The U.S., Britain and France have been carrying out bombing raids in Libya. Originally, the stated purpose of these raids was to create a “no-fly” zone, to keep Libyan rebels from being wiped out by Moammar Gaddaffi’s forces. Now, we are told that the aim is to remove Gadaffi from power, and that special forces troops may have to be sent in to do this. This is a classic example of what in the military they call “mission creep”. The involvement of Western troops means that whatever government replaces Gadaffi, it will be one that designed to protect the interests of the Western powers, not the Libyan people. In effect, the West has intervened in the revolutionary upsurge sweeping the Arab world in order to protect its interests. At the same time that the U.S. has purportedly intervened to save the rebels in Libya, it has given the green light to Saudi Arabia to crush the uprising in Bahrain. And it has supported the government in Yemen, which is trying to crush protests in its country, which it denounces as “un-Islamic” because they include women as well as men. Clearly, the U.S. is not concerned with spreading democracy in the Arab world, but with defending its own interests.
There are some on the Left, such as Gilbert Achcar and Juan Cole, who have defended the intervention in Libya. They argue that a no-fly was necessary to defend the rebels. But as Lance Selfa has pointed out in Socialist Worker:
Reportedly, the Libyan National Transition Council appealed to European governments with a list of demands, including the handing over of sequestered Qaddafi funds to the rebel government. The European governments chose to ignore most of the demands, but to accept the proposal for a no-fly zone.
In other words, the notion that “there was no other choice” but a no-fly zone already accepts a compromise of the Libyan movement’s independence. In the coming weeks, we may learn if the West extracted other concessions from the Libyan opposition in exchange for support for its action–for example, honoring the Qaddafi government’s debts or giving preferential oil contracts to particular Western interests.
As SocialistWorker.org has argued, Western intervention has many other motivations besides the “humanitarian” claims in support of Resolution 1973: preserving the flow of Libyan oil; preventing mass migrations of Libyans to Europe; getting rid of a “failed state” in Libya; and stopping the Arab revolution from overthrowing another dictator through its own efforts.
As Mike Marqusee has pointed out:
The current intervention ensures that if Gaddafi falls, his replacement will be chosen by the West. The new regime will be born dependent on the Western powers, which will direct its economic and foreign policies accordingly. The liberal interventionists will say that’s not what they want, but their policy makes it inevitable.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Achcar and Cole are people who have defended Gaddaffi, claiming that he is an anti-imperialist. In fact, since 2003, and possibly earlier, Gadaffi has been cooperating with the West. Some have even claimed that the rebels are motivated by racism against the country’s black African immigrants. In fact, it is the Libyan government that has been promoting racism. In the 1990’s, the Libyan government allowed black Africans to enter the country because it needed a source of cheap labor. Since then it has promoted tensions between these immigrants and the Libyan population. In 2000, there were attacks against blacks that killed at least 135 people. What’s more, Gadaffi has presented himself a gatekeeper against black immigration to Europe. During a trip to Rome in 2010, he declared:
We don’t know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans…We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent, or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.
Researchers Gregor Noll and Mariagiulia Giuffré have written:
In the last two years, hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers intercepted at sea have been driven back to Libya without any chance of setting foot on European soil to claim asylum. But in Libya, migrants and refugee are victims of discriminatory treatment of all kinds. They live in constant fear of being arrested, in which case they will be indefinitely confined in overcrowded detention centers, where they are exploited, beaten, raped and abused. Refugees who have no possibility of applying for asylum or accessing any other effective remedy, thereby run the risk of being forcibly returned to countries of origin, where they may face persecution or torture.
An interesting question presents itself here: if Gadaffi has been doing the bidding of the West, why are they now trying to get rid of him? My guess is that they decided that it was worth sacrificing Gaddaffi to regain control over the situation in the Arab world. They have used the fighting in Libya to make it appear that the West is on the side of democracy, while the West’s allies in Bahrain and in Yemen crush the revolts in those countries. There may also be domestic considerations behind this decision. In Britain, the government of David Cameron is deeply unpopular because of its drastic cuts. The Sarkozy government in France is also unpopular. This war is one way to distract people’s attention from the problems in those countries.
Back in February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told an audience at West Point that the U.S. cannot afford any more wars like the ones in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I doubt that Gates would have said that if he didn’t believe it. The U.S. has been limiting its involvement in the fighting, no doubt in the expectation that Britain and France will carry most of the burden. However, if those countries are unsuccessful, there will be pressure on the U.S. to intervene more aggressively, perhaps even send in troops. Having declared the removal of Gadaffi as its goal, the U.S. cannot afford to allow him to survive. The U.S. may find itself draw into the Libyan conflict against its will.
The people of the Arab World must be allowed to decide their own future. That is why we should oppose the West’s intervention.