal No. The west declared that they did not recognise “governments”, only countries. They refused to block the mercenary flights as these “security contractors” play an important role in other conflicts — such as Iraq and Afghanistan. They objected to any weapons sales as they feared that these could fall into the hands of “Islamists terrorists”, and they refused to release the funds on “legal grounds”.

Instead western powers put a number of conditions on a revolution. They demanded that any future Libyan government would abide by all contracts signed by the Gaddafi regime. These contracts, including “generous” oil concession, had to be honoured without question. Western powers demanded that the strict repression of “Islamists movements” would remain, and that Libya would maintain its role as a guardian against the migration of Africans into southern Europe.

The UN made it a condition that a "genuine ceasefire" by the regime would bring the war to a halt. This would in effect pave the way for the partition of the country — the west of Libyan under control of the old regime and the east beholden to foreign powers.

In effect, the west has blackmailed the revolution. The TNC was forced to mortgage its future in order to guarantee its survival. One cannot but wonder why one month into this uprising the rebels still have few weapons, or body armour, or effective anti-tank weapons. That despite controlling key ports the rebels are still begging for ammunition and other other crucial supplies.

There is a second important principle. That “humanitarian intervention” is a dangerous precedent that has led to other disastrous wars. The case for humanitarian intervention made during the Balkan Wars in the 1990s became a cover for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These disasters exposed this credo as a lie. Now it is being repackaged and resold.

The hypocrisy and double standards of the imperialism do not need spelling out. In the days leading to the UN resolution and the launching of cruise missiles, Yemen's ruler (an important ally of the west) was gunning down democracy protesters, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states were invading Bahrain to violently suppress the democracy movement there, and Israel launched its warplanes, once again, on Gaza.

The west and its allies in the Middle East have been thrown into turmoil by the huge movements for change sweeping the region. Now it is using its intervention in Libya as a way of regaining its foothold, and rebuilding its credibility. This intervention is without any doubt popular. But the interests of those making these revolutions are not those of the imperialism or the Arab regimes.

The Libyan revolution is not lost, but it has been forced to make deep compromises. The demands for freedom, for an end to poverty, oppression and humiliation still burn strongly. The movements sweeping the region are facing bloody repression, and are winning important victories. The real hope for Libya lay in the progress of these revolutions, especially those in Egypt and Tunisia.

When British troops entered southern Iraq in 2003 they were welcomed by long oppressed Iraqi Shias. But they also had a message for the foreign troops: "Don't forget to leave."