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Libya: Downward Spiral

June 25, 2016
Tripoli prior to the invasion

Tripoli prior to the invasion

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s me
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

What has happened in Libya since 2011 is heartbreaking. Its denials aside, the Obama Administration bears the lion’s share of the responsibility. Worse, nobody  cares – or hardly anyone – here in the United States. As far as the current American political discussion goes, the Libyan crisis is on the back burner. For the political class, the media, the ethical dimension of destroying a nation with the goal of getting cheaper and more plentiful oil is nonexistent. An example of how far off the deep end the country’s leaders could go in defending the indefensible, the Libyan invasion, Democratic Presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton referred to it as “smart power at its best.” “Smart power at its best” or imperial power at its most arrogant?

In the case of Libya…”Humpty Dumpty” didn’t “fall” – but was pushed by NATO, an organization which gives the United States the veil of plausible denial for arranging what is nothing less than the wholesale destruction of a country. Perhaps “obliteration” would be a better word. NATO has not been able to put Libya back together again. Nor is it certain that NATO  intends to, at least not in the form it previously took: a centralized (if authoritarian state) which had the ability to negotiate hard with foreign energy companies and the governments that serve them.


At the time of this writing (late June, 2016), forces of Libya’s new Government of National Accord (GNA) were conducting a military offensive against Sirte where Western media sources estimate that some 5-8,000 Islamic militants are holed up, defending the city. As has been the case since the 2011 NATO-led and inspired overthrow of Muammar Khadaffi, at Sirte, it’s essentially militia versus militia, “ours” against “theirs,” made more dramatic perhaps because the militia’s ensconced at Sirte belong to the Islamic State. The fighting at Sirte is portrayed as the first real test for the GNA, a test of their legitimacy but this is hardly the case.

To call the Tripoli-led, UN supported “Government of National Accord (GNA) “a government” is stretching credulity. In reality, like “the Syrian Opposition” it is little more than a loose, bickering group of militias slammed together through international pressure to give the Libyan fiasco a semblance of progress. Should the GNA forces guided by U.S. and British special forces, manage to defeat the Islamic State, given that it functions essentially as a guerrilla movement, the victory would be less than meets the eye as the militants do what militants do – disappear into the great Libyan (and Egyptian and Tunisian) desert to regroup and fight again. In fact in the long run, it will mean very little.


Admittedly there has been a considerable amount of Congressional and media attention concerning the possible role that Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, played in the 2012 Benghazi incident resulting in the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith. But even the Benghazi investigation has backfired after Seymour Hersh, that consistent and always well-informed thorn in the side of U.S. military intervention, revealed that the Benghazi consulate little more than a cover, a facade that the C.I.A. was using to recruit Libyan jihadists from Serna (in Libya) to fight in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad.

In many ways, Libya got caught in that great regional political wave for greater democracy referred to as the Arab Spring. Events in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 gave confidence to Libyan democrats and human rights activists. Muammar Khadaffi had delivered an element of prosperity to the country but without establishing democratic political processes. It turns out that offering a people half a loaf, prosperity without democracy, is a raw deal. Khadaffi might have learned that lesson from the peoples of East Germany, Hungary and what was then Czechoslovakia; economically they were prosperous enough; but at the same time politically repressive, stifling not just decent, but participation in their countries’ future.

In any case, as the Libyan voices for greater democracy got louder, Khadaffi became more repressive although there is no evidence, none whatsoever, that the pretext for NATO intervention – a genocidal campaign against his own people, particularly in the Benghazi region – was in the offing. Instead, it was outside intervention in the form of the usual C.I.A. machinations, and the bombing campaign itself intensified that opposition, directed it against Khadaffi  that was the critical factor.

Similar dynamics were unfolding elsewhere in the region at the same time, in Syria and Yemen – ie, popular protests for greater democracy that were soon co-opted or undermined by Salafist-Wahhabist elements ultimately supported by western powers or directly by the western powers themselves. The more genuine movement for reform or revolution derailed.

Washington’s interest in overthrowing Khadaffi had little to do with his authoritarian tendency.In fact the overthrow of Khadaffi was a classic example of what Naomi Klein called the “shock doctrine”: overthrow a region (or take advantage of a natural disaster) to reshape a country or region along neo-liberal lines. As Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya noted:

“Oil, finance, economics and Libyan natural resources were always tempting prizes for the United States and its allies…While Libyan energy reserves and geo-politics played major roles i Western forces launching the war, it was also waged in part to appropriate Tripoli’s vast financial holdings and to supplement and maintain the crumbling financial hegemony of Wall Street and other financial centers. Wall Street would not allow Tripoli to continue to be deb-free, to continue accumulating international financial possessions, and to be a creditor nation giving international loans and investing funds in other countries, particularly in Africa. Thus, major banks in the United States and the European Union, like the giant multinational oil conglomerates, had major roles and interests in the war on Libya.” (1)

It is easier for foreign energy companies to dictate contract terms on more fragmented units than the centralized governments that existed in Iraq, Syria or Libya. The energy portion of the equation is to be able to squeeze more oil for less money from countries hoping to use the profits from energy for their own development.

The tensions within Libyan society were genuine and admittedly Khadaffi’s record was mixed offering his people half a loaf – prosperity without democracy. Still, he had popular support. Without intense and sustained outside intervention, his government would not have been overthrown. There was plenty of evidence, which the Obama Administration and the mainstream media in the United States conveniently chose to ignore, that Muammar Khadaffi enjoyed broad support among Libya’s citizens.


On July 1, 2011, in the midst of the NATO bombing campaign a huge rally opposing the bombing and in support of Khadaffi took place in the center of Tripoli and other Libyan cities. Nationwide, it is estimated that two million people braved the bombs to show their sympathy, solidarity with the Libyan leader and his “Jamahiriya” government. In spite of that support, playing on the contradictions that still remained inside Libya, the United States and its allies were able to engineer the overthrow of Khadaffi.

While the C.I.A., among other things was busy recruiting Libyans to fight in Syria the devastating consequences of the Libyan invasion, referred to by NATO head, Anders Fogh Rasmussen as “the most successful mission in NATO history”, went largely unreported, unnoticed. During the seven months of its air campaign, NATO flew 26,500 bombing sorties over Libya more often than not targeting civilian and infra-structural facilities as it did previously did in Iraq. In the U.S. media, the usual blackout conditions continued with virtually no reporting of horrors unfolding on the ground, and certainly no formal acknowledgment that the United States contributed to the destruction and collapse of yet another country (Iraq, Syria).

The bombing campaign and war left more than 30,000 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. No doubt five years after the overthrow of the Khadaffi government by a NATO-led coalition, Libya remains in a state of utter chaos, a center of regional instability that has already spread to neighboring countries, Tunisia, Mali, even distant Burkina Faso and Nigeria. Today Libya is one of Africa’s poorest and most unstable places, a spawning ground for regional instability and war throughout North Africa and the Middle East as a whole. Libya’s functional apparatus as a state was shattered, its oil in the hands of bandits, the country essentially divided into warring enclaves much like Somalia. How fractured? Ben Macintyre writing in The Times of London gives substance to the term “shattered.” Today “Libya is home to an estimated 1,700 armed groups divided along ethnic, religious and political lines, and a staggering arsenal of cheap gun. It is one of the most fractured countries in the world.”

The country’s geography, social peace and progress – not just propaganda but a genuine accomplishment of the Khadaffi years – is in shambles, seemingly forever; the country, or what’s left if it, once a model of economic and social progress for all of Africa, has been transformed into a basket case. Khadaffi’s Libya had no foreign debt, the lowest divorce rate in the world and one of the highest overall living standards in Africa or the Middle East. All that is history. Geographically, Libya is hardly Libya; it is essentially split into the three near autonomous regions that existed when ruled by the Ottomans, before these were pressed together into one unit by an early 20th Century Italian invasion and occupation, consolidated after World War Two by the British. The pretext of protecting the Libyan people from Khadaffi’s secret police evaporated almost immediately after his fall. As Patrick Howlett-Martin recently noted:

“Three months after the end of hostilities (October 2011) the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay, reported the widespread use of torture, summary executions and rape in Libyan prisons. At the same time, the organization, Doctors Without Borders, decided to withdraw from the prisons in Mistrat because of the ongoing torture of detainees.”


With Khadaffi gone and the centralized Libyan state dissolved, the dam inhibiting massive emigration from all over the African continent through Libya to Europe burst asunder, creating in its wake a sociopolitical crisis for many of the same countries responsible for the chaos. Libya has become a jumping off point for migrants from all over Africa hoping to make the death-defying journey across the Mediterranean to reach a non-existent nirvana in an increasingly hostile Europe and the broader dimension of utter viciousness of NATO’s Libya venture comes more clearly into focus.

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, the lion’s share from Libya. Of that number no less than 3770 drowned en route. The scale of the crisis continues, with more than 135,000 people arriving in the first two months of 2016 alone; 2,100 of them lost their lives trying to cross to Italy in the first five months of this year alone. Hailing from all over Africa and the Middle East in an effort to escape war and unremitting poverty, they are willing to risk all – death in the Mediterranean being preferable to life in Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan and many places in sub-Saharan Africa.

Those countries gleefully involved in the actual orgy of violence against the Libyan nation, gave a nice cover for what was essentially a U.S. planned and orchestrated successful effort overthrow a legitimate government. If General Wesley Clarks analysis is accurate, overthrowing Khadaffi was part and parcel of a broader plan to institute regime change – the new way to characterize the overthrow of governments that one way or another displease Washington – in seven countries: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. If the memo has to date never seen the light of day, the plan itself appears to have been implemented in a number of these countries; when Iran was recently taken off the front burner, the neo-cons who devised it in the first place (Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfelt, idiots like John Bolton) howled …and continue to.

In the case of overthrowing Khadaffi, the key players were the United States, Great Britain and France, with a supporting cast of thousands, providing the Obama Administration with the cover it needed to claim plausible denial for having orchestrated the whole affair. Sharing in the massacre (and proud of it!!) were Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates,

Five years into the Libyan fiasco the mess created by NATO’s “victory” over Khadaffi could not be greater with little end to the chaos and suffering in sight. The invasion of Libya – its humanitarian interventionist pretexts aside – was little more than “old fashioned 19th century imperialism with a 21st century sheen on it. So much of the country was devastated by NATO’s bombing campaign which took place over a seven month period from March to October, 2011 when a UN Security Council “No Fly Zone” morphed into an aggressive air campaign in flagrant violation of international law.

The pretext for military intervention – all U.S. military interventions since the end of World War II (and many prior to that) have needed them – was that a humanitarian crisis had exploded in the country and that Muammar Khadaffi was about to commit mass murder (from the air) to crush a rebellion in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Yet, like Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the proof of such intent was either minimal, or as some have argued, completely unjustified. Few in the United States questioned the irony of what Washington was doing raising the banner of “humanitarian intervention,” a pretext which willingly seduced many American liberals. It rang hollow, but once again, it worked. After all, the United States had dropped more bombs over Vietnam than it had in World War II, killing between 3 to 4 million Vietnamese. It had worked to install some of the worst dictators in modern times in Latin America, helped engineer the torture, assassination and disintegration of the body of Congolese patriot Patrice Lumumba (and other African nationalists).

All this suffering for what?

As former U.S. Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, notes in her introduction to The Illegal War In Libya which she edited, at the time of the January, 2011 NATO led invasion of that country…

“Libya did not bomb another country. Libya did not directly, or through the use of proxy forces, indirectly attack another county; it did not distribute Viagra to its military to encourage the rape of its own citizens as was propagandized by the US and it NATO allies in order to build public support for a grand theft of Libyan assets and resources that is one of the results and clearly one of the objectives of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector.”

Like Iraq, Syria, Libya is a mess, a human tragedy, created primarily in Washington DC., the depth of which hardly resonates with the American people, the consequences of which the world will live with for a long time to come.



  1. Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya. “Muammar Qaddafi: Mad Dog or Brother Leader.” in Cynthia McKinney, editor. The Illegal War On Libya. A Dignity Project, 2012, p.91
Libya today

Tripoli Today


Also posted at Foreign Policy In Focus in two parts. Part onePart II

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