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Shifting Targets: U.S. Shock Doctrine: Reshaping Libya (Part Two)

June 30, 2011


Parts 1 of the Series

This piece has been published on the Foreign Policy In Focus  website; a somewhat revised version appeared on the European website `Open Democracy’; parts 1 and 2 published on Truthout


Obama: The U.S. Is Bombing Libya But This Isn’t War…

Libyan Refugees Fleeing the Violence, Seeking Refuge in Tunisia

The U.S. Congress’s informal protest over Obama’s sidestepping the War Powers Act concerning U.S. participation in the NATO bombing campaign in Libya included elements of the surreal. First, the president was charged with violating the law in what could be classified as an impeachable act; then in spite of this slap in the face, Congress, showing its more genuine colors, turned around and voted to approve the funding of the U.S. military action in Libya for the next year, suggesting that when all is said and done, the protest vote didn’t amount to much.

The Obama Administration’s response to the criticism was, if one thinks about it, something approaching pathetic. No, the Administration need not get congressional approval, the argument went, because the United States does not have troops `on the ground’ and without troops on the ground, the United States is not at war with Libya. It appears that Congress lamely accepted this logic.

Actually we do not know that the United States does not have troops on the ground. Are the Special Forces, whose mission is secret, involved? Are there U.S. military advisors there? But the bombing missions are not considered war. Al Qaeda did not have `troops on the ground’ when they sent hijacked civilian airliners careening into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which Congress labeled an act of war.

Using the cover of humanitarian interventionalism, – it seems to play well in Peoria – the United States has launched deadly airstrikes against the Libyan military; provided military aid to the Libyan rebels; pressed sanctions against Libya and froze its assets and called for the overthrow of Khadaffi. According to the Obama Administration and the president himself, these acts do not constitute `war’, thus the War Powers Act does not apply.

Looks like war. Tastes like war. Smells like war, but if Obama says it’s not war, I guess it just can’t be war.

Looks like war. Tastes like war. Smells like war, but if Obama says it’s not war, I guess it just can’t be war.

But what if the United States and/or its NATO allies bring the air war down to the ground, and introduce ground troops? If they are American, will Obama seek the authorization as required under the War Powers Act, or when the time comes, will he seek another `out’ from Congressional scrutiny? Out of the question? Sending U.S. ground troops to Libya is going beyond a line the Obama Administration will not cross?  Will what begins as humanitarian interventionalism morph into permanent U.S./NATO military bases in Libya?

At the same time, this is not an argument meant to side with Khadaffi against the rebels. Rebel grievances – many of them anyway – are legitimate. Khadaffi does have some genuine social achievements under his belt but democracy was not one of them. The issue can be viewed differently: a domestic crisis – this time in Libya, previously in Iraq – exists.

What is remarkable is the manner in which the United States and NATO have `embraced’ the Libyan rebellion against Khadaffi and done so in such a way as to control and manage the movement in virtually all its aspects. The rebels’ dependency on NATO will not come without conditions, the main outlines of which will become clearer in the days and months to come.

The United States and NATO understand the crisis can opportunistically be easily manipulated to fulfill their own interests, to reshape North Africa according to their own strategic advantage. The political and organizational weaknesses of the rebel movement – essentially a spontaneous eruption with little planning – is the perfect vehicle for U.S-NATO plans….and it is a horse they will ride to death.

German, Russian Press Worried the U.S./NATO Planning To Send Ground Troops To Libya

Articles are beginning to appear in German and Russian press suggesting that there might be plans afoot for NATO, through various means, to introduce ground troops in the fall into both Libya and Syria (Syrian situation will be treated in a forthcoming piece) to accelerate the overthrow of Khadaffi in Libya and to `support the process of reform’ in Syria. Both U.S. and NATO spokespeople deny these claims as do a number of Middle East experts asked to comment. Given recent history (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia), such denials should not be taken too seriously.

Still, the prospect of NATO ground troops in the Middle East cannot be written off so easily. Nor would it be especially surprising that the United States and its NATO allies would try to downplay or deny the allegations. The arguments against a more direct U.S. led military intervention are weighty enough. The U.S. is already overextended with its open military commitments in Afghanistan, Iraq; its less publicized activities in Yemen and Somalia. It cannot afford – either economically or politically to open another military front at this time, especially with an upcoming presidential election. Recent surveys suggest that here in the United States, people are tiring of U.S. foreign military intervention and their spiraling costs, rightly associating the money wasted on war with funds that could be better used here at home. True enough.

But there are counter arguments of what the United States could gain strategically from upping the ante and sending in ground troops to Libya. Those who write the possibility off as frivolous do so at their own risk. There are those within the Obama Administration who argue for a kind of Shock Doctrine approach to the current Arab Revolt, ie, to use the current crisis in the Middle East and North Africa to ultimately reshape and strengthen the U.S. position in the region. The United States might have been caught unprepared for the uprising, but it is still possible to manage it and even for the U.S. to come out `ahead’ strategically. The signs that more direct military intervention is at least on the drawing board are growing and with them, increased alarm in the international press.

There are those who argue for a kind of Shock Doctrine approach to the current Arab Revolt, ie, to use the current crisis in the Middle East and North Africa to ultimately reshape and strengthen the U.S. position in the region

Deutsche Welle ran a piece on June 27, 2011 `Rumors For U.S. Plans for Libya, Syria Cause Concern’ detailing the extent of the U.S. naval build up in the Eastern Mediterranean, enhanced activity at Fort Hood, Texas where military preparations are allegedly gathering steam. The article also notes the changing nature of the NATO involvement, more `mission leap’ than mission creep.’  An article in the Russian press on June 29, 2011 is entitled `Democracy By Order Of Washington’ doesn’t give details but ends with a note of concern: “The next plan of the U.S is the redrawing of the maps of North Africa, the Middle and Near East. America is counting on the support of its most loyal allies.”

Already in March the United States sent 1500 marines on two warships to the Souda Bay, Crete U.S. Naval Base for possible deployment in Libya

NATO’s role has already morphed from securing a no-fly zone over Libyan air space – a somewhat defensive step to defend civilians – to the more offensive operations of targeting Khadaffi’s forces, attempting to assassinate him by cruise missile attack and the introduction of French and British attack helicopters. The goal of the mission has also shifted from protecting civilians from attacks by pro-Khadaffi forces to regime change – a euphemism for overthrowing Khadaffi. But then once wars start, they tend to have their own merciless logic, don’t they?

Not many more conceptual shifts are needed to defend the introduction of ground troops, especially if the military stalemate on the ground in Libya continues. The longer Khadaffi can hold out, the more sympathy he has been able to garner, especially in Africa and the Middle East, complicating the NATO mission and its humanitarian cover. At a certain point, NATO might feel mounting pressure to move towards sending ground troops to break the stalemate, of course, under the cover of an increasingly cynical `humanitarian intervention’ excuse.

Ground Troops Or Not, Will NATO Set Up An `Enduring’ Military Base in Libya?

Tactically, it would be much simpler for the United States and NATO if the Libyan rebels can overthrow Khadaffi without NATO sending troops but it might not be possible. So while it might be possible for NATO to avoid sending ground troops, the notion that it simply won’t happen or can’t happen is becoming less and less tenable – the opinions of experts aside.  Whether Khadaffi is overthrown with or without sending NATO ground troops, the strategic implications of a `post Khadaffi’ Libya are beginning to come into focus.

Should Khadaffi’s rule be overthrown one way or another, any rebel government would be exceedingly weak and could not rule without support and `supervision’ by its NATO `allies’. The end game could, in many ways, resemble what has been played out in Iraq.

Should Khadaffi’s rule be overthrown one way or another, any rebel government would be exceedingly weak and could not rule without support and `supervision’ by its NATO `allies’. The end game could, in many ways, resemble what has been played out in Iraq.

  • For starters, there will be a much tighter control of Libyan oil and the profits thereof by Western oil companies. That has already started. In the areas it controls, the rebels are already selling oil to Western companies at rock bottom prices to pay for arms and supplies. Western hold over Libyan oil will tighten. OPEC will be weaker, etc.
  • The likelihood of permanent NATO/US military presence – excuse me – `enduring’ military bases in Libya is a more than likely possibility regardless if ground troops are introduced or not. If NATO ground troops are introduced, there simply will be some pretext for them to stay, in the name of supporting the rebel government. There is the possibility that even if NATO ground troops are not necessary to overthrow Khadaffi the rebel government, almost certain to be shaky – with invite them in any way as advisors in one capacity or another. Regardless the presence will be substantial.

Redrawing the Political Map of North Africa, Strategic Considerations

Barak Obama's Third Press Conference. June 29, 2011. He denied that bombing Libya amounts to engaging in war on the country. A hard sell.

A NATO permanent military presence in Libya would in many ways be the beginning of redrawing the map of North Africa – as the Russian press piece cited above alleges. Such a presence would have a number of potentially profound consequences, among them:

  • Within Libyan context it would prevent, at all costs, any move to re-instate Khadaffi or those close to him to power. Such a presence would go far to insuring a `U.S.-friendly’ government would be ruling Libya and its sizeable amounts of low sulphur oil for a long time into the foreseeable future
  • The US and NATO would be in a position to monitor – if not manage – the Arab Revolt in its strongest manifestations – Tunisia and Egypt. Placed squarely between the two countries, a U.S. military presence in Libya could be easily mobilized to counter political developments Washington finds objectionable. This is not insignificant as, remember how, events that started in `little Tunisia’ exploded region wide and were for several month seemingly beyond U.S. influence
  • On a broader scale, a NATO military presence in Libya becomes an important springboard for the alliance in Africa, a continent whose strategic mineral resources, oil and gas cannot be underestimated. Competition for these resources between Europe and the USA on the one hand, India and China on the other will only intensify in the years to come. It is noteworthy  (as mentioned in the first part of this series) that Khadaffi’s Libya sells 60% of its oil to China, a situation certain to change should Khadaffi be removed
  • There have been strong tensions inside NATO with the United States trying to internationalize security operations (under Washington’s direction), with Afghanistan being a kind of test case for taking the alliance outside of Europe and making into a worldwide police force. Although NATO reps claim the contrary, within the coalition there has been strong reservations and opposition to being forced to fight in Afghanistan. A NATO military base in Libya (or military `presence’) would give the alliance another lease on life outside of Europe and draw the Europeans into shouldering some of the costs of U.S. security strategy in Europe.

The US and NATO would be in a position to monitor – if not manage – the Arab Revolt in its strongest manifestations – Tunisia and Egypt. Placed squarely between the two countries, a U.S. military presence in Libya could be easily mobilized to counter political developments Washington finds objectionable.

A peace movement here in the United States split over the U.S./NATO intervention in Libya only makes it more likely for Washington to implement its program.


NATO May Be Preparing Ground Operations In Libya

Tom Engelhardt on Barak Obama’s June 29, 2011 press conference

6 Comments leave one →
  1. phil woods permalink
    July 3, 2011 3:58 am

    Good stuff Rob. I think a woman named Ellen Brown has emphasized the banking side of the Lybian intervention. She feels a big part of it is that Lybia wasn’t under the thumb of the international bankers and they couldn’t stand this. Plus K was one of the third world guys saying oil prices should not be tied to the dollar. It’s clear to me if Lybian didn’t have oil neither the US nor Nato would be there. As Pepe writes do we think those generals in Burma are nice people and human rights just hunkydory there? One of the main reasons I back Obama in 2008 was he promised to get us out of Iraq and to end the thinking that got us into Iraq. The Lybian oil is the last of the easy to get stuff. In this regard I came across an interesting quotation on Asia Times online.

    Here it is: “World trade through globalization in its current form is an unsustainable game of cross border arbitrage to depress wages world wide in order (to) produce at low wage locations to export to economies with higher wages. This global trade is denominated in dollars that the U.S. can produce at will, not because the U.S. has sufficient assets of intrinsic value to back up her dollars, but because U.S. geopolitical prowess has compelled the world’s trading of basic commodities, such as oil, to be denominated in dollars.

    “When trading of oil is denominated in dollars, the U.S.owns all the oil in the world regardless of who happens to be the intermediate holder of oil at any particular time.”
    –6/8/11 “Low Wages and Revolutions” by Henry C. K. Liu

    I suppose many would say that is a vast oversimplication, but it does seem to get to the heart of the matter. One of the saddest things about the Lybia intervention is it seems to represent the last nail in the coffin of all the hopes that came out of WW II for a world ruled by law, by moving to a higher plain of cooperation and peaceful conflict resolution. Since the Lybia move is back to naked neocolonialism we seem to be in a new world of conflict and power politics. Klare predicts at least 30 years of this with energy resources becoming scarce and competition keen. The sad reality is historic tragedy and all it means wears off and people forget. What if anything can be done?


    Do we long for the final fire?
    So many stories of the end of days.
    The fires in New Mexico edge toward
    Oppenheimer’s lab. 20,000 barrels
    Stored with god knows what kind
    Of plutonium shit—low level
    They like to say, not to mention
    The canyon that in WW II
    They just dumped whatever—
    Affectionately known as “Acid River.”
    Remember how that clown
    In the Whitehouse rewrote
    The language of the climate change reports.
    Came from Exxon & left for
    The American Enterprise Institute.
    So nukes & wildfires in an environment
    Made worse by climate change drought.
    The Bible said The Fire Next Time.
    Are we there? Do we in fact
    Long for this & that’s why we do
    So little to prevent
    The unfolding Final Crisis?
    Or is it just inertia
    & failing institutions?
    Problems too big for
    Civic action? No wonder
    Bruce Cockburn wrote
    “Waiting For A Miracle.”

    Those six meetings in Cheney’s office
    With Kenny Boy Lay & the Enron bandits.
    No, it’s not in the public interest for us
    To know what kind of deals went down.
    Hell, it’s not important that the Enron jet
    Flew the Republican operatives to Florida
    To stop the vote count
    & don’t talk about the Supreme Court
    Certifying a Big Oil coup.
    Don’t ask Gore why he still won’t talk about it.
    It’s just our secret desire
    For that final fire.
    It’s just the Hopi Prophecy
    Coming round—
    A giant gourd seen in a dream in 1945
    That exploded over White Sands
    & brought us “Destroyer of worlds.”

  2. July 8, 2011 8:16 pm

    from Mark Solomon via email..

    You make a strong case for a potential “boots on the ground” US-NATO intervention. (Aside from the special ops that are most likely currently working with the rebels.)

    I have a lousy prognostication record. But I’m betting that it ain’t gonna happen. No way. The political cards right now are stacked too heavily against intervention. The House, as wacky as it is, has just refused to fund a lousy 25 million for non-lethal supplies to the rebels And it came perilously close to censuring Obama for not observing the War Powers Act. The public is overwhelmingly against intervention and is showing acute exhaustion with the three wars. The latest Pew poll reveals that more than 60% blame the wars for the fiscal mess. Now — if only the peace movement could figure out some creative and impacting way to mobilize that sentiment — aside from asking us repeatedly to hit the “take action” button.

    Best to the family,

  3. July 10, 2011 4:02 pm

    this from someone responding on `truthout’…

    “Excellent account, but appalling subject matter.”

  4. July 10, 2011 4:06 pm

    this from someone responding on `Foreign Policy In Focus’ website…

    “There will be a U.S. military base in Benghazi. Count on it. It’s impossible not to notice that this always happens wherever Washington intervenes militarily. Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, etc.,. If they have to partition Libya, then they’ll do it. Anything to get a new military base in the heart of the Arab Spring and an abundance of oil reserves.”


  5. April 18, 2013 11:08 am

    What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious
    experience regarding unexpected feelings.


  1. The Shock Doctrine

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